On the Subject of Sketchbooks

Drawing, Teel SaleI bring up the subject of sketchbooks, because I’ve recently discovered all the reasons why I should keep one, in the appendix of Drawing: A Contemporary Approach (5th edition) by Teel Sale, et al. They are all good, practical reasons and did not include just for the novelty and everybody else was doing it so why not? … which were my reasons for keeping one between 2008-2010. Their list of reasons even made me want to buy another Strathmore (the kind I used before).

But having done this before, I know the limitations of this practice. In particular, the final aesthetic is very discouraging; IE, not all the pages (less than half) are worth looking at again. Many are indeed very embarrassing ^..^ …!

I know I should feel free to doodle as I please, but thinking visually is not like thinking in writing. With writing, the first moment you limit yourself from infinite possibilities is when you put down those first few words. With the visual arts, the first choice is with the materials you use, including types of surface, size of surface and medium.

Going back to the benefits of keeping a sketchbook (EG, getting one’s mind moving, taking notes as starting points for larger works, etc), I can appreciate keeping a sketchbook as a kind of discipline.

OTOH — I could frame this as an idiosyncrasy of mine — I enjoy spontaneity. I don’t want to think of “thinking visually” as a discipline. I want to have the surface and medium give me ideas of what I can do, by asking what can they do? What can acrylics on wood do? What can charcoal or pastel on Ingres do? It’s not just a two dimensional plane you are working with. The materiality of the product has a lot to do with its initial and end appeal.

But then again, bigger ideas often come from smaller ones. It’s also cheaper to try things on smaller surface areas before committing to larger ones. Moreover, I like the idea of having my sketches in one place, where I can flip through them… Do I sound confused?

Daiso Japanese Calligraphy paper

No worries. I’ve found some middle ground. I have done what the book recommends me to do but not in a sketchbook that’s already in the form of a book. I can make my mistakes without the worry of spoiling what it shall be housed in and on surfaces of different sizes. I can have complete freedom from the very beginning, more or less. I can leave the choices involved in making them into a book for last — after I have chosen and collated the works I would like to include.

Each page could be the product of an experiment on what I can do with medium x on surface y, though the works I choose will have to conform to a specific size, with the exception of a fold-out or two.

To begin, I finally started experimenting with water color on rice paper. I made a couple of first sketches (and a video of me making these sketches) which I may include in a yet-to-be sketchbook.




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