The Joy of Sketching
Pen on paper, by Nasser Al-Turki, 2007, courtesy of the artist.
Saudi artist Nasser Al-Turki has a very personal artistic expression and distinct presence within the art community. Throughout his long artistic career, he has been presenting wonderful large-format paintings full of color and movement via big, wavy brushstrokes that allow him to dive into the depth of the color and find a way to make it light up the canvas. He has also recently been working on increasingly popular small black-and-white sketches.
Generally, a sketch is a quick and informal drawing of a current moment, but not for Nasser Al-Turki.
Instead of documenting the moment, he uses it to express his feelings in that instant. When he started sketching, he would practice while surrounded by friends, who would ask to keep them. In 2007, he realized that he was losing these memories by giving the sketches away, so he started keeping collections for every trip or place he visited. Some of them were even sketched in the studio to document a specific date or occasion. To Al-Turki, these sketches are anchors in his life’s journey; when he looks at them, he can remember exactly where and when he sketched it and the emotional state he was in. He describes it "like a memory box for me, where I can relive certain feelings.”
Sketches usually serve to draft ideas and prepare for a more developed painting, but for Al-Turki sketches were small drawings of simple ink lines on paper; complete pieces of art that respected light, shadow, volume, and movement and carried in their folds patterns and compositions that brought joy to the artist and everyone around him.
Sketching acts as a companion on his journey when traveling. If the place is noisy, he isolates himself in his lines and forms, pouring his feelings and worries on these pieces of paper, entertaining himself and exercising his hand, which has since turned into a habit and meditative process.
Women are always the subject of his sketches, possibly because of the importance of their presence in his life and their impact on society. The women in his sketches could represent the kindness and tenderness of a wife, a sister, or a mother that is always accompanying you whenever you are alone.
When asked to compare his experience in sketching to his large format abstract paintings, Al-Turki replies that they are completely different when it comes to the way he approaches them, the composition, the lines, and the soul. The sketch is a lighter, simpler, and faster expression with more transparency.
The featured sketches were personal; the artist drew them for himself, and he never thought of showing them to the public or sharing them until his 2015 battle with cancer. Throughout the next year and a half, he sketched all the time since he was unable to bring in canvas and colors to the treatment room. It was a tough period and sketching helped him get through it. Even when he looks at them now, although they are documenting a time of illness and fatigue, they only remind him of the pleasure he felt while drawing them.
One day he was approached by a 16-year-old boy, asking him about his sketches, complimenting his work, and asked for one to give to his sick sister who loved art and drawing, hoping to brighten her day. Al-Turki finished the sketch and gave it to him with some pens and papers to encourage her to draw as well. Then he started hanging his sketches on the wall of his hospital room and was happy to see that the doctors would stand in front of them, examining them before and after their daily rounds.
Then, he started involving the nurses in his art process. He was even interviewed for the hospital magazine.
Even though sketching is a personal process, it helped Al-Turki meet many people wherever he was, never failing to draw attention, spark comments and drive conversations. He makes sure to always carry a sketchbook with him wherever he goes, but in a pinch, a café napkin will suffice; anything to prevent the regret of getting the urge, having a feeling, and not having any way to capture it.
He is considering holding an exhibition just for his sketches in Riyadh soon.
*Gaida Al-Mogren is the founder of the popular Cultural Crossroads account on Instagram.