How I Rediscovered Sketchbooks and Their Magic
April 7, 2012
— Brooklyn Art Library, colored pencils, doodle, draw, illustration, Milton Glaser, paint, Sketchbook Project, sketchbooks
The constrictions happen slowly over the years so you don’t even realize it.
As a Kid: we’re given white, blank pieces of paper to draw whatever mess we wanted. Splotches of paint, curves in crayon; it didn’t matter because that masterpiece always got proudly promoted to the big refrigerator for everyone to admire.
Grade School: we soon learn the beauty of cursive writing by practicing constant contact using handwriting guides… dash dash tucked in between solid lines. We sometimes still draw on that white piece of paper, now stashed away deeper in the drawer.
High School/College: College-ruled lines defined our notes next. Those light blue horizontal lines bring a sense of order to copious classes. Perhaps that Algebra class sprinkles in graph paper periodically. Who really likes those cumbersome yellow legal pads? Those blank pieces of paper and colored pencils have long been forgotten through entrance exam rigors.
Real World Work: Did you know that Excel 2010 has 17,179,869,184 cells? The increase happened back in Excel 2007 where each worksheet has 1,048,576 rows and 16,384 columns now. Shit. How many more pivots, equations, and macros can a person handle in their shrunken 5′ x 5′ cube?
How did this creep up on us? The older we got, the more boxes literally and metaphorically filled our space. Our left-sided, analytical brains have been in the driver’s seat for decades, driving on a one lane, straight highway.
For Milton Glaser, the revered patriarch of graphic design, “drawing is really a kind of thinking.”
Think about that. We look at common objects daily, but we don’t really see it until we sit down, concentrate, and try to draw its details. The curves, the texture, and the depth of that rose are actually a different way of thinking.
My trip back to Sketchbook Land started out meekly with a small reporter-style notebook. I needed space to collect lists and words with my black pen.
An eventual trip to the craft store procured a proper Strathmore sketchbook spanning 5.5 x 8.5 inches of 60 lb. Series 400 paper. Soon the lists expanded to concepts and stick figures with bold markers and colorful colored pencils.
Soon after, I discovered Canson’s cleverly sized 6″ x 3″ notebooks and Rhodia’s graph paper books at an independent art supply store. Yes, I now compulsively acquire and use sketchbooks. A small sketchbook is now a required travel item whenever I hit the road.
For people not trained in the arts, this transformation is a big step. I’ve rediscovered the fun, relaxation, and inspiration from doodling and sketching. The pre-defined lines and boxes are gone. You’re finally exercising atrophied neurological highways. The blank page is like the Grand Teton’s vast, open valley. Majestic. You start appreciating paper weight, and a new trove of pens, pencils, and paints open up. You now understand why people have those annoyingly cute pencil bags.
I haven’t graduated to full illustrations yet, but there now exists a place and practice to chicken scratch out concepts in a collection. These disparate dots will connect like Steve Jobs referenced. Perhaps I’ll participate in Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project with the 5,000 other fans.
Why aren’t sketchbooks required school supplies along with notebooks? Compare how it feels to brainstorm on a blank piece of paper vs. making lists on lined paper. PowerPoint should not be the only chance we get to craft “pretty pictures.”
Check out these intimate sketches from famous artists like Andy Warhol, Tim Burton and Frida Kahlo. You can see their creative process in process.
My precious sketchbooks are not stored in the technology cloud, and that’s just fine. I still need something to carry out if the house burns down.