With her new book, Sketchbook Dares: 24 Ways to Draw Out Your Inner Artist, artist, writer and teacher Laura Lee Gulledge challenges anyone of any skill level to draw. The former Louisa County art teacher says, “It’s the sort of book I wish I’d had starting off as a teacher but also as a creative working in a sketchbook.” It takes a holistic approach, she explains. “It’s about developing not just the hand but what happens to the heart, head and spirit in creative practice.”
The concept behind the sketchbook format is to present nonintimidating exercises that can be completed in a limited amount of time. “If you spend less time on a project your inner critic gets less involved,” Gulledge says. “It’s more about the process, the journey.”
One exercise, the Unwind Dare, challenges the reader to time how long it takes to draw an object, and then to draw it again in half the time, repeating the process until it can’t be repeated anymore. “It’s a way of loosening up and drawing faster so your fear can’t catch up to you,” says Gulledge. With each of the dares she pairs a relevant quote. For this one, she calls on the wisdom of Leonard Bernstein: “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.”
There are 24 exercises in total, 12 dares and 12 double-dares, which Gulledge explains are continuations of the initial dares “to reinforce the concept.” She suggests the book can be completed in three months by doing two exercises a week. “It’s ideal for over the summer or just for a season,” says Gulledge. “We can handle taking on a project for a season,” referring to it as “a little handheld class,” and “a way to develop your vocabulary visually.”
Some of the exercises elicit critical thinking, some self-reflection and others emotional intelligence. “Sketchbooks are vessels for collecting thoughts, emotions, ideas,” Gulledge says. For those interested in exploring their creativity but threatened by the blank page, the prompts are ideal. “I made half of a book and I need them to complete it,” she says.
It’s a sort of collaboration, or what Gulledge would call an “artnership.” She and a fellow artist coined the term when they began collaborating after each experienced a bad breakup. “We needed intimacy, but we didn’t want a boyfriend or girlfriend,” says Gulledge. “We wanted a creative intimacy. We talked about having an artner crush on somebody. I would think, ‘I want to make out with this person,’ and it was really, ‘I want to make art with this person.’”
Gulledge and her collaborator developed values for their artnership: healing, connection, flexibility, whimsy and success. “We have unofficial tenants, too,” Gulledge says, “like using snail mail and practicing self-care.” Gulledge—who returned to Charlottesville 18 months ago after seven years in New York City—says, “We’re not always creating. We have to rest.”
She likes to think of her artnerships “as part of this broader love movement. Everyone is helping redefine what love is, expanding the definition,” she says.
During the book launch at The Bridge on Saturday, attendees will have the opportunity to form their own artnerships. In addition to solo exercises, drawing activities will include the practice of drawing with an artner, creating artner valentines and filling in the remaining blank pages of Gulledge’s current sketchbook.
“Creatives aren’t necessarily good at working together but if we can, magical things can happen,” she says. “And if we can do that, we can be better about working together in the real world.”