Artist Masterclass: Synthesis

Sara Bloem sketchbook page

Artist Masterclass is a series of conversations between myself and visual artist Sara Bloem

SB: What’s been going on in the studio?

CL: Well, I finally got myself back into the studio last night, after a three week hiatus while I was brainstorming and sketching. I felt very out of shape, but excited to be back.

SB: I liked the latest sketches, the direction they’re going in is exciting.

CL: I think the thing I like the most is that these drawings are much farther away from my reference photos.  This new approach is demanding that I innovate much more with my marks.  I have to interpret and process the images more dramatically.

SB:  I think you’re skilled in both drawing in this smooth, modeled way, and drawing really energetically and coarsely.  I think these sketches challenge you to unite those approaches in one drawing.

CL:  I like qualities of both a tight and loose approach to drawing. They’re both exciting for different reasons. How is your work progressing?

SB: I’m a little frustrated, but other than that I think I’ve made progress this week. I said last week that I wanted 12 compositions by today, but I don’t have them. I feel this weird anxiety about making them. I guess the anxiety is to make all 12 compositions matching.  I feel like every composition I come up with or every idea, I criticize it a lot.  Like, “Too much detail would be too simple and boring. But too much detail would be too decorative.” I don’t know, it feels like a mental block, like my mind is coming up with excuses to not finalize things. Have you ever experienced something like this?

CL:  All the time. I’m one of those people who really thinks too much. I get obsessive about things and I ruminate over the same thing over and over again. I’ve had to teach myself to reserve judgment on my work. When I start criticizing myself is when the trouble begins, because then I can talk myself out of everything.

SB:  I think thinking about things too much can cut off an avenue before I’ve even really explored it.

CL:  It’s like you’re criticizing artwork you haven’t made yet.

SB: I caught myself thinking the other day: “Maybe black and white is too boring? Maybe I should do color?” But I haven’t even made the black and white series yet.

CL: You can make yourself insane thinking about all of the possibilities.

Sara Bloem sketchbook page

SB: I could do literally anything under the sun,  but I have to keep reminding myself: do one thing first.  Basically what’s happening is that doing little things every day has been really helpful, but now I need to transition into actually turning out finished pieces, because I can’t just sketch forever.

CL: While the sketching stage is wonderful and exciting for a number of reasons, you can only do it for so long. After a while I start to really crave finishing something. Actually, I feel that way right now with my current drawings.

SB: Yes, you’ve approached Hiding from quite a few different avenues by now.  I honestly do see how it’s firming up, though. You could get so crazy with the markmaking on the body.  It looks like it’s going to be really fun.

CL:  In the sketches I posted yesterday I still feel like I’m not pushing the drawings far enough, the sketches feel conservative compared to my verbal descriptions of what I want them to look like. I’ve got a ways to go.  So what happened to the reference photos you shot?  The images you have this week are completely different.

SB: That’s my other question for this week.  I still intend on putting together the final compositions using the models, for the record, but I also wonder if I shot the reference photos too soon. I find myself composing a lot of things by just sketching in my sketchbook, and then of course those are out of my head and I don’t have reference for them. So I wonder, should I have waited until later in the process?

CL: Not necessarily, I think I’ve done 5 photo sessions with my model to date. The  idea I had for the work kept changing so I kept reshooting as necessary. I think that’s just part of the process. Sometimes by doing the photo shoot you learn something about what you really want.   In this way, a photo shoot is always useful, even if you don’t literally use those images in the final work. Don’t tell yourself that it was premature to shoot the reference photos

SB: I think you’re right. If I hadn’t done the photoshoot, I think I would be stuck spinning my wheels at an earlier stage.  The photoshoot not only brought to life what I had sketched out in the very beginning stages, but I learned much more about the mood evoked by clothing/unclothing oneself. There were a lot of nicely dreamy images created when the models interacted that I would have never come up with independently, so it was completely worth it.

SB:  I feel like these chats are really helping me transition from student to independent artist.  They keep me accountable. How exactly do you keep yourself accountable? Because I feel like from week to week it’s very incremental progress.  And only through our chats and hindsight do I see how it’s all coming together.  What are your strategies for keeping yourself going?

CL:  My two mentors, who are both former professors of mine keep me accountable.  I respect both of them so much that I feel like I can’t call them up unless I have something to show them. I feel like it would be embarrassing to show up with nothing.  Also, as a professor, you’re expected to be active professionally.  “Publish or perish.”


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