Second Nature

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Second Nature

Second Nature grew out of my research into handwriting as memory. It was important to me to write by hand every day to keep me connected to the subject matter. Drawing became the form making. This video places Second Nature in the larger context of handwriting research and my archive of handwritten letters.


One definition of the phrase Second Nature is: a habit or characteristic, not innate, but so long practiced as to seem so. Drawing is not second nature to me. Working as a graphic designer, it was a relief when I didn’t have drawing classes anymore. But there was part of me that also really loved to draw and look so I picked it up again with my journaling. Combining the two: writing and drawing, suspending judgement, and developing a daily practice shifted my approach to drawing. Perhaps it became second nature after 100 days. Not knowing the outcome of a practice is where the real learning starts for me.

People have strong feelings about their handwriting. In a way it defines them. We may make conscious or unconscious judgments about a person’s intelligence based on their handwriting. The study of handwriting, graphology, is a pseudoscience. I think it would be fascinating to learn to change my handwriting: learning again like I was in kindergarten. So, no, I am not really crazy about my handwriting. 

Many hours of my week involve walking, running, and hiking. There are only so many roads and trails within easy reach and I also just like to be able to get out my door and go. I end up on the same roads and trails again and again, so when I’m drawing, I’m showing you where I live. Also, when I repeat the same routes, I’m always on the lookout for new things. I don’t listen to anything when I’m outside. I’m just in my own head, looking around, or talking with a companion. Or with a companion and not talking. 

Often I will draw from photos I take on my walks. It gives me a great reserve of material to work from. There are no reasons not to draw. 

I went through a long period of drawing mandalas. That is kind of similar, I believe, to what you are referring to. I also love to draw patterns. For Second Nature, I can say I did lean on my affinity for patterns and mark making, Also, to start my drawings I always draw a border – in this way the drawing has already started. It helps provide a structure and it was a signal to myself that it was time to draw. In fact, I was already drawing.

No. Weirdly, that never happened. Since I set a timer for 30 minutes, sometimes I would be ready to be done before the timer beeped, but there were always more things to add to the drawing. I like a lot of lines. But this is just the way I went about it. You might have ways you like to work and create your own parameters around your practice. There is not one way to draw or write. Make it your own.

You’re right:  My sketchbook was 7” x 10”. The versions that are hanging in the gallery are either 26” x 40” or 11.7” x 18”. When I had a bunch of drawings I started scanning them as an appendix for my book. I scanned them at very high resolutions and converted everything to black and white. I didn’t tinker around with anything else. Being a graphic designer, I’m often considering how material can be reproduced and like to play with the scale of things. Having digital versions of the drawings allowed me to enlarge them and make multiples. When I’m walking around in the gallery, I feel like I’m walking around in my journal.

Sometimes this is a hard thing to talk about, so thank you for asking this and giving this idea some space. Setting up parameters around writing and drawing every day reminded me that I was going to do this again tomorrow. And the next day. Staying in a process mode as opposed to having one singular focus on an outcome helped me set aside my own judgement. Can I trust the process? I know I feel better when I’m making something as opposed to not making something. If I approach my practice with a mindset of perfectionism, where is the experimentation? Where can I let other people in to my process? It’s done, it’s perfect. There is no conversation. Maybe where my drawings get goofy, they give you a laugh. That’s ok by me.

The work and peoples’ reactions to it continues to surprise me. I think because I approached the project without any particular expectation of specific outcomes, there was no notion of what it ‘had’ to be. But in the present moment, I would have to say my hope is that visitors to the Gallery would take a moment to slow down, observe, reflect. There is an invitation to take a moment to read, write, or draw. Maybe because of the drawing and writing there is more than one entry point to the work. Maybe you could see some possibility for your own self-reflection. Everyone has a story to tell. What’s the story you want to tell yourself? 

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Sarah Patterson

Sarah Patterson is a graphic designer and maker who lives in rural central Pennsylvania. She received undergraduate degrees in elementary education from the University of Maine and in graphic design from Pennsylvania College of Technology. She received her MFA in graphic design from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Her work involves themes of the natural world, mother/daughterhood, archiving, memory, and handwriting. She likes the routine of 100-day projects. Working in the face of not knowing the ultimate outcome is the uncomfortable sweet spot where Sarah often finds herself. What does it mean? Where are we going and what is the point? The answers to these questions inevitably reveal themselves. Trusting the process guides her practice.

Her favorite media include: collage, drawing, and myriad analog methods of mark making.

She works as a graphic designer / project coordinator at Penn College. 

Have you ever wanted to keep a journal?

Have you ever wanted to keep a journal?

Visit the exhibit in-person and pick up a journal, a guide, and other materials to get started. Or download the journal writing cards below.

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