Five women carrying sketch pads showed up at the Field Gallery on Saturday morning for the first Sketch MV!, an initiative spearheaded by artist Elizabeth Whelan. Ms. Whelan is inviting the public to join her with their sketch books, pencils, and erasers once a month throughout the summer at a different location around the Island. These sketch sessions are not classes, and no one will be looking at or critiquing people’s work. In other words, there’s no reason for self-conscious sketchers to feel intimidated. “This is as much an excuse for me to get out here and draw, because just like every other artist, I’ve got a whole stack of sketch books that have never been used,” Ms. Whelan said.
Ms. Whelan is best known on the Vineyard for her portraits of Islanders. The events surrounding the unveiling of her paintings have become local happenings. A former West Tisbury resident, she now lives on the island of Nashawena. Ms. Whelan and her boyfriend, William Benns, are caretakers for the Island.
The idea for Sketch MV! started taking shape in 2014 at Ms. Whelan’s first public portrait unveiling (Nat Benjamin and Stina Sayre were the subjects). Ms. Whelan had set up a canvas for the event’s attendees to paint on. “I liked the community-painting aspect so much that I started thinking about other ways to get people involved in creating art on a casual basis,” she said. “I have also been inspired by fellow artists such as Jeanne Staples, Traeger diPietro, Craig Miner, and Ken Vincent, amongst others, who bring their creative talents to the community in a myriad of ways. I started asking myself, What could I do that would be fun and most important, low stress for everyone?”
After a recent visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, which provided paper and pencils for patrons to sketch at the museum, Ms. Whelan decided the time was right to launch Sketch MV! “If you don’t seize the moment and do some of these things, they never happen. They’re just good ideas, so you have to seize the moment,” she explained.
She had recently painted a portrait of Jennifer Pillsworth, director of the Field Gallery, and asked Ms. Pillsworth if she could invite the public to join her for a morning of drawing at the Gallery, using the sculptures of Tom Maley as subjects. To Ms. Whelan’s delight, Ms. Pillsworth loved the idea. “She just lit up, because she said Tom Maley, who was the founder of this gallery, was very keen on promoting art.”
By 9 am on Saturday morning, the sun had already asserted itself in a commanding position. The sketchers arrived and greeted one another. “These sculptures are fabulous if you need to practice your life drawing, because they’ve got rounded sort of shapes; the light hits them really well,” Ms. Whelan said. “Without some of the fuss of a real person with all their bits and pieces, and they don’t move for the entire time.” The sketchers looked around and scoped out the sculptures. After a few additional minutes of conversation, Ms. Whelan took stock of the group and said, “Well guys, shall we draw?”
The five fanned out across the Field Gallery and started to sketch.
July’s Sketch MV gathering will be held in Edgartown, August will be in Oak Bluffs, and September will be in Vineyard Haven. Exact locations and dates will announced at a later date.