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December 20, 2012

Thoughts on Exhibiting Sketches


Last week was the opening reception for our annual College of Art Architecture faculty exhibit at the Prichard Art Gallery here in Moscow, ID. This is the ninth time I have participated, and it's always a lot of fun seeing what everyone has been up to with their individual creative pursuits. I typically take the exhibit as an opportunity to display a group of my sketches from the previous summer I spent in Italy. It's always nice to see these humble, quick drawings in frames and hung on the wall adjacent to all sorts of other artwork. 

It's been great to see so many Urban Sketchers exhibiting their work in galleries over the past few years. As a result, I've been thinking that our Manifesto could be updated slightly. Item #7 states that "We share our drawings online," but perhaps we should amend this to say simply, "We share our drawings." Certainly, our community relies on the internet for the bulk of our interactions, and the connections that we make around the world via online communication are fantastic. But there is really no substitute for the direct interaction that is facilitated through exhibits - after all, it's what we already do at the end of virtually every Sketchcrawl, at least in an informal way.

This is one of the topics I discuss in my new book, Sketching on Location, in the chapter entitled "After Sketching." I strongly encourage everyone to seek out local opportunities to share your sketches. Most municipalities have some sort of arts commission that is tasked with supporting local artists, and group exhibits seem to be getting more common. In my experience, these events have been a fantastic opportunity to connect face-to-face with other local artists - whether they are professional or amateur, focused on plein air painting or urban sketching. Entry into local exhibits is most often open, though occasionally the selection process is juried and awards are presented in various categories.

I understand that the idea of juried exhibits doesn't sit well with everyone, and I agree that the most important objective in sketching is to do so freely, driven by a fundamentally intrinsic motivation. But I sometimes find it inspiring and motivating to draw with some additional purpose or, at the very least, to share sketches I have already made in a new venue. For example, the sketch of the Roman Forum on the front cover of my book was recently selected for the Design Communication Association's Juried Drawing Exhibit, and it received the highest award in its category of "Observational Images - Faculty." The DCA is a group that was founded over twenty years ago, comprised mainly of educators who focus on design graphics at the university level. Many of these folks have been teaching aspects of what we now refer to as "urban sketching" for decades, and the jury for the exhibit consisted of Steve OlesWilliam Hook, and Anna Loseva - three very highly-accomplished artists - so I was thrilled that this drawing was recognized with an award. But regardless of whether the exhibit is a group show, a solo event, a juried competition, or open to all, I strongly encourage every sketcher to share their work both online AND in bricks-and-mortar galleries at every opportunity!

11 comments :

Suhita said...

Matthew I can't agree more fully. I used to think I'd have to create larger, 'studio' pieces if I ever wanted to be in serious shows, but then, just for the heck of it, I started entering my sketches, and it's amazing how many shows they get into! Yay for Urban Sketching!

Matthew Brehm said...

Hi Suhita - yes, I used to think the same thing, but it wasn't only about the size of the work. I used to assume that 'serious' art had to be abstract - that it should require a lengthy explanation about the artist's mental state and their 'commentary on society.' But I certainly don't think that way anymore! 'Art' is a very big word, and there's no reason that it shouldn't include representational drawing as well as abstract pieces - and everything in between.

larry said...

I agree with your suggestion of manifesto change, not because I'm interested in contests or formal shows (I have no interest in participating). But the social side of urban sketching is very important to me and thus, sharing both sketches "offline" is very much part of what I do and enjoy.

As an aside, I wish that those of you who do frame your sketches would spend some time talking about how you move sketches, done in a sketchbook, to a mat-framed piece. That's sort of a mystery to me (grin). Do you scan/print them? Do you redraw them (Pete just did a great piece on his cathedral sketch)? Or is there some other magic that gets done?

Rolf Schröter said...

i agree with larry - i would not mind the change of the manifesto, as the social aspect of our practice - symposium, group meetigs of local groups etc - might be expressed that way. i like the feel of original piece, especially on tables and not under glas...
what i never do, is think about, how a sketch would 'look framed', while doing it. i think, that the online publishing practice of USk causes an valuation of an very immediate, sketchy, narrative kind of work (often done in unframeable sketchbooks and of small size), that is more or less killed, when pressed in farmes.

Bajzek said...

Congratulations on the exhibition and the award! I wish I can do an UsK exhibition in Sao Paulo next year.

marctaro said...

Congrats on that Matthew! Great to see you recognized by such a prestigious group!

kumi matsukawa said...

I agree all the way what you have said about sketching:
motivation, social side / after sketching.
I do believe that sketching on location is the most pure and essential part of art and sketch itself also need more chance to be seen in a frame. ( Although many sketches are often drawn on unframeable sketchbooks) We also can share on net like this blog and exhibiting prints in frames or exhibiting the original works without frames.
Congratulations for your book as well as the exhibition!
I really look forward to reading your book!

Kate (Cathy Johnson) said...

Marvelous, Matt!

Marcia Milner-Brage said...

Matthew, your post is very inspiring. I whole heartedly agree with your proposed revision to our manifesto and especially to your encouragement to share our work beyond our online forums, to show them in galleries. For me, it's been a thrilling, natural progression. Spring of 2010 I made the life-changing discovery of Urban Sketchers Flickr site and the much appreciated ongoing encouragement, from our international community. 600 location drawings later, 200 of which are of my hometown of Cedar Falls/Waterloo, Iowa, I am opening a one-person exhibit of my local drawings at the City of Cedar Falls' Hearst Center for the Arts at the end of January. Drawing the Town will be 36 archival framed original drawings (some from spiral-bound sketchbooks or done on individual pieces of paper) and 14 stitch-bound, opened sketchbooks in a display case. It's been a lot of work to mount an exhibit, even with a curator, publicist, framer, and graphic designer working alongside me. Until this exhibit opens, there are more people in Portugal, France, Germany, Japan and California that know my work than people here in my town! I am so excited and grateful to be given this opportunity.

Veronica Lawlor said...

Wonderful post and exhibit Matt. One of the best things about the urban sketchers experience is the sharing that happens. To see the drawings in person as well as online makes it even better. congratulations on your exhibit.

Matthew Brehm said...

Wow - great conversation! And thanks so much to Eduardo, Marc, Kumi, Kate, and Ronnie for your congratulations! To Larry - the sketches I exhibit are done on individual sheets of paper rather than in sketchbooks, though Marcia's point about displaying the sketchbooks under cases is also something I have done. I do about half/half of my sketching in books versus loose sheets, and the loose sheet sketches are generally larger and more suitable for framing/exhibiting. To Rolf - I totally agree about NOT thinking of how a sketch will appear in a frame, though I do try to think about how it is arranged on the page (size and composition), and this usually leads to sketches that do work well in a frame. To Marcia - congratulations to YOU! What a great accomplishment, and it is very inspiring to hear about your progression. It is funny how our local freinds often know less about our sketching work than people all over the world - and this certainly is the advantage of "sharing our sketches online"!