Going to a museum is one thing, but spending time sketching at a museum brings that experience to a whole other level.
This goes for everything....visits to a zoo, a restaurant, a public garden, a city, a nature preserve...whatever.
When you slow down and take the time to drink in your surroundings and gaze deeply at what's in front of you and then translate that experience on to paper you've engaged with that artwork, animal, city, food etc in a very intimate and unique way.
If you really want to know something, draw it. Snapping a pic with your iPhone is too quick, to mindless to really get into your soul. Ah, but drawing, that's something else all together.
I had the good fortune of viewing the new exhibit of Japanese Edo period screens at the Yale University Art Gallery last Friday. It was a planned trip with time for sketching, wandering around the gallery (which is really much more like a museum, think small scale Met), and eating lunch. I went by myself so I would have plenty of time and feel relaxed about taking time to sketch.
The screens were beautiful. I tend to like Asian art, and enjoy it for its elegant simplicity and expressive use of line. These particular screens also had a bit of humor in them and a number of animals which also delighted me.
In most art museums, this one included, you are typically only allowed to use a pencil for sketching and note taking, so there is no chance precious art works can be damaged (or vandalized like this incident when Delacroix's famous painting Liberty Leading the People was damaged by a Sharpie wielding activist)
Anyway, the point is that I could only use a pencil, and I was using a Papermate ComfortMate Ultra 0.7 which I do find comfortable to hold. The down side of this that it's a bit difficult to reproduce the look of the brush and ink used on the scrolls. But I had a plan for that. I decided that at lunch I would use a water brush and a little tin of Viarco ArtGraf water soluble graphite to enhance the pencil sketches and achieve a brush and ink look.
This worked great and was fun to do, but as always I just couldn't leave things strictly monochrome. That's a problem because I think I may have liked the sketches better that way but alas I felt a strong need to throw some color in there.
These screens are approx. 300 years old and many of them were embellished with gold leaf lending a warm glow to the screens. In my sketch kit I also had a brush pen filled with Lie de The ink (tea colored ink) , these were Japanese screens, I was in a tea house having lunch, and well it seemed obvious that I should add the ink to the sketches.
The blooming branch was a detail on a set of painted wooden doors and I definitely could not resist that pop of color especially since we're still weeks away from cherry, apple and dogwood trees blooming here.
Spending time studying the screens and their various motifs and taking the time to really look, and think the original artists thoughts after him in an effort to capture some of the character of the artwork on the screens was a hugely enriching experience. I spent about 1 3/4 hours doing these sketches. I read the information cards, and sat and looked and thought about how the artist might have approached the making of the designs. The size brush he may have used, the direction of his strokes, the order in which they were laid down. I understand these screens better and have a much more complete memory of them from the time spent interacting with them than I ever would have had I just browsed through the gallery in 20 minutes or so, (and that's longer than most people stayed in the room of screens that day as I was sketching).
After all that sitting I strolled around and looked at some beautiful works of art. Magnificent things in the antiquities gallery, and then on to some of my favorites, Tiepolo, Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, Homer, Inness, Church, Heade, Bierstadt, Burchfield.
A short walk to a new tea house was next, where I made the mistake of trying to sketch my lunch quickly when I was tired and hungry. The sketch was a mess but at home gouache fixed most of what was wrong.
I will say though, that even my very bad sketch contained enough information and memory joggers to allow me to re-create the table setting in gouache with a fair amount of veracity.
Sketching in museums is one of my favorite things. I learn so much and really come away with a sense of having been in contact with a different culture. Short of traveling I think it's one of the best ways to broaden your cultural experiences.