Sketching up some solace
Steven White has long been a little sketchy.
“I remember as a kid getting lost in sketching,” said White ‘92, who has worked as a designer at Virginia Tech for more than a dozen years. “I just get lost in it . . . It’s kind of a meditation thing."
In August, White took on a University Relations assignment to document life around campus and to extend the positive benefits of his sketches to the entire Virginia Tech community. The accurately titled project, “Semi-frequent, Mostly Sketchy Doodles at the Very Bottom of the Email,” or “Doodles” for short,” is featured in the daily email from Virginia Tech News and gives readers a light-hearted look at campus life through the artist’s eyes.
Such levity and humor can be very helpful additions to life, especially during stressful seasons, such as maintaining a new normal during a global pandemic, according to Chris Flynn, executive director of Mental Health Initiatives at Virginia Tech.
“When someone’s being funny, it takes your mind away from more serious things going on in our lives and it makes you feel light hearted,” Flynn said. “Humor is often funny because it makes you look at the world in a different way. It’s unexpected and shifts our view of the world. It makes us smile and an our burdens are lessened for a while.”
Flynn added that finding a creative outlet, such as sketching, could also be helpful for many people during this time.
“If you can make anything good come of all this and sort of challenge yourself to be creative, then you’re building something instead of feeling overwhelmed,” he said.
White has long had a passion for creative projects and studied communications with a public relations focus as an undergrad at Virginia Tech and his master’s at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. But he said his routine of doodling really began in the early 2000s when a former employer asked him to focus on stronger visual communications and design for user experience projects.
“I was trying to be a better designer, and part of that process was to be able to better communicate my ideas with images, inside rectangles. Being able to show people you work with your idea is much easier and quicker with a pen and paper or on a whiteboard or with a pencil and index cards,” White said. “I just decided sketching and visual communication was going to be part of my journey.”
His journey began primarily sketching landscapes, but people have been his main focus for the past decade. Prior to the pandemic, his days generally started off with doodling people he would encounter each morning at a local coffee shop in one of the pocket-size sketch books he almost always carries with him. He’s currently on sketch book number 187.
“Everywhere I go, I sketch people,” White said. “The cool thing is, I can look at these [books] and say, oh yeah, that’s where I was. So it’s just another way to journal and document the world around me. It’s a kind of visual anthropology, of sorts.”
Of course, the ongoing global pandemic has slightly altered White’s routine. Today, he finds himself sketching colleagues during Zoom meetings and doodling the Blacksburg campus while sporting a mask and maintaining an appropriate level of physical distance.
He said he’s been overwhelmed by the positive response to work being included in the daily campus email. And while he’s happy others are benefiting from his art, he also encourages them to get out and make some of their own.
“Sketch every day,” White said. “It’s what I tell kids when they ask me what I’m doing. It’s what I tell friends, too, who tell me they can’t even sketch a stickfigure. It’s like playing a musical instrument. If you want to get better at it, you have to practice every day and get into a routine. It will change your life.”
— Written by Travis Williams