Skool Paper: student- takeover edition


Guest Editor’s Note

For years now, Danny, JJ, Morgan, and I have all taken turns writing the SBS Skool Newsletter, or done it together. A question we kept asking ourselves was, “What would the students want to read about?” Instead of guessing (which caused terrible headaches), we decided to let the students tell us—by writing the newsletter themselves this month. Thanks to everyone who contributed!

SBS Spotlight: Aleesha Sattva

Interview by Fran Cooper. Art: Aleesha Sattva.

Fran: What does a typical day as Director of the SBS SkoolYard look like?

Aleesha: Well, it all starts around 4 am ICT. I dive into customer service emails, correspond with Danny and JJ, and then head over to the Mentorship program to check on pairings. After that, I spend an hour or two in the Yard answering questions, looking at everyone’s art, and making sure posts are in the right topics. I usually have a meeting or two, and I upload recordings of Spark classes and run Spark classes almost daily.

You’re originally from Canada, but now you live in Thailand. How has your new home influenced your art? 

 Living here brought my art out of the house and into cafes! Most of our cafes are outdoors, so I draw pretty much every single time I sit down with a nice iced coffee. I seldom sat in cafes back in Canada—it was always a coffee-to-go in the car. But here, we sit, relax, and take in the atmosphere. 

You are a certified Zentangle teacher. What are Zentangles, and why do you recommend people draw them?

Tangles are non-representational art. What I love about them is they are very mindful and meditative while removing the need to have the end result look like something. For people who are struggling to make their art look like the subject, this is a great way to just relax and allow something to unfold on the page. 

This transfers over to my more representational art. I draw one-line blind contour portraits. I’ve made a few hundred since Spark began, and my practice of Zentangle has helped me allow these portraits to be super wonky and, in my opinion, my art is better because of the wonkiness!

What brought you to SBS originally?

 I shared with a friend that if I could draw, I would draw a particular building here in Chiangmai. She told me that if I want to truly pursue that dream I should go to SBS and take a class. I went to the website, bought three classes, and started that day. Within an hour I was making art. The way Danny teaches (in How to Draw Without Talent) helped me to see as an artist, and once I could do that, I could render it on the page! After that first hour, I was hooked!

What are your best tips for those who are just starting their own SBS adventure?

Take it slow. Don’t try to watch everything. Just focus on one thing, and when you’ve really gotten it, move on to the next. I usually take a few months to do one week in a course. Yes… months! I watch the videos and I start doing the technique/lesson. Then I do it again and again. Once I feel like it’s really a part of who I am as an artist, I go to the next week. That way I don’t mindlessly learn—I do it mindfully, and my art practice shifts.

What’s Your Go-To Prompt?

When I want to draw something but don’t know what, I often put on The Original Transatlantic Sessions, a video on YouTube with three hours of traditional music. It was a PBS series that started in the 90s and continued for 10 or so years. There is so much to draw!

The setting is a country house in Scotland in the winter; there’s no audience, just musicians enjoying music together. Sometimes, I just listen, but often, I pause the video to catch an expression or fingers on a guitar or violin, or one of the scenic views of the North Atlantic coast, sunsets, rushing streams…

Art: Corinne McNamara

This scene was the first time I drew on a gel print background in my sketchbook. The music was “Auld Lang Syne,” and I hear it every time I come across the sketch.

Corinne McNamara

Nature Journal Corner: Fear of 1st Page

You’ve started a brand new Nature Journal! You’re so excited. The paper is perfect, the size fits your kit, your water brushes are ready! You’ve watched some of John Muir Laws’ classes on SBS or his website. Then… FOFP strikes!

Fear of First Page!  We’ve all been there.

Here are some ideas for that pesky page:

  • Color swatches from your palette look great. Paint them in rows, or make them into a circle and write “Nature Journal” and the date you started it. Leave room for the ending date (there’s incentive to finish it; see what we did there?). If you aren’t using watercolor, do swatches from your colored pencils or pens.
    Art: Valerie Kellum
  • Draw a few of the symbols you might use in your practice: a symbol for the Sun and Cloud Cover, the Moon phases, the Wind (which direction, how hard). 
  • Paste in a photo you like and put your info on the page in case you ever lose it. 
  • You can also open the book to any page and start. Then, come back to the first page later with your own ideas.  

The important thing? You started.

Valerie Kellum

Art Habits: Collecting and Using Quotes

I’ve collected quotations on creativity and drawing for years, scattering them through my sketchbooks as creative reminders, as well as using them for lettering or calligraphy practice.

Art: Corinne McNamara

Most Spark teachers and workshop instructors encourage students with inspiring and thought-provoking comments similar to the ones I have from Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, and others, but with more up-to-date wording.

Whether about creativity, drawing habits, observation skills, materials, or ignoring our personal critics, including these words of wisdom in my sketchbooks with the exercises or adding them to found papers, they are good reminders: ignore the monkeys, keep practicing, and use whatever’s on my desk.

Or, as Arthur Ashe says: “Start where you are. Do what you can. Use what you have.”

— Corinne McNamara

Passing It Along

At our family’s last Thanksgiving get-together, my seven-year-old granddaughter was making a small painting of a floral bouquet she had chosen for her room. When she was finished, she looked up from her paper, crayons, and paints and announced, ”I’m a good art worker!” I grinned from ear to ear.

Where did her inner belief in herself come from? Neither of her parents think of themselves as artists, or even artistic. But her grandmother is a self-professed artist, and her two aunts regularly take her and her brother to art museums. Her nine-year-old brother was heard to comment that SF MOMA is his favorite museum!

The “artsy” things we do are noticed, and they are passed along.

— Virginia Hanley

Adventures of an Art Dabbler

I’m an art dabbler. I love to try different art supplies. Paints, paper, pencils, markers, pens … oh my!

My latest dabble adventure is the dip pen. I like the idea of dipping a pen into a bottle of ink, hearing the scratchy sound as the black liquid cascades forth and produces beautiful, sinuous lines. Very Jane Austin-like.

I’ve purchased my supplies, covered my desk in plastic (just in case), and I’m ready to produce masterpiece sketches. Dip, tap gently against the bottle, place the point on the paper and……nothing. No ink cascading. No ink at all.

Art: Audrey Stibbe

I check the nib; there’s ink in there. I pull the nib out and examine it, and it looks okay. Put the nib back in the holder, totally oblivious to the amount of ink on my fingers as I push my glasses up my nose.

Perhaps it needs a shake to get the ink going? I end up with a huge splat on my paper.

Ok, Google: How do you prepare a nib?

Nibs come coated with oil or wax so they store well before being sold. If not removed, the ink does not flow properly. Duh! [Editor’s note: Danny did mention this in his Dip Into Dip Pens workshop, available in your SBS library.]

Four ways to clean a nib: water; water and liquid dish soap; gently with a toothbrush and toothpaste, and my favorite: stick nib in a raw potato for 15 minutes. (According to the article I read, for some reason a Russet potato is best.)

So, while I wait 15 minutes for the nib-potato trick to be done, I’ll go wash the ink off my face, which my husband kindly pointed out to me.

Happy art-making!

— Audrey Stibbe

Making Art with Mom

Art: Julie Bradley

For the past month, I thought I was never going to create art with my Mom again. We’d had to move her to an assisted living facility due a worsening dementia condition, and she was not adjusting well.

I’d spent nearly every day over the past two years creating art with my Mom long distance, from Arizona to Virginia. When I first suggested we do art together, she was skeptical and tentative because she had been told many times in her youth that she had no talent and could not draw. We bought art supplies, pads of sketch paper, and colored pencils.

As we progressed through the months, she spent less time talking about how she couldn’t draw and instead picked up her pencil, saying, “What are we going to draw today?”

I would contact her on an Alexa show video device (she’s not able to use a computer), and we’d start our time talking about what we were going to draw. Often it was flowers, a favorite subject. At first, we worked in a 5” x 8” desk calendar planner with nice sized, yet non-intimidating blank spaces. After creating numerous 2” x 4” miniature drawings, mainly with colored pencils, we started working in a Stillman & Birn 7” x 7” Zeta sketchbook. The smooth paper was perfect for colored pencils but could take watercolor too, so we started painting.

At first, we worked from our imagination, but Mom was happier with her drawings when we used a photo reference. We started drawing plants and animals, then added landscapes, and finally an occasional person or building. We even started working through Danny Gregory’s book, How to Draw without Talent. Mom’s artistic skills improved, and so did mine. Her drawings are creative, simple, and childlike, and she looks over her artwork with such joy and pride.

Since the move in early December, Mom (age 88), was not interested in spending time with me. She would not smile; she would not talk. It was a heartbreaking situation. We tried medication, and thankfully, that worked. Almost overnight, she was smiling again, and after another month, we had our first art session using a new 2022 calendar planner with colored pencils to create flowers.

It is believed artwork may help slow cognitive decline and reduce agitation while improving health and wellbeing of patients with dementia. At the very least, it increases happiness.

—Julie Bradley

8 mins

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