Author/Artist: John Alexander Wright
94 pages. Self-published. Available on Blurb.com. Soft cover: $33. Hard cover: $52.
By Marc Holmes
In May 2013, Canadian sketcher John Wright walked 790 kilometers (about 500 miles) across northern Spain following the Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James).
Thousands of people make this medieval Christian pilgrimage each year, but unlike most of the peregrinos, Wright is an artist. His trek required four weeks of brisk walking, five to eight hours a day. Along the way, he made sketches. 120 drawings done entirely on location.
“The discipline for me was to keep walking,” says Wright. “Not so much because that was hard, but because I wanted to stop and sketch every time the view changed”.
On a hike like this, packing light is a survival skill. So it had to have been a big commitment to bring art supplies. His heaviest “non-essentials” would have been two 5” by 8” hardcover Laloran sketchbooks, plus his drawing kit.
But these weren't non-essential to Wright. While other pilgrims were mailing back bulky sweaters and too-heavy hiking boots in an effort to drop weight at any cost, this avid sketcher couldn't take the chance of losing his precious sketchbooks inside the Spanish postal service.
His recently released book, “Drawn Along the Way: My Camino Sketchbook”, is 94 pages, with approximately 60 illustrations, many of them double page spreads. The artwork is pen and ink with watercolor wash. The drawings are executed with an architect’s eye, balanced with a love of freshness and spontaneity.
Wright offers some art-talk for fellow sketchers - describing intentionally minimal materials and technique, and the challenges of choosing the best views along an unknown route. He also addresses the performance anxiety inherent in sketching portraits of strangers, especially considering the oddly intimate relationship that forms between fellow pilgrims. But mostly, the text is a philosophical journey: his memories of the places he’s drawn, and subsequent deeper reflections, gained while sorting and selecting sketches.
I know from my own practice how sketching a place makes for lasting memories. Just think of the analysis that goes on while you sketch: how a place is built, the textures of the materials… For Wright, adding the spiritual nature of the journey to what might otherwise have been ‘sketch-tourism’, seems to have been doubly rewarding. Writing for his annotated sketchbook must have been a way to re-live the pilgrimage a second time.
Readers will feel this spirit come through the text and drawings. There’s both a serious side to the story, and a sense of adventure. Wright relates both physical and mental health benefits gained from the effort of the walking, and the liberation from daily life. The focus on simple goals – daily mileage, and daily sketching.
You can find out more about John’s work at his blog: johnssketchjournal.blogspot.ca.
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