5 ways to ditch your sketchbook rut
1 // get rid of the idea that your sketchbook needs to be presentable. i know--people always want to see it. we're artists. we're cool. we carry around these little books with various drawing tools and oftentimes people think that we breathe and magic designs spill onto the paper. but we know it's not that simple, and we don't want to be self-conscious, so we want to draw well. we want to be impressive. but this can also paralyze us into ruts or worse, into not drawing at all. and what i often see in the sketchbooks of beginners (and of those in ruts) is that they worry about this and tend to draw very timidly, which shows through the drawing.
so with that idea--the idea that "this has to look awesome or someone will doubt my artistic legitimacy"-- out of your mind, your drawings might actually look, well, more awesome. sketchbooks are magical. they can be places to develop ideas, to study concepts in a deeper capacity, to play, to observe, to explore, to understand. don't worry; just draw.
2 // keep multiple sketchbooks. this can help with #1. so if you feel inclined, get a few different sketchbooks. perhaps you can use one for emulations, one for "pretty drawings" where you try to make finished work and one for straight-up experimentation. experimentation of medium, of style, of ideas, etc; this last one might surprise you in how free your drawings become...maybe it'll become your favorite. i don't even bother with the "pretty drawing" one anymore, honestly--i usually find my best stuff in the others. and to be totally honest, the types of books i've mentioned usually end up bleeding together. but my mind opens up as to how i can use my sketchbook.
some artists prefer just to draw on loose-leaf 8.5x11 printer paper, and then get it spiral-bound. this is a great way to keep your drawings together and make them look presentable later, if you must. it sure is a good way to gather random ideas or sort and organize them.
one of my favorite sketchbooks i designated as a "pen-only" sketchbook, where i inked on the first page, "permanent mistakes welcome". then i could then allow myself to mess up because it was supposed to happen--it was part of the process. i also made two rules for myself: #1- i could only use pen, which allowed me to be more bold in my mark-making, and #2- i couldn't skip pages, which helped me move on from "bad drawings" faster. i found that along with a lot of not-so-great drawings, i had a lot of successful drawings in that book because i let myself draw with reckless abandon. obviously there are times and places, but hey...it's a thought.
lastly, one of my most favorite sketchbooks i keep is a private* sketchbook -- this tiny, thin little book can fit in my pocket and it's one that i don't let anyone else see. in these pages, i record my personal thoughts and ideas, knowing there will be absolutely zero pressure of others' eyes. the thoughts and ideas i pour into this book aren't limited either -- they come not only as images, but also as words, as poems, as potential songs...creativity appreciates both boundaries and having boundaries lifted. also, i can be totally honest in my work here.
[above photo notes] left: 3.5x5.5 handbook handles water media well. pocket-sized! don't let the format hold you back. top right: the closed 3.5x5.5 moleskin book is my private sketchbook. super thin pages but that's okay for this one for me. i penned the words on the front, [*and here's a little secret--i'll tell you about one page in there, which is the first page in the book which completes the thought on the front: '...nor perfection allowed'. again, it's my counterbalance to pesky paralyzing perfectionism. but apparently there is no counterbalance to alliterations when they just come....] bottom right: a sketch from a photo i took at a concert in my pen-only 4.5x8.5 denik book. pretty thin pages but good for ink only :) (and denik is a great cause...check them out)
3 // switch up your medium! matt nolte visited BYU this past week and he said that when he gets frustrated, he changes his medium. i think this is excellent advice. when i use different media in my sketchbook it gets me all sorts of excited about drawing. if you can trick yourself into being excited about drawing, you'll want to draw-- all. the. time. and chances are, you'll get better if you're applying what you're learning in your classes or personal study (because you should always be learning...see #4). below are some of my favorites.
you can tell what kind of rollerball pens these are from the photo--your standard pilot G2 and uniball, as well as a staedtler pigment pen (i used to use microns but the tips wore out too fast for me). here are links to the other goodies. some of them are general links because there's variety within the media -- pentel pocket brush pen (makes more expressive marks) // col-erase pencils // waterbrushes (can be filled with ink or water) // kneaded erasers // itty bitty watercolor set (!)
piggybacking off the idea of different sketchbooks, the surface we draw on also makes a difference. toned paper is great because it automatically creates a medium value, so i also add white charcoal pencils to my quiver to create some lighter values on top. below is an example of a sketchbook i started today! it's just toned paper i'm going to spiral bind later.
and speaking of quivers, it really helps to have something to hold your supplies. i love my kaddy pencil holder, but i've not been able to find any since i purchased mine. leave me a comment and link if you can find them, or what you find helpful to hold your tools in when you tromp around town to sketchbook. perhaps pencil roll cases might work?
below are some studies that i decided have fun with and made more interesting by using a blue col-erase, one of my rollerball pens and my waterbrush to spread the ink from the pen around for value. again: using different media = so much more fun when you're drawing what something that may appear to be boring.
4 // get outside: inspirationally and physically
get outside physically: get outside of where you normally draw. take note--where and when do you draw? is it just in class? just in a boring meeting? just in your room when you're procrastinating other things?
well, there is an entire world of things to be drawn! so get out and draw in other places: the lunchroom, the park, the line at the coffee shop, the zoo, the apple orchard, the mountains, the library, the mall. draw at concerts! drawing from life (i.e. looking at something and drawing it) is essential to help develop hand-eye coordination and connect our brains to our work. i took a sketchbook class where we just went to different random places and drew whatever we felt like. it was the most liberating experience. i don't think i would have thought of going to the harley-davidson place and drawing motorcycles on my own but you know what? it was a blast. (photo below, top-left)
as a bonus, the more things and people you draw, the more trade your stigma of what you "think" you know for actual observation and realize what things really look like. also, drawing a variety of subjects helps put those things in your memory bank so that if you're ever called upon to draw, say, a fire hydrant for a job, you're already somewhat familiar with it because one happened to be next to that random train that you drew that one time you got outside of where you normally drew.
also, just be inspired by life. some of the drawings below in the bottom-left and the one on the right side are more emotionally-driven: ideas that developed from experiences i'd had. i've heard idea thrown around the BYU animation department that animation is the imitation of life. if you don't have a life, how can you imitate it?
get outside inspirationally: look at the sketchbooks and art of those you admire. and here's the thing. students often look at their peers for inspiration. this is great, but your competition isn't just inside of your classrooms or at your universities and colleges -- your competition is in the industry you're headed into.
so rather than just looking right and left in your physical classrooms, look at the wider world of art. bridge the chasm between you and the professional you want to be in 20 years by looking at the art of the professionals you admire, because once you graduate, those are the ones you'll be compared to when you're hunting for jobs or trying to make a name for yourself! it really helps to look through others' sketchbooks to be motivated into sketchbooking/art-making. i've started a pinterest sketch board with notes about sketchbooking. honestly, it's sort of what inspired this post (it also has most the images from this post pinned, because for some reason they wouldn't pin from this page). give it a look and a follow, if you fancy.
5 // "what kind of art do i even like?!" dismayed, that's what i found myself asking after my 3-week backpacking adventures in italy, september 2012. i was back in the states with only two months to create my final bfa project to graduate college--stoked and inspired from my travels yet totally stumped on what style or direction i even wanted to go in with my art. so i used pinterest for inspiration to help me understand the kind of art i liked, because i wanted to produce art that i liked. there is a lot to be said about curating art and a lot to be understood about yourself as a person and artist from what you find. read more about that experience here.
also, be observant in your own art and sketchbooks: what do you like to draw? what do you keep coming back to? not just in subject matter, but in qualities and stylistic choices? what media do you jive with most? don't tie yourself down, but do take note of correlations in your work over time.
jumping off of point number 5, look forward to my next post where i'll discuss more about the importance of cultivating good taste to create your "style".
in the meantime, grab your sketchbook and get going! obviously these are just a few of my thoughts but i feel like i just let out all of my sketchbook secrets! dare to share yours? leave a comment.