Illustrating your life

"Metro Airport" by Kay Sluterbeck, ballpoint pen sketch while waiting for a plane.

     Artists’ journals and sketchbooks are doorways into a secret world.  They are packed with drawings, paintings, and words — some polished, some rough, some never intended for anyone to see except the artist who made them.  There may be shopping lists and phone numbers written in the margins. The sketchbook cover may be scuffed and torn from being stuffed into backpacks, suitcases and pockets; the pages might be warped from watercolors or weather. 

     When you open an artist’s sketchbook, you never know what you’ll find.  The only thing you can be sure of is that creativity seeps from every line and color.  The freedom of its pages gives you a little glimpse into the artist’s mind — a window into dreams, mistakes, lessons, and experiments.

      Artists’ sketchbooks are really an art form in themselves.  Unfortunately, this is not an art form that can be displayed easily in a museum or gallery.  Crowds of visitors can’t gather around it as it hangs in a golden frame.  The artist’s sketchbook is an art form that, if you are lucky enough to be allowed to see one, must be experienced individually.  You bend over the pages, absorbing each note and sketch, and then turn to the next page.  And every page will reveal a fresh surprise.  It’s almost like following the story of a life, with each sketchbook being a chapter. 

     The material in a sketchbook can cover weeks, months, or years, depending on the habits of the particular artist and the thickness of the sketchbook.  When you turn the pages you can almost feel time passing.  The artist’s thoughts are recorded in sequence.  If he/she was working on a project, you can see the first tentative idea sketches and follow through to the final sketches.  Sometimes color work is included.  Sometimes specific pages are so beautiful they almost beg to be pulled out of the book and framed for more public display. 

      A sketchbook is a picture of an individual artist.  Some keep methodical journals with drawings and words in equal parts.  They set self-imposed rules for their work.  Others radically change their style, medium and subject to match their passing whims.  They improvise and play with technique until it’s hard to imagine that the pages in one book came from a single artist.

     There are sketchbooks that are used to pass time in the dentist’s waiting room or while the washing machine runs through its cycles.  But always you are seeing the artist either pulling things from his/her imagination or recording the world as it passes — even if the only thing to record is a restaurant parking lot or a dog dozing in the sunlight.

     For any serious artist, experienced or aspiring, keeping a sketchbook is important.  Some people’s lives have been changed by the simple process of drawing a cup of coffee in a book.  Suddenly they see their world for the first time as they sketch it on the page.

     Some people grow up with no understanding of their potential and then are discouraged by uninspiring art educators.  Late in life, they teach themselves, very slowly, to bring images from the eye, through the brain and out of the hands into the pages of a sketchbook.  Sometimes their art never goes any further than the pages of the sketchbook, but their sketchbooks are, as we said, an art form well worth doing.

     A sketchbook is a wonderful, non-threatening place to learn to draw.  It is also a place for experiments, playing with ideas, recording dream images, and breaking away from the restrictions of the computer.  Putting a pen on the page will inspire creative breakthroughs that you don’t get by taping on a keyboard.

     If you would like to keep a sketchbook, don’t be guided by what other people say.  Choose the materials and methods that feel right to you.  You don’t have to have an expensive Moleskine sketchbook.   You don’t need a fancy pen or an expensive “art” pencil.  Many artists do their best work with a simple office pencil and a sketchbook from a discount store.

     For myself, I use an inexpensive sketchbook.  Sometimes if it isn’t handy I draw on just about anything, from envelope backs to brown paper bags.  I cut these odd drawings out and glue them into my sketchbook.  My sketching tool of choice is a ball-point pen, but I will also use pencils, crayons, felt-tip pens, or toothpicks dipped in ink if that’s what’s handy. 

     You don’t have to be an “artist” to keep a sketchbook.  If you like to doodle, to write down ideas, or simply play, you can do it in a sketchbook.  You don’t have to make a masterpiece.  You can draw the stuff on your bathroom counter, pigeons in the park, fellow passengers in the car, or the newscasters on TV. 

     No matter who you are or what you do, I hope you discover the adventure, the fun, and the endless richness of illustrating your life.

By Kay Sluterbeck/AAPJ

Published by on May 2016. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Palette Journal, HowDoit PB dept, Paint Box Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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