Step into The Sun
A very special Visiting Artist takes us outside to draw
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Hello GUT peeps! Happy Sunday.
Last week’s drawing assignment prompted a slew of phenomenal food drawings filled with memories, identity, and family. I feel like I got to know many of you so well and loved reading everyone’s supportive interactions. Love the GUT crew - y’all are the best. (Including GUT-member Dana who is compiling some GUT drawings into a downloadable zine for everyone. Wow. Thank you, Dana.)
If the hand-written statement at the top of this dispatch sounds familiar, it’s because the words are pulled from last week’s GUT. I’ve been preparing to give some workshops at TED (!) and I keep coming back to this line. It distills everything I’ve been doing for nearly 20 years into a single, short sentence. A mission statement. A simple reminder.
So I scribbled it out, posted it on Instagram and Substack’s new Notes feature, and I’m sharing it again here because I think it’s also a mission statement for what we do here at the Grown-Ups Table, and in particular what we are doing here this week.
Because this week, my friends, the sun is out. The sky is blue. I can hear the wind in the trees, and it’s warm enough that we can throw a blanket on the ground or sit at an outdoor cafe table and DRAW OUTSIDE AGAIN.
And the I can think of no better guide to get us drawing outside than…
Visiting Artist: Ishita Jain
Ishita Jain and I met years ago when she approached me to be her thesis advisor, and we’ve been friends ever since. She’s also been part of the DrawTogether team since deep pandemic days, so you may recognize her smile. Today, she is an in-demand illustrator and just published her first solo book: Searching for Sunshine.
One of the things I love most about Ishita’s work is the total and utter joy she takes in location drawing. The enthusiasm she has for getting outside, finding a spot of nature in the city (she lives in NYC) and embracing whatever happens is infectious. Her curiosity and openness to the world comes through in her lines, brushstrokes, and colors. Her splats of inky leaves shimmer on the paper. You can feel the wind.
This was one heck of a tough winter for a lot of us. Now that it’s officially, finally Spring, one thing I personally want to do is get back into a regular habit of drawing in nature. So this week, Ishita is going to help me/us with that by sharing some deets about her process and tools, and some tips to help us cultivate our own outdoor drawing practice.
Members, we have a wonderful assignment from Ishita this week as well as an opportunity to win a signed book, and I’ve highlighted a few drawings from last week’s assignment at the end.
Ready for some sun on our faces and ink on our hands? Let’s do this.
Q&A with Ishita Jain
Wendy: Ishita! Thanks for talking with the GUT. Much of your work is drawn outside and focuses on the natural world found in urban spaces and beyond. When you head out for a nature/location drawing adventure, how do you decide where to go? Can you tell us how you get started?
Ishita: I go for a walk almost every day. I live close to two parks, and I am always on the lookout for green spaces in the city, and seeing where things are blooming. So when I head out I usually know generally where I’m going, and then I scan for something that catches my attention. I also always carry a sketchbook with me because you never know when you’ll see something interesting.
I love tracking the seasons through drawing. Seasonal changes in my home city of Delhi aren't as dramatic as they are on the East coast. Fall, spring, snow, tall oaks, bursting magnolias, fiery maple leaves are all so new and exciting to me.
Looking, seeking and yearning are so important. The more you seek something out, the more that thing will find a way into your life.
What drawing supplies do you take with you when you draw on location? How do you carry everything?
I switch between mediums a lot! I always have a sketchbook, a pouch of assorted drawing/ painting materials, an eraser, a sharpener and a bottle of drinking water in a backpack. These days before heading out, I’ll paint washes of flat color in my sketchbooks. I carry color pencils, water soluble crayons and a brush-pen filled with water in a pouch. Other times I carry a set of watercolor cakes. Sometimes I can’t decide and I carry EVERYTHING. Inevitably when I have a backache from carrying all these things, I restrict myself to ink and dip pens.
I’ve seen sometimes you create your own drawing tools out of natural items you find on location. Can you show us an example of a tool you’ve made and how you use it?
I made these brushes using found materials- twigs, leaves and needles. This particular willow tree was painted using a 'brush' made of pine needed. I just take a twig and play around with wrapping the needles around its center and when I am happy with the volume, I tie and secure it using thread. It takes some experimenting to find the right leaves and the right amount of leaves that feel good to play around with.
Why is so important to you to draw on location? How is drawing on location different from drawing from reference photos?
It's when I feel the most alive and present. When I'm sitting at my desk, the materials and photo references to choose from seem endless. When I'm out, I feel things with all my senses and somehow my gut just knows exactly what to do. I am just looking carefully and my body is simply responding.
Trees have so much detail. If you draw a tree a foot away from it versus if you draw a tree from 20 feet away, your drawing and your marks will be wildly different. When you look at a photograph of a tree, someone has already made the decision of where they viewed the tree from. It's flattened and you only see the detail that fits on a tiny screen or paper!
The other day I was sitting and drawing a tree in the park and someone stopped by, unprompted and told me that it was a Yoshino Cherry. Then they went on to tell me all the spots in the park that have flowering Yoshino cherry trees right now! Now I have a whole list of spots to draw at and I will never forget what a Yoshino cherry looks like :)
I love that so much.
Much of your work is drawn from life around you. Today you live in New York City, but you migrated here from Delhi, India in 2018. How does your background and upbringing influence your perspective/what you notice/how you draw?
Delhi is historic, full of gorgeous Mughal monuments ( which I love to draw!) and it is massive, which means it's not easy to walk on foot. The neighborhoods where I grew up, it was simply not safe for a young girl to walk around by herself, so my access to the city was limited and sadly, it still is. I always have to be on guard. In New York, I can walk (almost) EVERYWHERE at (almost) any time of the day.
I grew up in a shared house with 12 family members. I get my sense of curiosity from being around different people. But what I want to draw changes as my surroundings change.
Can you tell us about your new book, Searching for Sunshine? How did it begin and how did it change over time? What do you want people to take away from the book?
When I relocated to the overwhelming and concrete-filled New York City from New Delhi, India, I found solace in the city's green spaces and started thinking about how important these places are to city residents' sense of peace. In ‘Searching for Sunshine’, I interviewed and drew people in NYC who work with plants—botanists, foragers, herbalists, entomologists, tree pruners, florists—and asked them about their experiences of working with the natural world and why it brings meaning to their lives.
When I started this as a student project, I was just looking for a way to tell stories with location based drawings. I did not have a singular focus. I was also nervous about approaching strangers and asking them questions. I used my time in school to hone my skills and through the course of meeting with people in all these diverse nature based jobs, I realized that we shouldn’t just care about plants because they are useful in our lives. They also offer beauty, wonder, connection and a different perspective on what it means to be alive in this world. I hope readers are reminded that humans aren’t separate from nature, but that all us living beings are connected.
What advice do you have for GUT members looking to develop a regular drawing practice?
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