Jim Denomie

I love to sketch. I love seeing other artists’ sketches. Children’s drawings are the absolute best, because their abstractions, inventions and raw honesty just blow me away.

I always carry a sketchbook with me wherever I go, especially when I travel. To me, drawing or sketching is a form of note taking. It is a method of recording the lucid or fragmented thoughts passing through my mind, conscious or dreaming. Sometimes I see a story, sometimes a phrase, or sometimes just a title. It’s also a camera photographing the weird landscape (my imagination) that I dare to allow myself to journey through. It is a process where I try to do some fearless exploration. But almost always, the scenes in my mind are only temporary, fleeting, unexpected images of dreams, imagination and memories. Frequent sketching allows me to capture some of those images and to discover the ones that are unseen.

When I was an art student at the University of Minnesota, I met a musician playing his guitar and singing songs for tips on the sidewalks in Dinkytown. His name was Jerry Rau. Jerry was a Vietnam vet and a gentle soul, and he and I became friends. One day I mentioned to him about sketching an idea before I forgot it. He told me that he always carries a notebook with him explaining, “You never know when a song will come to you. You think you will remember it, but sometimes when you turn your attention for even a second, they float away, like a dream. If you don’t write it down, it will go to the next songwriter. And if he doesn’t catch it, it goes to the next. And if he doesn’t catch it, they all end up with Bob Dylan.”

Sketching is also a method of exploring. Sometimes being able to see only the beginning of a story, a song, a poem, the artist begins illustrating an idea, not knowing what or where it will lead to. Like a clown who pulls what he thinks is just one handkerchief from his shirt pocket, he pulls out cloth after cloth, one idea leading to another until you have a more complete vision of the story or song.

For some time now, I have thought of my sketches as lyrics to a song and coloring and painting my sketches as putting those words to music. Adding color and the abstraction of loose brushstrokes brings a new dimension of the sketch to life. The drawing becomes a leaping-off point and is eventually abandoned as the artist responds to what is evolving right in front of him/her. While translating a sketch to a painting, the artist starts painting but sometimes begins to experience new inspirations right there at the easel (pulling new or different handkerchiefs from his shirt pocket). These realizations make the process original (again) and the sketch and the painting become two different works of art, each significant. Sometimes I find it necessary to make quick little sketches or studies to assist a painting in progress as new ideas emerge or because I feel the need to alter the composition.

For me, sketching is instrumental for evolving ideas and for understanding the incomplete.