The artist Paul Klee once wrote that “Drawing is taking a line for a walk”. Well, how about talking a line for a month-long walk, by rising to the challenge of Sketchtember (AKA ‘Septpencil’) and attempting a pencil sketch every day throughout the month of September? Sketches can literally five minute doodles or two hour masterpieces, in graphic or coloured, on any subject you fancy – the main thing is to have fun!
The idea came to me while undertaking Jake Parker’s great initiative ‘Inktober’ last year. I enjoyed the challenge of doing an ink sketch a day for a month immensely, and really noticed how my drawings improved over four weeks. I thought a natural predecessor would be a month of pencil sketching (I love the sensitivity of pencil and I’m huge fan of masters like Burne Jones and Alan Lee) and Sketchtember was born!
As a schoolkid drawing was my superpower, the art room my ‘Fortress of Solitude’ – well, not quite, as I’d often hang out there with fellow scribblers, away from the rough-and-tumble of the playground, the dark sarcasm of the common room. I flourished at art – it was great to have a subject I was good at, but more importantly, I sketched at home for enjoyment. I drew everyday; it was as natural as breathing. I made up comic strips with friends, and used my illustrations for the world-building of roleplaying games. It was perhaps inevitable that I ended up at art college, but although I got a great deal from the creativity bootcamp of my Foundation degree, three years of Fine Art was like aversion therapy. It made me too self-aware, as an artist, to the point of paralysis, and made me realise how pretentious and vacuous the art world can be (back then the cult of the personality that was Brit Art was very much in vogue – and the art of the sacred that I was into very much wasn’t). Instead, I turned to community arts and, apart from the odd poster, left my sketching behind. One by-product of my degree was writing – the dissertation taught me something of the discipline, but it was during a gap year that I started to write poetry. Poetry is an act of perception, a way of seeing the world, and I soon realised my art-training enriched my writing, and vice versa. Use of imagery, symbolism, detail, and close observation of the human animal – all of this fed into my poems and stories. And when I started to create pamphlets, and then eventually found and run a small press, the art and design skills really came into their own. They hadn’t gone away. But perhaps I had lost some of the joy. I no longer sketched for fun.
Over the last couple of years, during the intensive process of working on a PhD I have rediscovered the joy of sketching (cue 1970s manual with interesting poses…). After a day on the computer, working exhaustively with words, it is very soothing to just push colour around on a page … shapes, tones, shading. I found it actually enhanced my mental health – one becomes absorbed for an hour or two and all the voices, all the white noise of the day, fades away. It is no coincidence that the colouring-in books have become massively popular in recent years (although creating your own sketch is very different from just colouring in someone else’s). So, for that reason alone – for the ‘well-being’ factor, I recommend having a go. See it not as another task on the ‘to do’ list, but a bit of self-care. Don’t do it for anyone else, to compete or compare – do it for yourself, because it’ll make you feel relaxed, even good about yourself.
The blank page is a gift of freedom – a doorway for your imagination. It invites you to step through.
All you have to do is post your sketch, however embryonic, each day on Twitter, using the hashtag #SKETCHTEMBER Encourage friends to join in, even those who say they ‘can’t draw’ (everyone can make a mark – we’ve been doing it since the dawn of humankind). Follow other sketchers – support one another. And feel free to share inspiring pencil art to motivate and inspire. There must be a world of great pencil art out there. The classics of Western Art are to be admired and studied, but outsider art, and art from other traditions and cultures is waiting to be appreciated too.
Of course, racist, sexist or offensive sketches are not welcome in Sketchtember, but you know better. Let’s celebrate our creativity and use Twitter for something other than the Trumposphere!
I’ve decided not to create a list of prompts this time – I’m going for (mainly) portraits and animals this time. If you need some ideas, then look for ‘the 30 day drawing challenge’.
Let me know how you get on. Remember to use the hashtag. Happy Sketching!
31 August 2018
If you need tips and techniques the best place to start is with Betty Edward’s classic Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Confidence. There are many other books, websites, youtubes clips, etc, out there, but this one worked for me when I did my Foundation in Art and Design back in the late eighties!
A month of sketching not enough? Keep going, in ink with Inktober! Jake Parker’s site: https://www.mrjakeparker.com/inktober-1/