The following article appeared in the Montreal Gazette on May 25, 2012:
Shari Blaukopf, blogger with a sketchpad
A graphic design teacher who started posting a daily drawing or painting online is connecting with her surroundings, other artists and new opportunities
BY SUSAN SEMENAK, THE GAZETTE MAY 25, 2012
MONTREAL – “Sometimes, the best things are right under your nose, or even in your own backyard.”
That’s a simple truth that Montreal artist Shari Blaukopf discovered when she got out her sketchbooks and set out to capture the snippets of her life in watercolour and ink – one drawing at a time.
Last fall, Blaukopf, a Beaconsfield resident and graphic design teacher at John Abbott and Vanier Colleges, started a sketchblog. It’s called The Sketchbook. Like other bloggers, she posts daily entries on her blog, chronicling the minutiae of her life and immediate surroundings. Unlike most of the tens of thousands of other bloggers out there, Blaukopf does so not just in words, but in whimsical and brightly coloured watercolour and ink drawings and paintings. Her posts are all sketched on location in a Moleskin sketchpad, sometimes finished up at home, and then scanned into her computer.
She finds beauty and interest in the oddest places – while heading for work, or clearing up after breakfast, or even waiting for her car to be repaired at the garage. Blaukopf’s drawings and paintings are vivid quotidian bits to make you sigh or smile: Kiddie-coloured gum balls in their dispenser; her dog Hugo curled up on his cushion, waiting for a walk. A fisherman in his parka by the lighthouse in Lachine, hoping to get a jump start on a fickle spring season. There’s a rusty wheelbarrow in her backyard, criss-crossing electric wires near Atwater Market, Pointe Claire Village on a rainy day, a row of buildings in Griffintown.
In a post called Ugly Season, dated March 11, she captured a city’s winter-weariness in a pile of dirty snow by a red-painted bench.
“If winter in Montreal is all about the cold and snow, then spring is about the mess that is left behind when it melts,” Blaukopf wrote.
Every single day since October she has sketched a scene.
Her vantage points are as varied as her desk at work, her kitchen table, the car, or the market. She’s up past 200 sketches now.
It all started as a way to paint more often, to find time for art in a busy life, Blaukopf says. As a teacher and graphic designer with private clients, and a mother of two grown children, she was finding little time to paint, even though it is a lifelong passion. “There was no time for art, except for some vacation drawing and painting. I was really missing it,” Blaukopf said.
She had recently read a book called An Illustrated Life, by New York art director Danny Gregory. A testament to what Gregory calls “illustrated journaling,” the book offers a peek into the private sketchbooks of 50 artists, illustrators and designers from around the world. Soon enough, Blaukopf was looking for her own way back into drawing and painting. Last October, she created a blog using WordPress, hoping the public commitment to post daily would impose the required discipline. At first she hardly told anyone. Then a few friends and relatives began looking at it.
And then Blaukopf stumbled onto the worldwide sketchblogging movement. On urbansketchers.org, she found a four-year-old international community of sketchbloggers, many of them architects and graphic designers, all of them posting with varying degrees of regularity. She became a member, and before long she met a fellow Montreal sketchblogger, Marc Taro Holmes. When he posted a link to Blaukopf’s blog, her number of views jumped from 8 to 800. Suddenly, she had followers from as far away as Portugal, Sweden, Australia and Russia peering at scenes from her backyard, posting comments, asking about her technique. The blog’s popularity has taken Blaukopf by surprise and steered her in new directions. She’s been invited to lead sketchblogging workshops in Paris and Portland, Oregon, this summer. And she’s offering a Montreal workshop, too.
Finding the time to paint every single day has proved a challenge. On a harried day in February, when Blaukopf failed to find sketching time, she simply drew the cucumber she had sliced up for supper. Bed-ridden with a bad back, she painted the laundry piling up in her room. All winter long, when nasty weather prevented her from heading outdoors to sketch, she’d pull over by the side of the road and paint from the driver’s seat of the family Subaru, sketchbook propped up against the steering wheel, paints in a plastic travel pallet in the console by her seat. Now that it is warmer out, she plunks herself down on the grass to sketch the blue, early-blooming spring scillas that carpet the lawn.
Most of us are so busy multi-tasking, texting, talking on our cellphones, that we don’t really see what’s going on around us, Blaukopf laments. The daily exercise of looking for a new subject to sketch has honed her artistic eye, Blaukopf says. But it has also enriched her everyday life. She finds beauty in mundane moments now in a way she never did before. A road crew on Cartier Ave. in Pointe Claire caught her attention because, at work on their ladders, they looked like praying mantises. When heavy, low clouds move across the sky, they are more to her than bad weather.
“When you walk around, mostly you are just daydreaming, or involved with the thoughts in your own head,” she said. “But if you slow down and really look around, it can be quite meditative. You find things that are so amazing.”
Sketchblogging, she says, makes her ask herself: “What’s unique about this day?” The answer might be as simple as a basket full of chili peppers or evergreen branches heavy with snow.
To see Shari Blaukopf’s sketchblog The Sketchbook, or to sign up for her summer workshops, go to shariblaukopf.com