Home now from the Urban Sketchers Symposium in far-away Paraty, Brazil, I'm currently reflecting on the work I created there, and thinking about the Workshop I taught called "Capturing Intangibles." The goal of the short class was to learn to create more meaningful sketches by intent and by design. Intangibles are not the persons, places or things of a sketch, but rather, the descriptions, feelings and qualifiers. Intangibles are the adjectives and adverbs of drawing. They are what makes the wind bitter, the house haunted and the laughter explosive. Often we aim to draw what we see, but how often do we try to draw our thoughts? Impressions? Feelings? Pictures are, after all, vehicles for communication; we read them and we can learn to write them, too. As an Illustration professor, I deal with such lessons every day.
If I were to judge my own success in capturing intangibles, I'd say it was mixed. But then again, only twice did I set out for an extended period of time to really look at the town and to seek out something to draw from true, personal interest. As I've written on this blog before, I'm a slow sketcher, a long-form sketcher. I hunt for a long time and then draw for an even longer time to capture my subjects. And, unlike many of my colleagues, I almost always draw alone. I want to disappear in the place. I want to be a solitary sponge. It's a personal choice, no better than any other.
My favorite drawing is featured above. It shows a side street that ran outside of the tourist section of town. Like many of Paraty's coastal streets, it floods at high tide, creating a surreal effect. Combined with the week's overcast weather, things looked as if a hurricane had recently passed through. Everything was damp and grey. Where I sat drawing, a local family came and went, exchanging horses and carriages which served the tourists a short distance away. They lived a tougher existence than their customers. The family argued and laughed and went about their business. Like the sea water, I was treated as a minor obstacle, something to navigate around, something that comes and goes. It was a fascinating afternoon. I even learned where they hid the key to their front door. Hint: you'll need a long, thin stick.
I'll always remember what I saw in Paraty, Brazil, thanks to my drawings and photos. But, with this, my favorite drawing, I'll remember a bigger picture: a rich story and the perceptions and feelings that go with it.