On the Road - Sketchbook
My name is Helen Siksek, I create original hand-drawn souvenir sketches as I travel. A small sketchbook is my item of choice. It is lightweight and easy to carry, even on long days, long walks and challenging hikes.
I am, by profession, a mixed-media intuitive painter. My painting studio is in Ontario, Canada, where I paint large canvases. I prefer to focus on a different way of looking when I'm on the road. My sketches are small field studies, quick postcards. When I travel through the Southwestern region of the United States, I like to explore the vast region that stretches from Texas to California and back. The National Parks, monuments, museums, flora, fauna and local coffee shops too. I spend time with other artists and have formed lifetime friendships thanks to travel and my sketchbook. The studio experience is different. In the studio, there is alone-ness and inner focus. While on the road, my focus shifts outwards, it becomes active observation, noticing what’s around my environment, responding to stimuli which usually involve things in motion, rapidly changing vignettes. It is a different kind of mental alertness, I like to snatch and grab something quick. Sketches are quick drawings that capture the essence of what is being observed. Sometimes all my senses are involved but the sketch is a 2D souvenir of it.
I am a member of Artists Out & About DFW which is the group that I spend most of my time with. I am also a member of Outdoor Painter’s Society and Urban Sketchers DFW. These three groups of artists have helped me evolve because their members are active, vibrant, committed and engaged artists, they share knowledge generously, for the love of art, for the love of creative discussions and for the love of camaraderie. They live and breathe art and it is always wonderful to spend quality art time with them.
I have the same connections with artists in Ontario but when I'm in Canada, I am usually busy with exhibitions or summer projects, and so are all of my artist friends, but the few hours spent together are equally precious and rewarding.
My preference is to sketch outdoors. I also carry a plein air easel. I find it quicker and easier to sketch using dry media than to set up an easel and paint. Although I love both drawing and painting, my love for sketching is closer to my heart. It is more instant for me, a way to visit, sit down a while and spend time observing the world around me. If suddenly interrupted, it takes less than 10 seconds to throw the sketchbook in my bag and move on. It suits my travelling lifestyle on the road.
For this online exhibition, I chose to exhibit my sketches for the first time. The online format is perfect for displaying sketchbook pages, it would be impossible to display the actual paper in a real physical sense because the pages would have to be removed, destroying the sketchbook.
The act of sketching is about spending time, remembering, choosing certain details and colours while skipping others. The sketchbook is also a companion when sitting alone at a coffee shop or on a park bench.
These sketches are not really meant to be exhibited, they are just field studies but there is something endearing about them, or so I have been told.
I usually sketch and then I take a photo of my hand holding up the sketch against the background. When I was in art school in Canterbury many decades ago, a chance meeting with UK artist Peter Kennard (At the Clink Street Studios in London where I was working as a volunteer gallery docent). That chance meeting changed how I work with images. Peter Kennard brought his students to see the show and I was listening to him as he gave a tour to his students. If you know his work, you'll know that he sometimes combines two photographs in one image. Each has a separate meaning but when placed side by side, together they create a third meaning. I was influenced by his words and his technique. Photography is as essential to my craft as sketching is. Combining the two (My sketch and the corresponding background in one photograph) creates meaning that is unique to me. My hand, the sketch and the background come together for one fleeting moment to record my presence there at that location. I amuse myself by thinking I'm raising my sketchbook in triumph, I was here and I have a souvenir sketch of it! My way of recording the self without taking the focus off the artwork. It’s a recorded instance of creative expression and I get to prolong its existence in digital form. I use photography because without it, my moment could not be recorded like this, with me in it. Call it an alternative to the contemporary ever-popular 'selfie'. Another UK artist Andy Goldsworthy relies on photography to show his transient artwork. I'm not drawing a parallel with either of these prolific widely acclaimed UK artists, I'm just stating that they inspired me when I was in art school and that I also use the camera. Without it, my site visits would not be complete, that final photo before I go is what gives me the thrill of completion. The camera is an important art tool for this purpose, without it I would not have these souvenir photographs or a theme for this online exhibition.
There are a few exceptions, the photos don't always turn out well, sometimes there are shadows or rain or it’s too windy, so I finish the sketch in the studio as you will notice in some of the photos here.
There’s been some interest in my sketches, friends and strangers have offered to purchase them. It humbles me to know that others see value in these drawings. They are my source sketches, my tools. My sketchbook is like a toolbox, the idea of selling pages of it doesn't make sense to me although the fact that others find my sketches pleasing has encouraged me to show them in public like this. They are simple souvenirs and I'm very fond of them. Sharing them with the general public gives me a sense of pride and purpose, perhaps to raise awareness about these lovely travel locations.
I included one sketch from Greece. I don't travel to Greece as often as I should, and when I do, my time there is strictly spent with family, I rarely sketch in Greece because yes, it's a bit like that movie.... a house full of family gathered around a kitchen table, cooking and socializing with large crowds of relatives. I always say 'I'll sketch next time!' so there is always hope. Included is one sketch from Thessaloniki when I was left unsupervised for a few moments.
During the Covid pandemic (2020-2022), I suffered from extended periods in lockdown. I missed the freedom and excitement of observational drawing as part of a journey, a destination, time spent somewhere else, other than at home. I tried to sketch at home but didn’t enjoy it. The passion for sketching, for me, is linked to my passion for travelling, for road trips, for meeting new artists and finding small nooks and panoramic landscapes to sketch. Every day brings an opportunity to discover a new visual space. I am drawn (pardon the pun) to small quaint places like cafés and farmer’s markets. I love waking up in the morning and knowing that I will do a daily sketch, wondering what fun space will be sketched today.
The state of Texas offers so much for an artist, I could spend a lifetime sketching and painting in Texas and I would be a happy camper. For an Ontario artist, the landscape in Texas offers so much that is new to my eyes. My Canadian friends often ask me why I don't do road trips in Canada, why only around Texas? The answer is simple. Have you seen the price of gas in Canada?
In February 2022, when the invasion of Ukraine started, something inside all of us changed. We are witnessing the violent destruction of people, culture and art. Deliberately crushed, destroyed and erased. I started sketching images of Ukraine to preserve something human, something that a Ukrainian person had created. I felt like grabbing at any morsel that floated across my TV screen, I would catch it and do a sketch on impulse. This is the first time I have sketched like this from news sources and from a screen. Sketching anything else during this time feels irrelevant and meaningless. The sketches I have chosen to exhibit here are of happier memories from past travels, chosen to remind me that sitting peacefully and breathing without the threat of aggression is a privilege. Sketching can be akin to meditation. Artistic creation can be a peaceful state of mind.
I am very fortunate to be an artist, I use creative expression as an outlet for stress during emotionally taxing times. Sketching always helps. Drawing is a universal language that needs no interpretation.
Why don't you pick up a sketchbook? You might like it.
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