All through art school, I heard about the importance of keeping a sketchbook from my professors, but for many years my sketchbook practice was sporadic, at best. It was always one of those things i knew would be beneficial, but I never made the time to commit to a regular practice. When I opened my sketchbook, I never knew what to draw - the blank page was taunting me, and I was paralyzed by it. I would either put the book down without drawing anything, or draw something terrible and tear it out. What a mistake I was making!
"You can't use up creativity. The more you use the more you have." Maya Angelou
If you follow me on Instagram, you have often seen my sketchbook paintings. Almost three years ago, I was inspired to do a sketchbook page every day after following Jennifer Orkin Lewis' sketchbook project. She has dedicated 20 minutes a day to do a page in her sketchbook, and has inspired many artists and designers to try it for themselves. One New Year's Day, on a whim, I decided to dedicate a year to sketching every single day, and post them on Instagram, even if they were really awful. And some of them were really and truly awful! But they were important steps, and I am glad that I not only did them, but posted them as well.
"Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy." Miss Frizzle from the Magic School Bus
My husband is an engineer, and early in his career, he had a boss who told him that if he didn't blow something up at least once a week, he wasn't doing his job. Sounds crazy, right? What boss would tell you to make mistakes on a regular basis? But my husband will tell you that this was one of the greatest pieces of advice he ever got. If he was blowing things up, he was trying something new, and experimenting. Not all experiments are successes, and many fail. But without these experiments, you are destined to wade only in the shallows. Without "blowing things up" in my sketchbook, I was failing to find my voice.
"Show up, Show up, Show up, and after a while the Muse shows up too." - Isabelle Allende
My sketchbook has become a visual journal of my days. I record in my sketchbook all the things that catch my attention, occupy my mind or just fill my day. Most of my sketchbook pages never go any further than my sketchbook. Once recorded, I have said all I need to say about the matter, and I am done with that image. Sometimes, the image dwells in my mind, a canvas comes out of the storeroom, and the paint comes out to play. I don't make an acrylic painting exactly like the sketchbook painting, because that would be boring. I've drawn or painted that image already. The sketchbook is a representation of what I saw, and the paintings are how I felt about it. The colors sharpen and become more vibrant, textures and patterns emerge, and the composition shifts to become more interesting.
Sometimes, i look back at my old sketchbooks and find something that didn't inspire a larger painting at the time, but suddenly looks exciting again. Often, my sketchbook pages are just reference material. I look back at the flowers I have drawn as reference for some flowers I'm putting in a new painting. Recently, a sketchbook page from a sketch club outing became the inspiration for the background to a painting of egrets that will be released soon.
I'll admit, I don't sketch every single day anymore, and I definitely don't share all of my sketches on social media, but this practice has been an incredible boost to my painting practice. My sketchbook is the lab where I experiment and the canvas is my playground. I never know where these sketches will lead, but they always lead somewhere exciting. Even the failed pages teach me something about painting, color, or myself. It's just as important to learn what doesn't work, as it is to learn what does work. So like my professors from art school, I recommend a sketchbook practice, because it is like exercise for your creative muscles. if you have a bad workout day, that workout will never make you weaker. Even a bad workout can make you a little stronger. A sketchbook practice is like exercise, even bad drawings will make you a better artist. So get sketching!