Retreating Sketchbooks

Sketchbooks are safe places to play with ideas, so of course I brought some with me up north. Now that more of them are filled, I’m overwhelmed by them all. I want to buy more, instead of fill the ones I have, and yet some days, they feel like a burden. Piled up, either full or empty, they insist that you DO something with them.

Put something on the page, do something with what’s on the page. Come on, what are you waiting for??

… My Sketchbooks

How do you manage this sketchbook scolding? (Or is it just me??)

Sketchbook Methods

I think we can agree on the benefits of sketchbooks. It’s the negative side that caught me up, this round. For some reason, I’m stuck with the thought that I’m just doing it wrong.

The Correct Way?

What is that ideal method that we think all other creative folks do? Oh yes: a perfectly-drawn minimal outline, a rendering for a larger piece, a collage that looks ready to frame. Oooh, those perfect posts on social media! How much of that is messing with my head?? Enough!

The Usual Way

Since the days of my Collage365 project, I’ve filled sketchbooks, then scanned them, altered them, printed over them, scanned again. They’ve become layers in my digital art time and time again. How did I do that again? Let’s see, oh yes:

  1. Fill up a sketchbook
  2. Scan it and add it to Lightroom
  3. Give it a rating & tags
  4. Use it as a digital layer
  5. Add more to the physical piece
  6. Mount on wood panel — if I like it
  7. Cut it up & reuse for collage — if I don’t

Maybe what’s missing is my usual way of sorting through work: with my scanner. With no scanner, and disk space in short supply anyway, I’m missing steps 2, 3, and beyond.

A New Way

First of all, whatever works is the right way. Right? So: I don’t need to use ALL the sketches. Just as when I load in new camera shots, some don’t even make it to the rating process. I’ve altered my process to review my current sketches, making notes about what I like, and giving each of them a little penciled-in rating on the back. There, feels better already!

Next, more flexibility about the pages left — they can become loose-leaf, or loose pieces can be bound. It’s all good. Okay, that’s a good start.

Sketchbook Projects

Now, let’s map some methods onto my existing projects. Here’s what I brought up to the retreat with me:

  • Pandemic Pairs sketchbook, with digital scans of each page
  • Small Strathmore sketchbook with tan paper
  • Various white small and large sketchbooks in progress
  • Watercolor paper, 9×12, some of which became a series

Sketchbook Pairs

What started as my Pandemic Pairs sketchbook went in 2 directions. On the left, you can see one of my pairs with additional paint adding contrast. Swipe to see the original sketch. These additions are awaiting more scans.

Excuse the color balance differences — just play with that slider!

Pairs as Digital Layers

Besides adding to the physical sketchbooks, above, I also used the digital versions. With these pairs of collages talking to each other, I decided to combine each pair into the same piece, to see if I could get more of a conversation going.

If you look at the revision above, see how different a direction it went digitally.

From the same sketch, above, combined with its pair & some layers

Quick Sketches

For quick ideas and mostly daily entries, I used a Strathmore toned tan sketchpad, almost 6×9, a handy size.

These have now been reviewed and rated, and some will get a run through the scanner — if they got a high enough grade!

Collage Fodder

I also used smaller, and larger, white sketchbooks to create painted and textured collage paper. Being able to make larger gestures is great!

These sketchbooks, recovered from other uses, or on the cheapest paper, are easier to mess around in. This is a great way to use up paint and experiment with mark-making.

Loose Watercolor Sketches

There’s something about a sketchbook that says “Finish me!” which can get in the way of pure exploration. I was so close on the tan sketchbook that I ripped out the last few blank pages, so I could call it my northern sketchbook, and be done. As an alternative, Jane Davies mentioned a 6″x9″ format, which I realized is easily created from 9″x12″ pads of paper, sliced in half. These loose pieces are not associated with a number that should be finished, which feels less like scolding, more free.

Look for bits from all of these sources in my upcoming work. Some of it is sure to make the grade.

Chime in!