Inside the Sketchbook Series – Peek Inside Madeline von Foerster’s Collection of Work

by Jane KenoyerPosted on


 

In this new addition to our series Inside the Sketchbook we peek inside Madeline von Foerster’s wonderful collection of sketches and images from her studio. Most of these images have never been seen before! Her beautiful work is infused with surrealistic symbolism and meaningful metaphors concerning present day issues. Her method of working entails weeks of research and drawings for each composition. For her paintings she uses The Mische: a mixed oil and egg tempera technique, which was developed by the Flemish Renaissance Masters. Though she is using a very classical technique, her work reflects present day issues of deforestation, endangered species, war, and the sacrifices that nature endures for the needs and desires of humanity.

Madeline von Foerster was interviewed by our own JL Schnabel last summer, read more here. She currently has a new painting in the Roq la Rue’s Death and the Maiden exhibition. I asked Madeline to tell us about her sketchbooks and her imaginative process.
 

Have you always kept a sketchbook? 

I don’t always keep a sketchbook, but I use them in particular ways that have been and are instrumental to my artistic development and process.
 

Art Journal
 
Why is it important for you to keep a sketchbook? 

In my early twenties I had an art journal with very heavy, brown, indestructible paper — ideal for mixed media. It was a wonderful way to experiment; I explored drawing, collage, and my nascent painting skills, combining and trying everything. I even made pages with secret doors and windows. This was where I learned how to paint. Each page became a finished work of art, with some pages requiring weeks to complete. After this journal was full, I realized I could never keep up such a time-consuming practice! The size and confined nature of the book made it a safe place to learn and play — for a time I was intimidated by the prospect of making art that wasn’t in the journal, because the unlimited possibilities were overwhelming. But eventually I was able to start making real paintings, and graduated from this sketchbook. I do miss it, and would love to have the spare time to engage in something like this again.

 

Art Journal
 

 

Art Journal
 

 

Art Journal
 

 

Art Journal
 

In the sketchbooks I keep now, I strictly limit myself to pencil and ink. This is to avoid letting my perfectionism run amok (as with the first journal). I always buy the same sketchbooks, from Boesner, whenever I am in Germany or Austria. They have beautiful bound sketchbooks, about 6 x 6″, with weighty ivory paper that is delicious to draw on. I associate these sketchbooks with vacations, because that’s my only opportunity to draw for pleasure on a daily basis. These are mostly life studies, with the occasional drawing just out of my head. Drawing from life is such a wonderful, intimate way to experience and relate to something or someone, which is why it is also a nice practice while traveling. I never observe anything more deeply than when I am drawing it! I often think about how, on his deathbed, William Blake chose to spend his final hours drawing his wife from life — to really see her, take her in, and honor her, with his last remaining life-force. I love that he chose to do that — it’s clear that he understood what a magical process it is.

 


Sketchbook

 
 

Sketchbook
 

 

Sketchbook
 

 

Sketchbook
 

 

Sketchbook
 

Do you often sketch out ideas before working them into finished pieces? 

I have different sketchbooks that I use for developing ideas for paintings. I keep this process separate from the “vacation” sketchbooks, because these books are not meant to be shown to people; they are semi-secret, like a private diary. They are the place where I must be completely free to explore ideas — good and bad — without any fear of observation or judgement, or expectation to create “good” art. As part of my brainstorming I also write notes, or quotations from research materials — anything that will help get me visualizing.

My process is highly concept-oriented. I begin with a concept, and then render it, in sketch form, in as many different ways as I can think of. I try to think of these sketches as disposable; their job is to force me to go beyond the initial image one always has in one’s head. I make dozens of little thumbnails. For one idea that becomes a painting, there might be a dozen that get discarded, and for each idea that does become a painting, there are numerous sketches in which I flesh the idea out, and experiment with variations.
 

 

Once I feel the concept, elements, and composition are off to a good start, I move over to tracing paper, and begin a preliminary drawing for the painting. What is wonderful about tracing paper, is that compositional elements can be re-arranged easily between the layers. An item can be moved to a new position or angle. If I have drawn something that is too large, I can photocopy it a little bit smaller and then trace it back into my drawing at the new size. This flexibility is crucial for me. It is very important to be nimble, and to keep my critical mind active, during this phase. What I don’t want is to become locked to a composition which is not the best it can be, which is what will happen if the sketch is too refined, or beautiful. After all the elements are in place, I cohere them in as complete and detailed a drawing as possible. This will make life much easier once I start painting. I can also then transfer my preliminary tracing onto nice paper and make a finished drawing for exhibition.

 

 

I should mention that while I often use photos for reference (for instance, for specific plant or animal species, which I want to be identifiable in the paintings), I never trace or project them. I also begin by making my sketch, and then I seek out a reference photo that fits what I have drawn, rather than tailoring my idea to a photo. In that way, all of my imagery is always interpolated through my own artistic process, and this keeps the paintings from looking (or being!) photo-derived.  I think that for a visual artist, drawing is part of thinking! So, even though the internet age provides more fabulous photographic material than ever, all available at the click of a mouse, I hope artists will continue to embrace their lowly pads and pencils.

 

Redwood Cabinet, 2008, oil and egg tempera on panel
 

One thought on “Inside the Sketchbook Series – Peek Inside Madeline von Foerster’s Collection of Work

  1. Pingback: World’s Strangest | Inside The Sketchbook Of Madeline Von Foerster