Monday, September 2, 2013

Memory and Spirit

Saturday, the first day of the three day Labor Day weekend, was the best possible day for sketching.  Despite threatening forecasts we had good weather the entire time we were at Governors Island.

The view of lower Manhattan

I was drawn to the view of the One World Trade Center - the Freedom Tower.  I was most interested in the tiny details at the shore line:

Tiny details on the shore line
I was struck by the idea that at one time the tiniest structures visible at the shore line were once among the tallest buildings in NYC.

I spent a long time on the skyline view and when I was done I felt a need for speed  as a change of pace.  A couple parked their bicycles  in front of us while they took a photo of the Jersey City skyline  in the distance.  They were gone in a moment.  Even the lightning fast pencil sketch was mostly done from memory.  Adding color was done with my fading memory of the image:

Sketched in an instant

Since it was pencil I could have tried to correct the lines to make the drawing stronger, but decided to go with it as is.

Memory and Spirit
I had a conversation with Bryant and Eugene about this on the ferry ride back.  Our discussion started with the idea that people are so hard to sketch because they almost always move before you can get what you want down on paper.

I read an interesting idea by Robert Henri in his book, The Spirit of Art.  He proposed an Art School that would train students by having the models in one room and the artist's easels in another.  With this set-up student's would learn to use and trust their memory.

I wonder if the drawings that are made very slowly using extreme care, using the most exact measurements don't have less of our  unique spirit than then sketches that are dashed off in an unselfconscious moment?  I don't hold either of these sketches to be the best example of what I'm getting at, but I suspect every sketchers must know what I mean.  I wonder which is the better goal to pursue?


  1. Nice city view, Mark! I like the sketch of the bikers. I think that moving people are really a challenge and when you can capture the pose before they move on...or partly from memory, sometimes there is a little more "life" in the sketch.

  2. There is a sense of immediacy in your people sketch, but you have this down pat. The more you sketch something, the more adept you should become, so if you avoid people, the skills are limited. Don't think there is a right or wrong way regarding speed and working from memory because it depends on the skill level. Sorry you couldn't stay longer. You would have enjoyed the variety of people, kids, and rides. (Notice I didn't post my people sketches)

  3. Usually the color applied to a sketch is from memory because the people had left. This allows a chance to choose colors that work best for the painting as a whole. No one will miss the intricate plaid or advertising on a T-shirt. Often memory forces the artist to make bolder decisions, it it dark or light, warm or cool.


  4. Thank you one and all. I appreciate the comments. Tom when are you coming up to NY to come sketch with us?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.