From Sketches to Final Artwork

So you make these super fantastic sketches at a local coffee shop…or the zoo…or a park…or some secret amazing spot you discovered…so what do you do next? They are cool memory images of an experience but you want to do something bigger and better with them. You want to share them (or maybe you have an assignment where you HAVE to make them into a more fancy, formal art piece.). How do you go about it? Here are some stories to help from an artist who has tried and failed and yet sometimes succeeded in this regard.

My professor in grad school really liked this miniature study I made a window and brick wall. He said, “That would be really great if it was giant size (well, he didn’t say giant size exactly; probably said “larger”).” I worked on this one painting over the entirety of a semester (as well as other projects. I wasn’t completely obsessed). The professor and I would meet periodically when he would give advice. I would try it. It would not work. He gave more advice. It wouldn’t work again. I tried my own ideas. Those didn’t work. Nothing seemed to capture the original. When we got to the end of the semester, my professor told me that sometimes artworks couldn’t be made into bigger pieces. Sometimes they are best small. So what was the point of spending all that time into one painting that never worked? That I ended up rolling up and throwing away? What could I have possibly learned?

I learned this. Each artwork is an individual entity, whether a sketch or a final piece. We can take what we do in one and inform the other but simply recreating/copying doesn’t often work. There is something to be said of the creative act; something that happens within its borders that is difficult, if not impossible to fully redo. It is good to respect it.

To illustrate this idea, here is another story. I spent an afternoon finding insects by the Milwaukee River, drawing and painting studies of them with pencils, watercolor and ink. My goal was to make a painting for a competition. I was enjoying my time outdoors but I was disappointed how few creatures I was finding. I decided to stick my hand in the water and lift some rocks, as this is often the hiding place of larvae and who knows what else. Nothing found. This too seemed a futile effort. It was autumn so animals of this type were starting to die off or digging deep to hibernate.

But I tried again, lifting a large flat rock. When I turned it over, I was surprised and definitely delighted to see a giant water bug attached. I knew he or she would not stay long, so I quickly took a few photos and made a pencil sketch. The bug started to move so I put it and the rock back in the water. My collection of studies that day included the bug. The artwork was juried into the show and was sold as a gift to a mom for her birthday. Was this the end of story for the piece? No. I wanted to make another artwork based on this experience. I thought about copying the original or making it very similar but then I remembered my grad school window painting moment and decided it against it.

KGjerdset_Milwaukee River Walk

(Water bug in upper right)

I did think about the most memorable about that day. It was the giant water bug. The finalized painting became not about what I collected with my eyes on the river trail but what surprised me. The bug took my day from being somewhat mediocre to an incredible discovery. I had never seen one before. That’s what I wanted my viewers to know about. The resulting artwork shows the giant water bug bursting on the scene. The size of the creature and its claw like legs are emphasized. He has created a disturbance, much like he did for me.

The sketches gave me new ideas. The final artwork grew out of the studies.

Without the sketches, the painting would have never happened.

Each image, though connected by an experience, is distinct. Each developed naturally. Nothing was forced and each conveys the essence, the spirit of what happened. Each shows a part of what I wanted to share.

5 Gjerdset_Milwaukee River Walk 2 copy

(I wrote this for my college art students, hopefully as inspiration. :))

 

View of the Cabin

RMNP 6
“The White Cabin at Rocky Mountain National Park”

Admittedly, buildings are not one of my favorite subjects to draw or paint anymore. I enjoy the freedom nature allows creatively. No one knows the difference if an angle is incorrect or care if a line is crooked. Natural subjects are constantly changing due to light, weather or the life of the form itself. But I desired to have a record of the cabin and so I sat on the back hill behind it on a sunny August afternoon, determined to make a watercolor.

I chose to include a good deal of the environment as it is where I am most connected as an artist. In the process, however, I did let go of feeling locked into making every constructed line straight. I just wanted to make sure the main verticals and diagonals were observed in such a way so the structure would appear stable. Capturing the spirit of the place and my response to the experience became important than observing with a mechanical perfection.

I would have to say a rabbit did have an influence on taking this more laid back approach to linear perspective. As I was figuring my lines, I noticed movement on the porch. There was the cottontail who had been making regular appearances over the course of my two week stay. He appeared to look at me then groom his paws (which is why you see him slightly hunched over). I said a hello to him, as I think this is the polite thing to do when one encounters a rabbit. :)  It seemed fitting to include him.

I proceeded to work – thinking about the number of panes on the windows, how much of the recessed back room I could see, etc. Then I noticed the rabbit hopping up the pathway to where I was. I wondered, “Was he really coming towards me? Was he as curious about me, as I was about him?” He sat on a rock, not far from me, positioning himself in a dignified way, looking in my direction. I agreed he made a wonderful model and so he sat for a few minutes, very still. I was able to paint him. He then scampered down to munch on grasses in the front yard. I believe he was satisfied he contributed to the artwork (by the way, you will find him a third time in the image – left side, center space, as a tiny, black silhouette).

From that point on, I worked with the moments I wanted to remember  – blackbirds flitting in and out, the different shapes of plants present, the layered rock pattern on the chimney, where grasses clumped and the trees I saw each morning from the bedroom. It did not matter if every shingle was drawn, the exact number of wood planks of the cabin recorded or if every life was drawn to be identified, only that they were there and they were symbolized.

(This artwork was produced while I was the artist in residence at Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer of 2015.)

 

 

View from the Porch

view from the cabin
“View from the Porch (RMNP)”

So much for beginning my weekly blog…guess it maybe alternating weeks.:) At any rate, here is my second watercolor and ink image from my artist residency at Rocky Mountain National Park last summer.

Suffering from an altitude sickness kind of headache, I did not want to waste any day, so I spent the day sitting on the cabin porch, wondering what I would see. Purple thistles were the most noticeable, along with Long’s Peak – stable subjects.

The reward of waiting and observing with patience resulted in appearances from more transitory visitors – a red admiral butterfly, least chipmunks, green towhees (I believe were anyway) and voles peeking out now and then under the grasses. I think they would fit well in a pocket, if they liked it, which they would definitely not.:)

A memorable part of the experience was a broad-tailed hummingbird male flying directly up to my face, then zipping away. He is a little tough to find in this image but he is present. Search and find. Have a seat at the porch.

 

Rocky Mountain Lakes Life

Scan 594
“Rocky Mountain Lakes Life”

A new year always brings motivation to start fresh so I have returned to my blog. For the next few weeks, my weekly post will be an image from my Rocky Mountain National Park artist in residence in August of 2015 and the story behind it.

“Rocky Mountain Lakes Life” is a collection of what I saw during a day of hiking up to Bear, Nymph and Dream lakes. The sketches began with the mountain in the center. My goddaughter was feeling the altitude so we sat and waited until she felt better. In the meantime, I pulled out my pencils, watercolors and micron pens, compelled to record the colors and the curvature of the rocky formation before us. It is a small sampling of the pinks, purples, greens, and yellows witnessed.

After my godchild had filled up on water and nourishment, we were on our way. The first lake on this popular trio of lakes trail is Bear Lake, a mere feet from the trailhead. I did not see anything here to paint, plus we were anxious to begin real hiking.

The next lake was Nymph lake; appropriately named, as all the yellow lily pads and glasslike mountain reflections opens up one’s imagination to the possibility of seeing magical creatures and lilliputian beings. While we did not see any of the former, I recorded ants, water skimmers, damselflies mating and a white insect (in upper right of image), of which I still do not know the name. This white one did hold a bit of magic though, as it skimmed across the water, rolled over onto leaves then sat upon them. This process was repeated more than once. I had to use my binoculars to draw it.

The final lake was Dream Lake. Here is where trout can clearly be seen, showing off their salmon pink, red and gold. I was also drawn to a tiny yellow flower amidst the roots of a tree. It was probably only about a half inch in size. A magnifier was required to see it for all its detail. I did the best I could in capturing it but there is more to be seen then what I have here. This is always the frustration with nature, there is so much present than one can possibly record. It is also what keeps me wanting to continue to observe. One always finds something new.

 

 

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More Sketch January – bird, fish, Annie

sketch january 13 raven

On January 13, a raven from Yellowstone National Park was inspiration (taken from my photo).

sketch january 15 fossil fish

“Dreaming Diplomystus Dentatus” on January 15.

An ancient fish that appeared to me to be sleeping, lost in a dream. Worked from my photo from Fossil Butte National Monument.

sketch january 16 sleeping annie

My dog Annie was too content and cute not to draw on the evening of January 16.  All dogs should be so happy.

Sketch January Highlights

After seeing a Twitter posting on a sketch January challenge, I decided to give it a go. Here’s a sampling of favorites:

sketch january 11 copy

“Gray Jay”  – pen and graphite pencil, 2015

Taken from my photo at Rocky Mountain National Park a couple springs ago of a very friendly gray jay, who sat by me, while I painted a mountain. I made a watercolor of him, too, at the time, since he was such a willing model.

The drawing/painting was created with Faber- Castell PITT pens, which are essentially india ink in pen form. Wonderful to work with, as they act like watercolors with their layering possibilities and drawing media for the control one has with line. The other two images below were drawn with the same media, along with a white wax pencil to add highlights.

sketch january 10 magpie copy

“Magpie” – pen, white wax pencil and graphite pencil, 2015

Another friendly bird who engaged me at Rocky Mountain National Park that same spring. I got out of the car to find this bird walking about me, displaying and showing off. I did not even offer him food. A special experience it was, though it normally is with most corvids. I guess he knew I loved magpies and his relatives.  :) He was starting to curve his head down in this moment.

sketch january 8 spider copy

“Spider on Cacti” – pen, white wax pencil and pencil, 2015

I found this little orb weaver amongst cacti at the botanical gardens when I was in Dublin, Ireland a couple years ago. I did not have time to sketch at the time, so she has finally been recorded here in a fine art format.  :)

As always, your respect is appreciated so please do not copy and reproduce without permission.

Thanks and happy drawing!

Milwaukee Public Museum Butterflies

sketch january 5 butterflies from MPM

“Milwaukee Public Museum Butterflies” by Kristin Gjerdset

Watercolor, pencil and ink, 2015

Yesterday, I painted a milkweed pod to turn my thoughts to spring days. Today, I experienced the warmth of summer, indoors, at the butterfly pavilion of the Milwaukee Public Museum. The subjects were much less cooperative in terms of sitting still, than would a dried botanical subject. However, the challenge is always good, to observe with care and attention. My only disappointment is that it was difficult to do justice to the complexity of their wing structure and pattern. But it was a joy to have them flying about, momentarily landing upon my arm, as I worked.

Here are photos of butterflies I saw:

MPM january buttefly 4 MPM january butterfly 1 MPM january butterfly 5 group view MPM january butterfly 5 MPM january butterfly 6MPM january butterflly 7