Sketching the Yard

One of the things I love about our house is the number of large windows we have. In the living room especially, the sliding glass door and a window that reaches down to the floor provide ample views of our surroundings. The cats have spent many hours here watching birds, squirrels, and the sun itself as it makes its dappled course across the yard.

The windows from our living room. This photo was taken just before we moved in our furniture.

I’ve also spent a lot of time at these windows, but looking isn’t all that I do. Last year, I decided to sketch the view from our living room window at different seasons, putting down in paint the subtle changes I’d observed throughout the past twelve months. Let’s take a look.

Initially, I’d planned on doing a new sketch on the first of every month, but I quickly abandoned this schedule for something a little more forgiving. Compared to 2020 and 2021, I traveled a lot more this year, so I wasn’t always around on the first. Instead, I decided to sketch when the moment struck me. Sometimes I sketched every month. Other times I skipped a month when I wasn’t feeling it. The important thing for me was representing each season at least once.

One of the first sketches I did of the backyard. The periwinkle blue shadows were what caught my attention here.

I started with the new year in January. We had an unusual amount of snow that month, enough for me to get out my long-neglected snowshoes. One sunny morning, I awoke to find the tree casting periwinkle shadows on the sparkling white snow, and I knew I had to sketch it. It wasn’t the first time I’d sketched the backyard, I’d already done a snow-free sketch earlier that week, but for me, this sketch best embodies the snow-blanketed loveliness of winter.

My sketching format was as flexible as my timing. Sometimes I opted for a landscape orientation, while other times I picked a vertical, portrait composition. It all depended on what I was seeing and what interested me. With the landscape orientations, it was usually something on the ground that caught my attention, like the blue shadows on January’s snow, or a pileated woodpecker working on a tree stump in April. For the vertical sketches, it was usually the foliage that interested me, such as the fresh new foliage in May or the turning leaves in November.

For this April sketch, what interested me most was this pileated woodpecker, not least because I could hear pounding its beak into the wood the whole time I was sketching this.

As with most of my sketching endeavors, what interested me most about this project was documenting change over time. While the minutiae of change in my local surroundings have always informed my work, it’s been especially important since the onset of the pandemic. During the closures of 2020, the combination of monotony and anxiety felt hellish, which each day feeling like the last. Taking note of subtle changes in my local landscape became an important reminder that time was moving forward, even if it didn’t always feel that way. Last year felt more normal than the previous two, but these sketches show I’ve been no less interested in the movement of time. As I flip through the sketches, I get to watch winter gradually erupt into the kelly green foliage of spring, which matures into summer’s deeper hues. Those greens, in turn, gradually turn a mixture of gold and brown before falling away altogether, only to have the process start again.

So what are my plans for these sketches, now that I’ve got them? I’m notorious for making ambitious plans for my studies only to do nothing with them (see the deer skull drawings I’d planned but never completed), but I would like to do some paintings with these. After all, last year turned out to be a rather seminal one for Brandon and me, with our very wedding taking place in the yard I’d been sketching. Creating paintings that celebrate the monumental through everyday change feels right to me. I don’t see myself rendering all of my sketches into paintings, but I do see myself picking one to represent each season. I know that a major reason why I don’t follow through with art projects is that I get bored with them before I finish, but I think I can manage four paintings over the next year. Even if we don’t live here forever, they’d commemorate what turned out to be a seminal time in our lives, and I think that’s a project worth completing.

Categorized as Art

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