Today, I want to talk a bit about planning “Field Trips” into your DIY Art School study. Field trips, when you are learning largely at home, are even more important than they are during a regular schooling environment. Why? Well during a regular art school experience you’d be heading out each day for classes and seeing a variety of people, and you'd have classes on topics that don't translate well into subjects studied at home alone. Studies from home can get very lonesome, or at the very least can quickly drive you into a mental rut because you just aren’t getting enough variety in stimuli. You need to engage your brain in a multitude of ways, not just to make good art, but to keep emotionally healthy.
Fortunately there are a variety of useful activities you can plan outside the home to alleviate the problem. Where field trips would likely be a very once-in-a-while activity in art school, for the diy art student it should be a once or twice a week activity to make up for the parts of a traditional art education that you are otherwise missing. It’s a great idea to plan a specific day(s) where you will force yourself out into one of the activities below. At times an outting can also take the place of a normal day of at home study and practice, to help recharge your artist batteries. A spur of the moment field trip is a very useful cure for artist block or stagnation!
Field Trip ideas
Museums are a time honored and important art outing. Just walking around and enjoying the artwork can be inspirational, but there is more you can take away from a museum experience. Take a pad of paper and a pencil with you on your museum trips, and record your thoughts as you go. Take note of artists whose work you enjoy so you can find out more about them later on the internet. Take notes about techniques they use that you find interesting, or ones you would like to learn how to produce for your own work. If you can do so without getting in the way of other museum goers, stop and make some sketches. You don’t have to do a full master copy to learn a lot. Sometimes making a quick sketch of powerful compositions, or capturing a particularly effective area of a painting can be very informative. Supplement your sketches with notes about what you can observe. The important thing is do not be a passive viewer of the art, you want to actually use your artist observation skills to really look deeply.
Other types of museums can also be excellent. I love a good natural history museum, with bones, dioramas, stuffed specimens, etc. There are museums dedicated to all sorts of topics, and they can all be a great visit.
A gallery outing will be much like a museum outing, but with more living and working artists most likely. Going in on a quiet afternoon you can treat the experience very much like a museum outing. If you can make out to an art opening, you have some other powerful opportunities such as the ability to meet the artists, and ask them questions about their work. Now when you use those art observation skills, you won’t have to guess about an artist’s technique or intentions, you can actually ask! Additionally don’t neglect talking to others there enjoying the show. Learning how to talk intelligently about art with other people is an important artist skill.
Life drawing sessions
Most people do not have a variety of able and willing artist models at home. A weekly life drawing night is a perfect scheduled art outing. This will take some research on your part to find one available near you. Check local art schools. Many will have an evening life drawing class that is available to the public even if you are not enrolled at the school. If you don’t see one available, ask. Maybe there is one you can sit in on, and if not it at least lets them know there is an interest for possible future classes. These classes or open drawing nights will often have a fee at an art school, but it one that is very worthwhile.
You can also look for local artist groups that may organize a model for themselves. Check the bulletin board of local art stores and coffee shops. Some may require membership, and others may be welcoming to all serious artists. There will often be a fee collected each night to pay to the model, and an additional tip for the model will help insure that good models are likely to return.
You can also look for a local chapter of Dr Sketchy (warning: full and partial nudity within the link). Dr Sketchy was started by New York artist Molly Crabapple as a fun alternative to regular life drawing classes. While it started in NY, there are independent branches all over, and more cropping up regularly. There is a handy search option on the website to find one closest to you. Dr Sketchy events are one part life drawing, one part burlesque show, and one part party. They often take place at a bar and you can easily have a drink or two while drawing (although you don’t have to). Despite the party atmosphere you’d be mistaken if you thought there was little real art going on. On the contrary, Dr Sketchy offers very solid life drawing, and the atmosphere can attract very talented artists. This is not only a great drawing opportunity, but a great networking and socializing opportunity.
One last option for life drawing is going “in the wild.” Find a spot with decent foot traffic, and draw the people around you. Some people like the slow pace of a coffee shop. One of my favorite places used to be the food court at my local mall, because it pulled a wider selection of interesting people, and they were often so distracted by their shopping and finding lunch that an artist quietly sketching drew little attention. No matter where you go, you’ll need to draw quickly and you’ll rarely get someone still long enough to get a super refined drawing. Focus on drawing body language, or capturing whatever unique qualities make them stand out most.
Find a scenic spot and draw or paint what you see. Combining this kind of outing with a little hiking will let you find some spots not everyone sees, and gets you some valuable exercise (something many of us who spend so much time at desks needs dearly). Make sure to plan appropriately for being outside for a length of time. Dress for the weather, and don’t neglect hats and sunscreen. A good hat with a brim will help cover your eyes so you can see well without being blinded by the sun. Morning and evening gives great light, but it changes rapidly and won’t last long. The noon day sun can be too bright to see well, unless you find some shade/cover.
The goal here is obviously to draw animals. Like in a museum or gallery, be sure not to obstruct other visitors. Like in landscape painting, plan for the weather and lighting. Like in life drawing “in the wild” the moving targets will usually mean quick drawing focusing on body language, but you will sometimes get lucky and find animals relatively still sleeping or resting.
These field trips are a little more involved, and offer opportunities you won’t get close to home. Plan ahead for hitting museums that have works that you can’t see locally, and galleries that have local artists that you have not been exposed to. You may not have as much time as you’d like for these things, but at least stopping in quickly can be very nice. If you have the time to take in the local landscape, supplement your drawing and observation with plenty of good photos. Talk to locals and ask about any “must see” spots. You may get suggestions that don’t interest you, as their idea of “must see” and yours may differ, but you also may get some really amazing suggestions you wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
These can all be incorporated into any trip you take if you plan ahead, but if you can plan a trip (even a day trip just a few hours away from home) with the intention to focus on art you can really have an amazing experience. Seeing and experiencing new things will refresh the artist batteries like no other way.