by Kevin Czap
So my Cube compatriots here were all talking about sketching and process over twitter sometime last week, and Darryl had the good idea of devoting time to write on the subject here. This idea caught me at a time when I’ve been doing some philosophizing about process and the whole idea of practice, so unfortunately that means you will have to bear with me.
I talk with my buddy Alex Martin a lot about music. He’s a musician in a house of musicians, grew up being surrounded by jazz, funk all that stuff. So it’s always informative to me when he lays some knowledge down about folks like Miles Davis. He’s also an sculptor and painter, so we talk about art as a practice a lot. Thinking about art making as a practice places emphasis on a constant state of being, more than only the output. It’s really helpful for me to think in these terms because it’s very different from how my mind is set up to begin with. I’ve developed more of a utilitarian focus over time, and I’m slowly working on easing out of it. Anyway, when Alex and I talk about practice, we’re usually going on about how we’re in a constant struggle almost to become better artists. There’s this (perhaps unattainable) goal of just being unequivocally good. If you’re not making people pause over your stuff, you need to keep working at it.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but it’s the motivation that comes from really wanting to improve. At least for me, when I tell myself that, it’s less about being the best than it is about being at the peak of my potential, and to always just see if the limits can be stretched. What matters is the getting there, the constant in-between. Which is what practicing is all about.
Returning to Alex and Miles Davis, my man would tell me about how Davis would say how just being around his trumpet was practice. Pick it up, carry it around, even if you’re not wailing out on it, you’re still in a mindset that is conducive to the practice. When so much of your art relies on a relationship with a specific tool, like a musical instrument, you really need to be at your most comfortable when wielding that tool. It gets to the heart of how I’ve been thinking about this whole idea of art making – as a practice, the key is about reaching a level of naturalness, a level of comfort at what you’re doing.
Every performance or book that you do, that’s a big chunk of experience and a great learning experience. However, I see sketching and just drawing every day as different. It’s about training your body how to be a certain way, so that when it comes to time to perform, it’s not some big thing. This is a fairly new concept to me, as elementary as it may sound. In the past, I’ve tended to be pretty lax about sketching, going through long stretches of time where I wouldn’t touch a sketch book, being more of a note taker. Recently though I’ve been just trying to turn out drawings on a much more frequent basis, doing lots of post-it note drawings during down time at work. Here are a couple:
Another music-related anecdote that I think pertinent has to do with a great interview I read with Jason Segel. He was talking about playing the piano, and how he was terrible for a long time. The important thing is that he didn’t care. He was aware that he was no good at playing, but he liked it, so he just kept playing. This sentiment is so foreign to my experience growing up doing just about anything, and so seeing in print like this was a bombshell for me. I’ve always been so embarrassed and mortified about being terrible in public that it stunted a lot of my creative growth, I believe. Anyway, with Segel, he played long enough that eventually he got to a point where he didn’t really suck anymore. He’s actually pretty good at it. This is why we need to sketch. We need to draw a lot, and even if we’re not drawing or painting or designing, we need to be hanging out with our tools. Not out of some obsessive quest to master the form, but really to let it soak into us.
I am going to be exhibiting at TCAF this weekend, hope you guys can make it out!