Several weeks ago, right on the heels of the amazing Ghost Hunter’s weekend, my boyfriend and I arrived home to find our basement flooded with nine inches of water.
Driving home in the cloud soaked twilight, the neighborhood was an eerie scene, with the rain streaming down and fountains of water bubbling up from the manhole covers and storm drains. My intuition said it didn’t bode well for our seepage-prone basement and I was, sadly, correct.
We lost a few things, some that can be replaced and some that can’t, but thankfully important items, like my sketchbook that my mom kept from when I was little, made it through perfectly dry. My large, unwieldy art portfolio was in the basement and while some of the contents were quickly subscribed to the trash bin, other items, like my sketchbooks from college, I couldn’t give up on and I dragged them upstairs and set about a campaign to dry them.
For weeks, my sketchbooks were spread out on the radiators around the house or, on nice days, propped up in the windows of the back porch, the breeze fluttering the thick damp pages.
Not being one to sentimentally return to mull through things, it was an interesting lesson for me to see how my use of a sketchbook has changed. In college, my sketchbook was filled with images, sketches, design ideas for silk scarves and pillows. I used my sketchbook as a place to try out ideas and play before putting paint to paper, or dye to silk. Sometimes, there were also just big, emotionally-driven, playful drawings or the drafts of poems that later were published.
The sketchbooks, as they steamed and curled on the radiators, lived and breathed with images and the play of ideas. They clearly showed a colorful phase in my artistic journey.
In contrast, I realized that my current sketchbooks are filled with more notes than ideas. That business meetings and To Dos dominate the pages and the occasional “this-meeting-should-have-ended-20-minutes-ago” doodle decorates the edges. There are also notes on books I am reading, or activities and ideas for things that I want to improve in my Creative Thinking class. So while it is important material, it is very distant from the colorful playfulness of the pages of the previous decade.
I like the liberty of having a sketchbook for work, but it made me realize that I need a sketchbook to play in again—and that I need to take the time to play; to return to more visual exploration and expression.
The other thing that I saw in my open and drying sketchbooks was that they held the blue prints of many projects that had made their way from idea to tangible object. Which was an interesting observation—creating a master sketch seemed to make something happen. That or I was just closer to a finished project at the time that I was testing it on paper.
The damage of the basement flooding served as a catalyst for not only looking at my artistic process but specifically my use of sketchbooks and the role they play in cultivating ideas. The resulting search for a new sketch book and its insights are topics for my next post… Until then, I invite you to think about your artistic journey and how you can refresh your relationship with your sketchbook in the activity below.
This activity is designed to help you take a look at your own work and see if you there are some new directions or explorations that may stimulate new ideas or work flow habits.
Take out your current sketch book (hopefully it is always nearby!) or, even better, if you keep sketchbooks, take out a selection at random and line them up. Flip randomly through the pages and observe what you see about how you work. Some questions to ask yourself:
• Do you use a lot of words or do you use more images?
• Is there a focus, or do you cover a wide variety of ideas and topics?
• What mediums do you use (paint, ink, pencil, mixed)?
• Is the information organized or random?
• Do you go back and review pages or information?
• How many of the ideas in the sketchbook made it into bigger, tangible pieces?
• How many of the ideas are “blue prints” and how many are exploratory or from playing?
After going through the questions above, think about what you may want to introduce that is different in your current sketch book. Maybe you realized that you want to play more or use more visuals. Maybe you want to better balance blue prints vs. playfulness. Maybe you want to use paint, rather than your standard pencil.
Pick one item/element from your observations and introduce it to your sketch book in the next week. See what happens and how you feel about your relationship with your sketchbook and documenting your ideas. Hopefully it will be a little bit of a “refresh.”
Want to get an idea of how others are using their sketchbooks? Check out http://sketchbooks.org/