On sketchbooks

I think I just fell a little bit in love. Suzi Blu is a cute young art goddess who makes short videos about art journalling that she puts up on YouTube.

I just love her quirkiness and her passion. She's done lots of videos - there's a list here - and I'm having a happy evening working my way through them.

OK, I have a BIG confession to make. All through college, I kept immaculate, beautifully presented and very professional A4 sketchbooks. Looking up at the shelves above me, I see fifteen of them in an ordered line, their spines labelled with the dates. They're almost identical - always portrait style and usually black, with a couple of patterned ones when I couldn't find black ones.

Not for me the messy, spilling out at the seams, arty sketchbook barely held together with bits of string or rubber bands. Although I adore that style when I look at other people's journals, at the time I just couldn't bring myself to be that messy. Instead, my sketchbooks closed tidily on pages filled with perfectly aligned, neatly trimmed images and printed or carefully handwritten thoughts on my art. It's slightly odd because I'm certainly not a naturally tidy person - maybe I was searching for a safe space within the chaos?

I spent a lot of time on those sketchbooks. I kept huge boxes of trimmed photos that I regularly culled from magazines and I would spend happy hours sorting through them looking for just the right combination of images that would show where my inspiration was coming from. I patiently selected the photos that showed my work to its best advantage, as well as the 'during' shots that documented the process and lined them up and taped them in. I added documentation from exhibitions I was involved in and analysed what I could have done better. I went through hundreds of rolls of my beloved double-sided sticky tape. I thought of my sketchbooks as works of art in their own right and they truly are. When I reread them, I can see that they are wonderful objects, as well as being useful documents that accurately chart my artistic process through the years. I'm justifiably proud of them and I love to look up at that neat line of them on my bookshelf.

But... but... but...

I got out of college and my sketchbooks sort of ground to a halt and then stopped almost completely. Every so often I'll pick up the current one, write an 'it's been far too long since I've written anything in here' entry, post in a couple of pictures, write down a few ideas and then guiltily ignore it for another six months. I think I've filled nearly two in the last five years - me, an artist who once went through a sketchbook every three months or so! It's pitiful and it's been weighing on me a lot recently.

I'm sure it's no coincidence that my sketchbook use tailed off when I started blogging - a lot of my writing energy undoubtedly went into my online journalling instead. In addition, no longer being in college seemed to take a lot of the 'people judging me' energy out of it. There just wasn't the same drive to do my sketchbooks that there had once been.

Don't get me wrong, I've never stopped writing down my ideas - I have a little notebook by my bed where most of my art pieces start and another notebook in my handbag to catch the ideas that happen when I'm out of the house and I treasure both of those. I also write ideas on my computer if that's where I happen to be, keep a card index box of 'art ideas' on my desk and for the last two years I've been doing a series of ink drawings in an ever increasing pile of A5 cartridge pads.

But those well documented, bright, shiny and oh-so-acceptable sketchbooks - er, not so much! I'm kind of embarrassed about it and I feel guilty and cross with myself. But when I think about sitting down and taping in photos, writing about what I've been doing, trimming photocopies and images to fit the pages and lining everything up perfectly - well, my heart just sinks. It feels overwhelming and impossible and it's time to admit it; something that once brought me genuine joy and satisfaction, now just fills me with dread.

After watching Suzi's videos, I thought 'enough already, I've got to do something about this situation'. So I picked up the mostly unused moleskine sketchbook sitting next to my computer and let rip with some black goache, white ink pen and a couple of my beloved Inktense pencils. Wham, two pages of art journalling done in about half an hour and boy, do I feel better. No, it's definitely not my perfect and pristine sketchbook but it's obvious that the old way isn't working any more, so I need to try something new.

Our 'shoulds' can really inhibit our art; they stifle the flow of creativity within us. Yes, it would be nice if I could keep making those beautiful ordered sketchbooks and I probably 'should' but it's far more important that I keep my art going. On the first page of my new journal I wrote in coloured pencil "It's time to get messy" and it is. Perhaps one day those pristine sketchbooks will be right for me again but for now, it's time to let them go.

4 thoughts on “On sketchbooks

  1. Paul

    There's nothing more likely to stifle my creativity than a sketchbook. They become counter-productive; the focus being the book as a seamless whole. They're not a place for making mistakes.

    Now I can vary the surface I work on. I'm not restricted to a particular scale or format. I don't have to keep things flat or wait for something to dry before I can move on to my next idea.

    Clumsy mistakes can be edited out without a binding to damage or wasting time thinking of something suitable to cover things up. I can recycle or collage. Keep the parts I like and move on or consign everything to the bin.

    I can be as outrageous or experimental as I like. The anxiety of the sketchbook has gone and I can just get on with things.

    [Reply]

    Reply
  2. Paul

    There's nothing more likely to stifle my creativity than a sketchbook. They become counter-productive; the focus being the book as a seamless whole. They're not a place for making mistakes.

    Now I can vary the surface I work on. I'm not restricted to a particular scale or format. I don't have to keep things flat or wait for something to dry before I can move on to my next idea.

    Clumsy mistakes can be edited out without a binding to damage or wasting time thinking of something suitable to cover things up. I can recycle or collage. Keep the parts I like and move on or consign everything to the bin.

    I can be as outrageous or experimental as I like. The anxiety of the sketchbook has gone and I can just get on with things.

    [Reply]

    Reply

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