Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Sketchbook of Doom

I've always known that inspiration and the creative urge to make art can be fickle things. They can flit about, disappear just when you need them, refuse to cooperate at exactly the time you've set aside to work; but recently, with the need to produce something new gnawing at my brain I began to realize that I have developed something of an aversion to sketchbooks. This is not a good state for any artist to be in. Sketchbooks, along with pencils, are our most basic tools. We all probably own piles of them. I know I do. But here's an admission that would no doubt have my old art tutors rolling their eyes in despair - <drum roll> - I have never used every page - and thereby effectively completed -  a single sketchbook. Ever. In my whole life. I love buying them, really love buying them. Large ones, tiny ones, moleskine ones, soft cover, hard cover. You name 'em I've got 'em. But not one of them is full.

So I asked myself why that is. Why does the thought of working in a sketchbook make me feel so uncomfortable? And I think, perhaps, it's that word 'book'. Y'see, I love books - and have done since I was a child. I loved to read, and still do, immersing myself in the numerous fantasy worlds of Tolkien, Stephen Donaldson, Clive Barker, Charles de Lint, Terri Windling, Ray Bradbury to name but a few. Not to mention all the art-books I have full of works by my favorite artists. I have a 'book list' at Christmas rather than just a 'wish list' and books are double stacked on most of my shelves. So I think, for me, that word 'book' implies an already completed entity. A finished thing in and of itself; a completed work, edited, designed, finished, which to me, suggests that a 'book' is no place for mistakes or experimentation.

If I could magically transfer all my best sketches into one book that would be my sketchbook. It would have an ornate cover, every page would be covered in perfectly executed sketches, every inch used to its maximum potential - just like the published 'sketchbooks' of some of my favorite artists.

Of course, the reality of my sketchbooks is so very different. Many contain the most inept and awful attempts at composing paintings, terribly out of proportion figures drawn from my imagination  and a few gems which just somehow worked and actually did become paintings. Pages have been ripped out of most of them whether in anger or to be scanned. And the remains of those books just sit there in a row glowering at me, daring me to pick one up and make marks on its pages.


 For a while I thought that I had the perfect solution - to circum-navigate those smugly bound pages and sketch on single sheets of paper. But the reality is that, while this may work surprisingly well and has enabled me to put aside that 'book' anxiety and work more freely on new ideas, perversely there is actually a part of me that wants to, or maybe needs to create that dream sketchbook.

So I'm going to whisper this as quietly as I can, because I am very much aware of the saying 'If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans' as I have fallen foul of of this phrase many a time. Perhaps 'God' doesn't read blogs and I might get away with it, so here goes - 

I've bought a new sketchbook and, starting in August when my Enchanted Alphabet  is completed, I'm going to fill that sketchbook, from cover to cover, with new drawings and sketches.

There, I've said it. <deep breath> Now, I'll either be overwhelmed with plagues and pestilence in a few weeks time or I'll be furiously sharpening pencils. Keep your fingers crossed for me and I'll post the results here in the weeks to come :)


  1. I suspect there are many of us out there who can totally relate to this. We should start 'unfilled sketch book users' anonymous! My salvation was soluable fine liners. Ive never been a big drawer as I tend to see things in 3d but lately I've taken to carrying an a4 pad and doodling in it with a fine liner whenever I'm stuck away from my studio and feel that niggling urge to create. Looking forward to seeing what you do.

    1. Drawing in ink!! You're braver than me, that's for sure!! :)

  2. Hello Shona.
    I have just stumbled on your fabulous bloggysite and I am so glad I did. I think I will start at the very beginning (as that's a very good place to start). But I just had to reply to this post first. I am so glad I am not the only one with this terrible affliction. I really did think I was the only one in the world that did this. I too love books and see them as finished things in their own right. It is strange really as sketch books are great for working out ideas so you can expect things not to always turn out as finished pages. Oh...there it goes again - just pull out this page so that the book is not ruined. Only thing is, you can end up with very thin sketch books indeed.
    Love your work and love this blog! to the first post I think...

    1. Hi Stew,

      Thanks for your kind comments.
      I've been quite surprised by the number of artists who have said they feel the same way about sketchbooks. I feel so much better about it knowing that I'm not the only one :)
      My 'great August sketchbook project' has begun and seems to be going okay - so far I've only wanted to tear out one page...