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Do you LOVE buying sketchbooks but find you rarely use them? Do you find a clean, blank page completely intimidating? Are you afraid of ruining your beautiful new sketchbook and stop yourself from using it to experiment and learn as much as you could? Are you confused about what sketchbooks should or shouldn't be used for?
I am going to start out this post with a somewhat embarrassing confession. Until about three years ago, I never had a sketchbook. Pretty much all my drawings were created on loose sheets of paper that ended up in folders (if they were lucky) or lost under piles of junk never to be found again. What can I say? I got busy with full-time jobs that, perhaps were “artsy” and creative, but never really left me the time and energy to explore art for myself.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with daily responsibilities and forget about that one activity that we'd really like to spend more time doing. Keeping up with demanding jobs, family responsibilities, social commitments and making time for health on top of everything else, can keep us from pursuing activities which we know would bring us an immense amount of joy and fulfillment, but sometimes (unfortunately) loose their priority. I’m sure many of you can relate.
It took me forever to fill up that first little sketchbook I ordered from Amazon all those years ago. I moved out of the house I was living in back then, got married and was extremely busy giving my all at my job, working overtime several days a week and arriving home exhausted. I had started trying out some new art supplies in this sketchbook of mine (mostly watercolor pencils and drawing pens) but wasn’t really serious about it yet. My priorities were still elsewhere.
Finally, last year, I became incredibly inspired by artists I was finding online and I made the decision to make time for my own improvement as an artist. I made time to really think about what I wanted in life, re-established priorities and set my goals.
If you're at the point I was in back then, feeling stuck, unhappy and not making any progress towards improving in those areas that are important to you, I highly recommend checking out my blog post titled Time Management for Artists: My Secrets for Staying Consistently Productive.
In it, I explain everything I did to lay out achievable plans for myself that would allow me to steadily progress towards my goals, as well as helpful tips that will help you stay focused and consistent.
So little by little I began investing in more art supplies and, this time, I actually USED them. I started consciously setting aside time for my own art after work and on weekend mornings and it went on like that for months. I began getting more and more excited about my personal improvement and finding my voice as an artist. I can honestly say the elation I felt from creating something and sharing it with the world was unlike nothing I had ever felt before.
I started to feel like this big part of me that I had been suppressing for so many years was emerging, like I was finally becoming whole. I had never experienced anything as addictive as creating these little artworks that began filling my sketchbook (by this point it was a bigger one). The part of my days which I looked forward to the most were those moments in which I could immerse myself in my art and slowly peel back these layers that would lead me to discover myself as an artist. I haven’t stopped since.
Later on, as I found myself filling not only sketchbooks quicker and quicker, but creating painting after painting on proper watercolor paper, I began investing in higher quality supplies. I am still in the process of creating my collection and finding those specific brands of paper and paint that I love most, but my persistence and personal drive to become better have brought me far from where I started.
Why sketchbooks are so important in an artist's journey
1. They are a chronological record of your progress
If you ever feel unmotivated or need solid proof of your progress, you can look back to your old sketchbooks and see how far you've come. You can also study them in order to find patterns in your work, as well as your style evolution throughout the years.
2. They protect your work for you
If you are generally a disorganized person or simply a busy one, it is very easy to loose those sketches you create. Whether you are a professional artist or a hobbyist that finds joy in art, it is important that this work is protected and not lost.
3. They are portable
As artists it is important to have the tools we need handy at all times. Whether it's a camera to take reference photos, a small notebook to jot ideas down in, or an actual sketchbook, we need to be prepared when we are out and about. It's important to keep in mind that drawing and painting from life is extremely important for those of us seeking to do this professionally.
4. They provide us with an informal, no pressure way of exploring
I believe that in art, as in most things in life, it's more about the journey than the destination. As artists we have to fall in love with the process of exploration and keeping a sketchbook is a great way to do that. It is through smaller studies that we discover ourselves as artists, the techniques we love most, what we excel at and what we must work on, etc.
One could argue that a finished sketchbook is even more important than the finalized pieces we produce, as it displays all the work it took you to get to where you are today. Ignoring practice and going straight to the canvas isn't going to get you anywhere. This is a mistake I made in the beginning.
5. They remind us to keep going
When I am sitting in my studio thinking about how I can move my skills forward, I can hear my sketchbooks calling out for me. Maybe I sound like a crazy person, but to me, they seem hungry to be filled up with more work. And more practice equals more results. So it's a win-win.
Tips to get the most out of your sketchbook
1. Give it a date
I like writing the month and year when I started working in each sketchbook somewhere on its cover. By doing this, I can look back to older ones and see how far I've come. It's easy to get frustrated on a day-to-day basis when a drawing or painting isn't going as smoothly as you were expecting, but when you look back and see the progress you have achieved, it can be very motivating to keep going.
2. Carry it with you everywhere
I like having sketchbooks in different sizes so that I can take smaller ones with me whenever I'm going somewhere where I'll have a chance to sketch. I also like to have little regular notebooks to jot ideas down for future artworks if anything occurs to me when I am out of my studio. You never know when a great idea is going to pop up. Ideas are so easily forgotten and, even if they aren't used right away, they could come in handy in the future.
3. Make sure you buy one that is appropriate for the supplies you plan to use in it
Do you like to do mostly pen and ink sketches? Are you into watercolors, gouache or other media that requires water? Do you like to explore mixed-media? Would you like a sketchbook that can hold layers of paint in it or perhaps even glue and other items you'd like to place in it? Are you planning on using things like gesso in order to use oil paint in it? There is a sketchbook for every need out there. Just make sure you acquire one with appropriate paper for your exploratory needs.
4. Write in it
I love to jot down notes about mistakes and what I have to make sure not to do next time I'm attempting to draw/paint that particular subject or use that particular technique. Write down ideas that came up throughout the process of the piece you were working on. Write personal thoughts or feelings about what made you want to explore that particular subject. I believe all these things will contribute to your work immensely because getting to know yourself is a big part of becoming an artist.
5. Never fear the blank page/new sketchbook
Remember your sketchbook is a place for you to explore and to learn. You aren't "ruining" anything! This is your personal space and you don't have to share it with anyone if you don't want to. If you always have this fear of perfection looming over your head you are never going to get the amount of work done that it takes to become better. Relax and enjoy the process!
To end this post, I want to include this quote by French artist Eugene Delacroix:
The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing.
What methods/activities have you found useful to make sure you keep creating art and developing your skills through time? Have you ever gotten to a point at which you feel like you've plateaued? Leave a comment below and and let's help each other out!
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