Making art, inspired by other art (you made)
A bit of history, my experience and a brand new sketchbook challenge
Way back, when I was still doing art in school, our art teachers always wanted us to draw studies of what we were planning to paint on canvas. Did I do that? Well, not exactly. Often times, if we had to do it for marks I would quickly make a few sketches, after I have already finished the painting. I just couldn’t see what use it would have, doing the studies before starting with the painting. Now I shake my head at my younger self - how much growth in my art did I miss out on by not taking the studies and the sketches seriously.
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History: making art from your sketches has always been a thing
Throughout the ages artists have made sketches, be it on location or of live models, to then, later use those sketches to make final artwork, be it paintings, murals, etches, sculptures and so much more. Rembrandt made sketches in preparation for his paintings and etches. Degas made many sketches of ballerinas before making sculptures and paintings of them. Because these old drawings are so sensitive to light, one rarely see them displayed in museums, that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. And if you ever hear that an artist’s sketches, studies or drawings will be on display, go to the exhibition, you never know when you will get another chance to see them.
But is making art from your own finished artworks a thing?
There are two ways in which artists throughout history have made new art from their artworks. Sometimes they would make a painting representing their studio or a room in a house, that featured some of their paintings on the walls or on an easel. In David Hockney’s The Studio one can see the artist standing in a room filled with his own paintings. Nicole Kelly’s painting The Zebra features one of her own paintings, Kitchen Table, hanging on the back wall.
At other times the artist would use the original artwork as a source of inspiration for the following one. If you have seen some of Sandi Hester’s youtube videos, you will notice that she does this all the time. Van Gogh would often make drawings of his paintings in the letters he wrote to his brother, like this drawing of the yellow house that he also made a painting of.
Where does Urban Sketching fit into all this?
In Urban Sketching the sketch that you make on location is most often considered the “final artwork”. Most urban sketchers don’t go out to make sketches on location with the aim of reproducing them in the studio. However, it isn’t something that is unheard of. Sometimes the art we make on location can be really inspiring, prompting us to revisit the subject at a later point in time. Jenny Adam is one example of an urban sketcher who makes paintings based off her on location sketchbook works.
It is however, important to remember that the artwork that you make in studio from your urban sketches, cannot be considered urban sketches, because they weren’t made on location.1
My experience with sketching from my own sketches
I discovered on location sketching or urban sketching a few years ago and it completely changed my relationship with art. There is something exhilarating about making the drawing right there as you are experiencing the place. You can capture the atmosphere and your emotions in the drawing in ways that you cannot do with a quick photo.
The more I sketched on location, the less appealing sketching from photos became. It came to a point where I just couldn’t get myself to sketch from a photo unless it was part of a zoom drawing session with other people. Along with this came two problems which I would need solutions for:
Making art on location with canvas and paint can be, let’s say, tricky. I am not even going to go into all the challenges you can face with the weather, transport, paint drying slowly, bathroom breaks etc - it makes my stress levels rise just thinking about it.
What do I do when the weather turns cold and on location drawing is no longer a viable option?
This last year I have been watching Sandi Hester’s youtube channel and heard her going on about sketching from her sketches or even her final artwork. And I decided that I had to give it a try.
I have for long resisted making paintings or drawings from the sketches that I made on location, whether on canvas or in another sketchbook. My main concern was that I wouldn’t get the same out of the process as I did from sketching on location. And even though it isn’t exactly the same, I was pleasantly surprised with what happened when I started to do it.
I expected sketching from my own sketches to be more like sketching from a photo, where in reality it turned out to be not the same at all. Once I started sketching I started to recall all the memories I had from when I made the original sketch. Most of them being good memories. The amount that I remembered also surprised me, as well as how intense the good emotions would be that I would have.
I have also found that making sketches from my own sketches helps me to simplify the sketch. It helps me to figure out what is really important and abstract the essence of it into the next sketch.
And so we come to the sketchbook challenge for this month: make a sketch, using one of your own on location sketches as inspiration. Remember to tag me if you post this in your Instagram stories so I can also see and share it.
Ideas for sketching from your own sketches
Use a different medium.
Pick a different colour pallet from the original.
Change the composition.
Leave out unnecessary elements in your sketch.
Pitfalls when sketching from your own sketches
One pitfall that I fell in a while ago has to do with the on location part of this exercise. As I was making my sketch I would start to over think it, knowing that I will later want to make a painting from the sketch I was busy with. My focus would shift to the amount and accuracy of the information that I can get down on paper. Once my mind went there my drawing would become stiff with the unnecessary pressure of being perfect. While what you actually want is for it to be free and experimental, with marks that come alive. The focus being on capturing the moment, what you are observing and the emotions that you are feeling. Now when I go out to sketch I try to avoid thinking about the possibility of using the sketch I’m busy with for future artworks. I tell myself that it is just for the fun and that it is allowed to be a bad sketch, because whether it is good of bad is beside the point. What is important is whether I was experiencing the moment fully; whether I made an honest drawing that has pieces of me in there. There are, after all, a gazillion other ways to judge your own art besides whether it is good or bad or reusable. (More about that in a future post, so make sure you subscribe if that sounds like something you would like to read about.)
I am looking forward to seeing your sketches made from your sketches this month. Let me know in the comments whether this is something that you already do.