I’m Marc Taro Holmes (visit my website, Citizen Sketcher, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter!). I’m Canadian, and was born in Alberta (a mid-western province) – but have worked all over the USA as an artist in the video game industry. Recently we moved back, settling in Montreal. It’s one of the more scenic cities in Canada. Great place for an artist!
Little bit of personal info about yourself, when did you start painting?
Actually, funny story, I always wanted to paint – but I didn’t want to make any bad paintings. Around age 19, I finally realized it doesn’t work that way. I wasn’t going to spontaneously discover how to paint so I’d better get started practicing. I’ve been fairly compulsive about drawing ever since.
What’s your background? What inspired you to paint?
When I was a kid I was into fantasy and science fiction. I loved the art in book covers and in comics and role playing games. I ended up designing dungeons and dragons roleplaying games for many years. But the real deal was when I discovered World Wide Sketchcrawl, and later UrbanSketchers.org. Just google either of these groups – they’re both online art clubs that encourage people to go drawing in the streets of their cities. Anyone trying to motivate themselves to draw should join (or start) a local chapter! This was life changing for me in a literal sense.I’ve been quite involved in Urban Sketchers for the last 9 years – serving a few years on the board of directors and teaching at workshops annually. And of course it’s been the main subject of my blog – Citizen Sketcher. The bottom line is, I love the combination of art and exploration you get by travelling with a sketchbook. For me, it’s the best way to experience the world. Every street becomes a potential painting, every event a chance for sketching.
What do you do now for a living?
I still do the workshop teaching part of Urban Sketchers. This summer I’ll be one of 20 or 30 instructors in Manchester UK for the annual USK symposium. We’re expecting about 500 artists from all corners of the world. That’s not directly making a living, but it has inspired many other things. I’ve been doing my art blog since 2007- that matured into my first art instructional book, The Urban Sketcher, spun off into online classes for Craftsy.com, videos for ArtistNetwork.tv and along with all that my own workshops and public drawing events.
Sure, I have long term goals. Like most artists I’d love to just paint for myself. Possibly open a gallery. Live the life of the fine artist. But I do really love being an art blogger. I find the constant engagement with other artists keeps me motivated and constantly learning.
A little about your process and the favorite materials you currently use:
I love drawing quickly. I’ve always preferred doing 100 one hour sketches over making a major museum piece that takes 100 hours. I’m trying to get over that mental block – so that I can make some of those masterpieces! But it’s been natural for me to transition from rapid ten minute pen and ink sketches, to tinting my sketches in watercolor, and later full-fledged painting. But always with the approach of finishing a sketch in a single session. As far as materials – it changes all the time – but right now, this week anyway, my favorite things are old style dipping pens (used with colored ink).
That, or just drawing directly with a nice sharp sable brush and my watercolors. I’m working to develop what I’d call Alla Prima Watercolor. Going directly into the paint without any preparatory drawing. I love the sense of risk and reward. You only get one crack at it. It’s perfectly suited to working rapidly on location. But I’m always giving myself a new challenge to try. I’m about to start a long term project to do with making my own pens for instance. I’ve been admiring an Asian artist who does incredible drawings with just a stick! We’ll see how that goes.
Like I say – the way my mind works, I develop various skills by giving myself small challenges. Little games or short term projects with weird constraints. Here’s something I was just trying out this week. A warm up exercise I’m calling ‘Three Times Fast’ – which is pretty much what it sounds like… Draw something three times fast! How about we try this out?
Three Times Fast
A Sketching Exercise by Marc Taro Holmes
This is the Auberge Bishop. A historic building downtown, not too far from the Museum of Fine Arts. It’s actually a hostel these days – but it’s clearly got some history behind it.
The idea with this game is, instead of crunching up your concentration and trying to force out a good drawing on demand, I go into the thing not even trying. Just testing it out. Just seeing what happens.
I do three in a row, without stopping. With each one you learn a little more about the subject. The second part of the game is not to slow down. If you’re going to be on location for half an hour, then get all three done in that half hour. This keeps your drawings lively. No trying hard here! Trying hard leads to pressure. Pressure leads to stiff drawings.
Along the way I’ll start adding a bit of color here and there. I feel like you can trick your brain into getting that great drawing by sneaking up on it.As well, you almost get a little bored by the third time – so you can draw it without the preciousness. Sometimes the third one is the charm, sometimes it’s the first. You never know. But the liberating thing is, in the back of your mind, you know you’ve got three kicks at the cat – so you can stay relaxed, and keep that feeling of freedom – of experimentation.So thanks Charlie! That’s something I’ve been wanting to try out lately. Thanks for the chance to show it off. If anybody out there finds they like this exercise, send me some pics of what you drew!
Examples from Readers of Three Times Fast
I received a sketch in the e-mail from Bill Fagan – an architect and reader of the blog. Here’s his test of Three Times Fast. It’s neat to see the small variations in each one – even with an architect who is trained for consistency :) Bill says this was three in 45 minutes – which seems pretty great to me. Thanks for sharing Bill. You can see more of his stuff at his flickr site.
Reader Erik Madsen of Santa Fe New Mexico sent in his Three Times Fast sketches. It’s fascinating how they look similar at first, but the more you look the more you see interesting differences. I love how it’s hard to choose which is best. I think it’s great fodder for going back into the studio in the winter and doing one big painting taking the best touches from all three.