Why Keep a Sketchbook?

In a couple of weeks we are leaving on a trip and I have spent most of the weekend preparing the sketchbook I want to take with me as we travel from Budapest to Prague. I am committed to try and to use it daily! A place to gather ideas for paintings from the trip, a place to collage ticket stubs, collections of maps, receipts or other kinds of papers that I become curious about. A journal, a keepsake, a work in progress.

An artist friend, Sandy Muzzy prepares her sketchbook pages before she leaves on a trip. I thought it was a great idea so I have been painting, collaging, and adding some elements to each page to document each day. Some of my pages have collaged papers I have created (yea! I have found a great use for these) and some I have suggested textures, shapes, designs in watercolor. Horizons, silhouettes of cites, suggestions of the season and the Danube river are all represented in the margins or edges of the pages.

I thought about the question, “Why keep a sketchbook?” and the answers for me are numerous.

  1. Practice. Drawing is a skill and it needs to be constantly practiced. I do not do as much drawing as I should. To draw for the sake of drawing is often  overlooked in my life. Practicing in a small journal is intimate and doesn’t overwhelm me with empty white space.
  2. Record Ideas. Leonardo da Vinci made only a few paintings but we all know him because of the ideas he recorded in his sketchbooks.
  3. Experimentation. Sketchbooks give me permission to try out and practice new media or tools, compositions, and to just play. Sketchbooks should be the one place without rules.
  4. View Progress. Sketchbooks allow me to see artistic development over time whether it is over months or years. I can also observe the evolution of an idea from the first gesture to the finished concept.
  5. Therapy.  This is cheaper than a psychiatrist.  When I am in “the zone” working in my sketchbook is like a mediation. I can be impatient with waiting. I can sketch and it keeps me off my cell phone with texting and checking email.

The Minnesota Center for Book Arts has a visual journal collective that meets once a month. They also have a Facebook page “MCBA Visual Journal Collective” that has a lot of information about upcoming meetings and links to other sketchbook groups.

I also enjoy doing a search using the phrase “artist’s sketchbook” The links that pop-up in this search often bring me to sketchbook work of many well-known artists. It is interesting to explore the diversity of sketchbook content, materials, composition, techniques.

I close with this quote from Neil Waldman (Out of the Shadows: An Artist’s Journey) “Sketchbooks and journals are the street lamps that illuminate the artist’s journey.”

So back to my sketchbook.