I don't think I'm alone in being a writer who's just as passionate about my artwork as I am about my writing. Clay, collage, pencils, watercolors, beads . . . they're all poetry to me. Each one of these mediums and disciplines informs and inspires my writing life, and I can't imagine dropping any of them.
But one of the things I've struggled with for a long time is finding the right kind of art group, one that matches my wonderful writer's group: a free-form meeting of women with interests that range from screenwriting to structured poetry to pithy vignettes. When we meet every two weeks, it's to write, not critique. We freewrite for about 30-40 minutes, and then we read aloud to each other. Our very informal meetings conclude with conversation and a chance to catch up on each other's personal news. It's a great system, and I've been trying to find that same kind of experience in an artistic environment. Enter: Urban Sketchers!
I discovered Urban Sketchers while I was searching Pinterest for examples of travel journal lay-outs. Over and over my favorite illustrations came from Urban Sketchers' members and I was uber-curious to find out who they were. A few Google searches later, and yay, I found a chapter here in Albuquerque.
I've been attending their various events off-and-on now for about nine months, and I love the way the format follows that of my writer's group: a group of enthusiastic people gathering in an interesting place; setting off on our own to sketch; then meeting up again to share and discuss our morning's work. I particularly enjoy the positive, warm atmosphere of viewing the various sketchbooks without tearing them apart in search of perceived flaws or "mistakes."
I've grown to love Urban Sketchers so much that I want to spread the word to everyone I know--not just my artist friends, but with my writing friends, too, as well as those who are photographers, potters, jewelry makers--everyone. There's so much to be gained from being with creative people regardless of whatever medium you work with. For instance, even if you've never dreamed of doodling in the margins of your latest draft, you can still:
- Take note of settings. Many of the places we've sketched in are venues I've never been to before. Making notes on all the fresh sights and sounds and smells, recording what I liked about the place (and what I didn't) has all gone into my sketch journals along with my drawing.
- Take note of details: Architecture, clothing, people watching. So much of what makes a story come to life depends on the details. Taking a few hours to really concentrate on every single little thing can only add to your next story project.
- Photography. Okay, let's say you really, really don't want to draw. Take pictures instead! Who knows, photography may become an entirely new vocation for you, one that fits your written work perfectly.
- Artist's Date: Before, during, and after. Most writers I know find the hardest advice to follow in Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way to be taking the "Artist's Date," probably because it involves a) going by yourself, and b) treating yourself to something fun. Writers are notoriously mean to themselves, especially when they feel they haven't written enough or to the quality they expect on any given day. Hence the need for the artist's date. Urban Sketchers allows you to start out in the security of a group, but then sends you on your way to discover your own unique path for a few hours. Take advantage of the time alone to do something that pleases your writer-self while feeding your entire creative being. (And you can buy yourself a treat somewhere along the way too!)
- Meet creative people. Who knows? They might be writers! (Or want to read your books, buy your jewelry!) Seeing the work of others is always inspiring.
- Get out of your comfort zone. Sketching, especially in public, might seem scary if you've never tried it before. But if you can get over your initial fear of "What will people think?" wow, imagine how confident you'll be pitching a manuscript, or cold-calling on bookstores. Or even starting a new manuscript!
- Sketching is meditative. Remember how much fun you had when you were a little kid and able to zone out with your crayons and paper? Believe it or not, you were meditating at the same time. Giving yourself that same childlike joy for a few hours now and then can help you solve a myriad of character and/or plot problems.
Going back even further in time at the Natural History Museum:
If you do decide to visit your local Urban Sketchers, some essentials you'll need to bring along are: a collapsible camping-type stool, a set of color pencils (much easier and cleaner than fussing with watercolors or felt pens), a pencil sharpener, a sketch pen that you also like to write with, a hardback journal or sketchbook, hat and/or sunglasses, optional camera. Minimal tools for maximum fun.
Tip of the Day: Urban Sketchers is a world-wide phenomenon. Any Internet search will help you find a group somewhere in your area or close enough to travel to. Toss out your inhibitions and tag along--I know you'll be welcome!