The Blog: The nature of deadlines

The nature of deadlines

May 5, 2024 | Process, Sketches, Works in Progress

Lately I’ve been drawing a lot. Normally I save my drawing time for Fridays, which is my art day (Monday through Thursday, I work as an illustration editor for the academic journal Annual Reviews, and the weekends are usually full of family-related activities). I think all week about what I’m going to work on, and then on Friday I get as much done as I can in the hours when my kids are at school. But recently I’ve been drawing a lot more—I spent a whole Saturday drawing plants at a wildflower show; I drew ceanothus flowers from a neighbor’s garden on a Monday evening; I drew lupine flowers from another neighbor’s yard while dinner simmered on the stove on Wednesday. Tomorrow I’ll pick up some penstemon flowers from a friend’s garden and draw those while they’re still fresh, and I’m hoping to draw some woolly blue curls that are about to bloom in my own garden.

Sketching ceanothus

Sketching ceanothus on a weeknight after the kids are in bed.

Why this sudden pouring-out of sketching? How have I found more time in my days, which are jam-packed with work and family commitments? I have been thinking about this—as I walk the dog and do the dishes and drive the kids to activities, and I think the answer is actually pretty boring: I have a deadline.

Well, it’s not really a deadline. It’s more a sense of urgency, to draw flowers when they’re blooming so that I can draw them from life. Having to draw from photos is a reality for an artist/illustrator who sometimes wants to draw or paint things that I don’t have in front of me, like rare bees, or birds from Africa. But when it comes to plants, especially those that are native to the area where I live, I always prefer to draw them from life. When a plant is right in front of me, I can examine it closely, and from all angles. It’s easier to see how all the pieces (leaves, flowers, stems) are connected; it’s easier to get a sense of the plant’s posture, how it holds itself. And it’s much more enjoyable, because I can get lost in the details and feel that lovely meditative flow that comes from deep concentration. Once I’ve drawn a flower so carefully, I’ll never forget it because now I know it so well. Often I’ll start to see it more, almost like a familiar face popping out to say hello from the side of a trail. Before drawing it, I might not have noticed it and likely would have walked right past it.

Drawing sticky phacelia at the Monterey Bay CNPS wildflower show.

Drawing sticky phacelia at the Monterey Bay CNPS wildflower show.

So if I want to draw California wildflowers from life, the time is now, when flowers are still fresh. Thankfully, many of my neighbors grow California native plants and are willing to give me clippings to sketch. This adds another layer of urgency—I need to actually draw these flowers, since others were kind enough to let me take clippings from their plants. I don’t want to waste their flowers, plus I love the idea that little bits of my neighbors’ gardens will show up in a painting someday. In the meantime, I’ll draw the neighbor’s penstemon, and maybe some woolly blue curls too.

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