We carvers are fortunate to have the opportunity to both conceive a design and execute it with nothing more than a chunk of wood and a few sharp tools, and it’s a thrill when the idea becomes a reality before our eyes. I find that sketching helps the design process, forcing me to work through some of the practical elements of an idea by taking it out of my mind and onto the page. I also think that drawing in general, anything, helps to develop our design intuition, beckoning us to look closely and notice things that we may otherwise overlook.
I’ve been reading a book recommended to me by David Berman of Trustworth Studios: By Chance I Did Rove by Norman Jewson. In it, Jewson recollects his formative experience of hiking through the Cotswolds with a donkey and a sketchbook; the sketchbook proving more reliable than the donkey. He describes many memorable encounters, including his first with Arts and Crafts icon Ernest Gimson who went on to teach and employ the young architect and designer.
Intermixed with fond recollections of a place and a way of life that would soon be changed forever by the turmoil of the First World War are lessons learned from Gimson, including this one about sketching and design:
“…so at Gimson’s suggestion I picked and brought with me a different wild flower each day and made a drawing of it. This was part of his training of me in design and I soon found how differently one must look at a flower, or any other natural object, for this purpose. At first my drawings were as realistic as I could make them, with the accidental peculiarities of leaf and flower of the sprig I had brought with me, but he soon taught me to note only its special characteristics, making a simplified analysis of the basic peculiarities of the plant and then adapting this to a pattern suitable for modelled plaster, wood-carving or needlework as the case might be.”
Jewson himself was capable of executing the design, including those that called for wood carving. If I ever find myself in the Cotswolds, I’d like to find a donkey, rove a bit and possibly check out Norman Jewson’s sketchbooks. It seems that they have one here.
Here is a link to a previous post about the value of reference sketching.
Dave, A great leatning for me was some twenty years ago when I went on a sketching trip to the Isles of Shoals -off the coast here- with renown artist John Hatch. We were there with him to better learn and see the landscape and I was busy trying to capture broad expanisive views. John came by and redirected me and sat me down in front of a tremendous granite boulder with a fat pad of sketching paper……and told me to spend the rest of the day getting to know as much as I could about that boulder and to use up all of the pages of the sketch pad. Wow! What an intimate experience with that boulder. So much to discover and feel and take in and then relate to the paper through my mind’s eye.
Thanks for your thoughts,
Thanks so much for sharing such a memorable and profound story, Peter. Since reading your comment, I have enjoyed doing some research on John Hatch and by all accounts he was an amazing man. http://www.nh.gov/nharts/artsandartists/inmemory/johnhatch.htm
What suggestions do you have to learning how to draw or how to draw better? Is there a resource that you have found helpful? I’ve noticed how nice your drawings are for a long time and wondered if that might be part why your carvings turn out so well.
I think there are definitely some some correlations between drawing and carving, including the flow of line and the effect of light and shadow. I certainly wouldn’t consider myself any sort of expert on drawing, but I enjoy it. I make lots of bad sketches, but doing them is still worth it if only to get me to focus intently on a form that I otherwise might have overlooked or just given a glance. Maybe these things get into one’s head and come out when carving, even if we don’t recognize it. Like with so many things, I think the best way to improve at drawing is to draw. That said, I have looked at some books on sketching and drawing over the years. I would recommend The Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature by Cathy Johnson. I appreciate her conceptual approach rather than a procedural set of directions. This also makes her lessons applicable to whatever one wishes to sketch.
Coincidentally, since your name is Anthony, you may appreciate this quote from Michelangelo in response to a student seeking advice. Michelangelo told him, ” Draw, Antonio; draw, Antonio; draw and don’t waste time.”
From concept to final in one deft move. Here, the in between.
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