By Selena Puente
A couple of weeks ago, I went to a performance at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and noticed a woman in front of me hunched over a notebook sketching as the violin, violas, cellos and basses thundered beneath us. She wore all black, and her bright red hair was laced with bits of silver, like they had been drawn there by a quill or a delicately handled toothpick. Her drawing grew from one side of her notebook to the other, and I found myself more attuned to her activity than listening to Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. This wonderful woman’s name is Pamela Fine, and she graciously allowed me to interview her about her art, what brings her to her medium, and the importance of her sketchbook. She has season tickets to the Symphony and plans to attend and sketch at every performance. Our interview follows.
SP: What brought you to art?
PF: While growing up my mother would take me to museums, concerts and the theatre. Although she had no formal training, she was always making something; knitting a sweater for me, my brother or a relative, sewing dresses for me to wear to school and embroidering my shirts. She signed me up for arts and crafts classes after school, as well as allowing me to take piano and dance classes. I have always been encouraged to “make things” and was given free range in my bedroom to do whatever I liked with my art.
SP: How do you think that art like sketching, painting, etc. compare to music?
PF: Music and art both require discipline and time alone to hone their craft, although the end result of how each chooses to perform their art can be quite different.
In order to develop your skills, you must spend time practicing. In music there are scales, finger exercises to practice, learning to keep time, music theory, music history and many other crucial factors.
If you want to play in an ensemble or an orchestra, you have to learn how to work with other people and follow a conductor’s interpretation of a music score.
In art, you must spend time practicing and developing your skills as well. Whatever medium (or mediums) you choose to work in, you have to learn how to manipulate the paint, the clay, the pen and ink, etc. Studying other artist’s works, art history and art theory is also important to expand your ability to be more versatile. If you want to work realistically, you must learn how to draw … Whether you learn to draw or use a mechanical means to get the artwork down, you still have to learn to use the tools and materials for the end result.
SP: When you know what concert you’ll be attending, such as the one we met at last week, do you research the composers or musical pieces at all? Why or why not?
PF: I do not research the composers of musical pieces before I go to a performance for different reasons. I am a full time art educator, attend grad school (part time) at Texas Tech University in Lubbock and work on my personal art weekends and evenings. I do not always make time to listen to the music beforehand or learn more about the composer. Some of the pieces that are performed are familiar to me. Beloved symphonies that I know well; hearing them performed live is an experience of which I never tire. I also enjoy the experience of hearing a piece of music for the first time live. It is a very different experience than listening to a familiar work.
SP: You mentioned that you are also taking a book-making class. It seems like such a lovely and thoughtful way to create something more substantial than a painting, purely in a physical sense. What do you hope to gain out of book-making aside from the actual skill you will acquire? And do you think that working within a book that you know was hand-crafted affects your creative process in any way?
PF: As I said earlier, my mother was a “maker” and passed on the love of making and creating things by hand to me. There is something so wonderful about using my hands to make beautiful one-of-a-kind items. The pure pleasure of forming something, even if the outcome is not always what I imagined, is exhilarating. I get lost in the process.
I have been drawing, sketching and painting in store-bought books for over 40 years. The first hand made sketchbook I purchased was an accordion fold-style book in the early ‘70s. I had not thought too much about learning traditional bookbinding on my own until purchasing this current hand-bound leather sketchbook.
I was never intimidated when working in factory-made sketchbooks. I had a different experience after purchasing this leather-bound book. At first, I was terribly intimidated by the thought of drawing something that was not up to par with the beautiful craftsmanship of the book. I would hold the sketchbook in my hands, smell the leather, open up the sketchbook, turn the pages, then close it back up and put it away. I was not ready to attempt sketching it in for a few weeks! The first piece I created was at a Chamber Music concert in downtown Dallas this past spring. After two Sunday performances of sketching in the book, I decided the whole book would be devoted to music-related pieces. So far I have only drawn the conductors and the musicians while playing instruments. I have some ideas for future pages of not only sketching the conductor and musician, but also listening to the music at home and interpreting it in abstract color and forms that come to mind while listening. I have done this before both on silk (hand painted scarves) and on canvas.
I have made five hand bound sketchbooks since taking my first bookbinding class a month ago. I have not yet tried to work in any of them. I still am in the stage of enjoying looking at them, holding them in my hands, turning the pages and being just a little intimidated about putting down that first painting/drawing. I am looking forward to seeing what develops once I start.