Reed Carpenter‘s work comprises imagery that spans the humorous, absurd, surreal, and serious—oil paintings of pigs with human hands, uncanny self-portraits featuring disembodied eyeballs, and figurative portraits dappled with light reminiscent of Rembrandt. His sketchbook studies offer a somewhat more raw touch while retaining a seemingly effortless mastery of medium. See more at @r33dcarpenter.
“I consistently run into the problem of overthinking whether an idea is ‘good enough’ to develop into a fully-fledged painting,” says Carpenter, “so I tend to reach for a sketchbook when I want to just let go and have fun with whatever is at hand, without necessarily concerning myself about whether it will work. In fact, recently I’ve started doing paintings in my sketchbook instead of just loose doodles; I’m finding myself much less likely to second-guess myself, especially in a medium I’m not very familiar with (in this case, watercolors/gouache and acrylics). Some of my favorite pieces have come out of sessions where I’m just splashing watercolors around and getting messy, and being able to be ultra portable is always a bonus!”
London-based artist Ana Pallares’ work can barely be contained on canvas, let alone the page. Jammed with aggressive lines, frenetic yet fluid mark-making, and splashes of overly intense color, the cartoonish compositions unpack an unbridled sense of Rabelaisian humor. Her images are often portraits of anonymous figures haloed by electric zigs and zags, spiked with sexual candor and dark humor that read lewd at first glance; yet the text interlaced in each piece unfolds a micro-novella of narrative. Pallares proffers an air of the confessional while touching on universal subject matter in a way that invokes a slow-burn empathy.
“I started my sketchbook back in 2018 and only got back to it earlier this year,” says Pallares. “It serves as a visual diary where I can express my emotions and collect my thoughts.
It has quite a therapeutic, soothing role for me.
For me, sketches are a thing in itself. I don’t create them thinking they will eventually become proper paintings. However, if I am really happy with any of them, they might serve as an inspiration for a future work that will be created in much bigger scale and will be extremely colorful. They are all independent drawings. However, put together they create a better picture of emotional journey I am going thru.”
Owen Connell (IG: @parlorfstudio) has been working as a painter, designer, and tattoo artist in Seattle for the past 30 years. His work—relentlessly energetic, seemingly never stoping for breath—harkens to the rhythm of hieroglyphs, amassing Kandinsky-like cryptic tangles of pattern and abstract flow. His sketches are usually the base for a final piece, merging and intermingling nascent ideas with finished art, built over time.
“All my art work and tattoos start with pencil and paper,” says Connell. “Sketching and sketching, building and layering until the work tells me to stop.”
Christopher Buening‘s prolific work comprises a pied diary of personal experience and relationships. His materials are redolent of things rococo, glittering with heaps of oozing glaze or White-Off that form stalactite-like characters in his ceramics and create ghostly negative space in his paintings.
In addition to sculpture, painting, and gallery installation, Buening has developed a unique practice of guerrilla ceramic installation in public spaces, arranging compositions made of hundreds of brightly-colored ceramic shards that amass to form figurative images or elaborate shrines tucked into urban wastelands. Other installations in the wild are composed of exquisitely sculpted ceramic simulacra—hand-painted objects like pills, cigarette cartons, and beer cans. Left to be found by passersby, they languish and erode: an ode to decadence, survival, pleasure, and indulgence.
“Sketching is just another function of my journaling,” says Buening. “My sketchbooks—I have probably a hundred or more—are writing and drawings all intermingled. It’s a stream of consciousness function and I don’t really use them for anything other than verbal, visual and mental diarrhea release. These are all mixed media on sketchbook paper, done at various times over the last few years.”
Nikita Ares (IG: @kita.licious) makes lush, splashy paintings with a graceful linework reminiscent of Matisse, with color to leaven any mood. Her oil-thick and rich paintings gush neon supernovas and emote sheer feeling, often harkening to sentiments about her home and history in the Philippines, or her present life as an artist in Seattle. Her sketches pack as much radiant energy, color leaping and dripping off the page.
“I use this process as an opportunity to express my ideas, frustrations, and spirit,” says Ares. “Playing with the idea that paper is an ephemeral material, sketching allows me the gestural freedom to express ideas and make marks without holding back. I confined myself to a specific time range for each piece (15-25 mins) to tell a story in my mind and connect a visceral narrative to each drawing. I love using oil pastels and paper. They have an inherent quality of roughness, grossness and speed that are unique to the medium and process through which I create.”
For those looking for existential/actual porn, welcome Kaj-anne Pepper AKA their drag persona “Pepper Pepper”. Pepper (IG: @ThePepperPepper) is a queer portraitist and performance artist who “loves butts, collage and digital manipulation.” The breadth of Pepper’s art is comprehensive: working in video, drag, installation, theatre and dance, they walk the line between classic campy cabaret, dada poetics, a very intense dash of vulnerability, augmented with exquisite tech touches, including filmic and theatrical pageantry dripping with faux gems very real warmth.
“I definitely work in the beat generation’s ‘cut-up’ technique, which was pioneered by Brion Gysin and William Burroughs,” says Pepper. “I do a fair bit of self-portraiture, which is expected as someone who has worked in drag. I’ve been thinking about my digital-diva-self for a long time—how it is an extension of my body, a collection of these floating images connected to my desire to be seen in some way at some point. My work on paper is often a meditation that may or may not have any relationship to my theatrical work, except for the fact I’m a body considering the idea of another person’s body which is often present in my work.
I’ve been drawing a lot of butts sourced from the internet or from friends. Lately I’ve been doing a #buttraiser: I take other peoples #buttselfies and redraw them and post them on the internet and use that as a vehicle to ask for donations to a local food charity. I like the idea of an ass in service to the community. I like the idea that an ass can be put to work in many ways. I like how an image of an ass is often an invitation, depending on the light.”
Jessica Damsky (@jessicadamsky) melds the imagery of ancient myth with the modern seamlessly. Her visual vocabulary is rich in history, her skill as a draughtsman indisputable, yet she tempers these traditional skills with ruthless dry humor and a sly feminist touch in a way that’s refreshingly raw and straightforward. Don’t underestimate the grip of vagina dentata.
“I use my sketchbook extensively for working out ideas for paintings,” says Damsky. “Often after doing a sketch, I will realize that my idea is really stupid. I needed to sketch it out in order to come to terms with that. Other times I will obsessively do sketch after sketch, trying to figure out a good composition for an idea. For example, I have been trying to come up with a good composition for a harpy. I haven’t really come up with one yet. But I have so many sketches of harpies.”
“I’ve been teaching beginning drawing for maybe eight years now,” says Damsky. “I do a day when I teach them about portraiture and make them model for each other. The last 20-minute pose of the day I use my sketchbook and draw one of them. Sometimes I’ve been teaching six classes per quarter, So I probably have 50-100 drawings of students. I have these memories of my professors, where they have made a huge impact on me and the trajectory of my work. It’s kind of surreal now being a professor myself, and seeing the students back where I was so long ago.”
“Doodles on everything, even though I am an adult.” —Damsky
On September 18, 2004, Amy-Ellen Flatchestedmama Trefsger married herself. A conceptual artist who primarily works in the realm of performance, she exhibits work in quite experimental, untraditional ways: love poems to sailors transmitted via semaphore, all manner of mail art, documenting dreams on YouTube (replete with mussy bedhead and pajamas), documenting COVID-19 quarantine on YouTube, or dressing in the same monochromatic clothes for a month at a time. Flatchestedmama’s self and prodigious humor are the armature and essence of her work, something highlighted in the “Public Declaration of Commitment to Her Creative Self”, a marriage ceremony which included her father walking the artist down the aisle, vows, a wedding cake crafted from cement, and a legal name change to officially meld her artistic identity with her given name.
“My sketchbook plays an essential role in my art making and has for many years,” says Flatchestedmama. “It is the first place ideas get jotted down or drawn out. This usually happens at night. Once drawn, I will then take the time to collect necessary props/costumes, scout a location, and/or edit the idea. Due to a lack of technical skill, my drawings always make me laugh for a few minutes, so that’s fun too. In the end, I feel they are pretty spot on as far as capturing what was in my mind’s eye at the time of ideation.”
In my former role as visual arts editor at City Arts Magazine (it folded November 2018), I used to manage a column that featured the interiors of artists’ sketchbooks. For a while I’ve wanted to revive a version of this. This is that. I’m perpetually entranced by process and the thought that goes into creative projects. I don’t personally maintain a sketchbook process per se…but somehow I have way too many notebooks crammed with odds and ends, comprising the detritus of life. I think sketchbooks are a unique kind of chronicle: For some artists, sketchbooks encapsulate the most bald and honest of autobiographies—weathered tomes filled with automatic writings that’ll make your head spin. Others document a purely voyeuristic vision of the world: landscapes and people and phantasmorgraphical interpretations of reality laid out in painstaking detailed linework. And there’s so much in between. I love it all.
Here’s a video I made about my own sketchbooks a few years ago, as well as some snaps from a few of my sketchbooks and travel diaries from Serbia, Croatia, Italy. (IG: @amandamanitach)
Many of the recent works created by Liz Tran (IG: @liztranstudios) revolve around the notion of heartbeat. She calls them “Heart Map” paintings, and to make them she tracks her own pulse as it responds to favorite songs she’s listening to while painting—tracks such as Bjork’s Violently Happy,I’ll Be Your Mirror by Velvet Underground, and Sade’s Babyfather. The resulting undulating streaks and bursts of layered color are a delight at first glance, but contain intensively personal content beneath the surface. Her sketches reveal an even more concentrated sense of personal immediacy—a different kind of urgency and expression—through use of text.
“I don’t keep a traditional sketchbook,” says Tran, “but if I feel the need to jot something down, I’ll grab a sheet of paper and do a quick painting. These ‘sketches’ are often words, lyrics, a test or a fleeting vision. They typically live happily in my flat files, though occasionally they’ll make an escape.”