Monday, September 22, 2014

The Ritual of Beginning a New Sketchbook

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           I have a list of Zen Things, pinned to the wall above my desk in the studio. One of the things on the list says Develop Rituals.  I like that. Rituals are powerful and valuable.  I like rituals and don't think there are enough shared community rituals in our lives anymore.

So it's up to us at the family and personal level to develop rituals for ourselves. Rituals will ground us, center us, comfort us and provide continuity in our lives in good times and bad. Over the last year or two I've developed a ritual for beginning a new sketchbook. Because keeping and illustrated journal is so important to me, this ritual has become one of my very favorite creative activities. I even look upon it as a sacred ritual, sanctifying my journal as a space where I can open up and see beyond the mere visible universe and hear beyond the empty chatter of the world to the voice of the Divine Presence call to my deepest heart and most authentic self. You might not think a journal is all that, but to me it is.  This is a new brand of sketchbook for me. Made by Hand-Book Journal Co.  it is filled with Fluid watercolor paper, a nice cold pressed
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surface, not too rough that takes paint very nicely and allows for both control and spreading floating washes of wet in wet paint.

The cover here may look black but it is actually a deep navy blue, quite nice and refined looking.  I have a nifty new tool, a heat pen, that allows me to design and then cut my own stencils.

So with those things in hand I could begin my new sketchbook ritual.
Which begins with picking the type of sketchbook I would like to work in for the next few months. Spiral or hardbound, large or small, vertical or horizontal format, watercolor paper, mixed media paper, or dry media drawing paper, and then which brand of paper in the book. The book I choose is often determined by the places I may be planning to sketch in the coming weeks. For this time I chose a smaller book because I knew that I had several trips planned, zoo, botanical garden, agricultural fair, all of which would be crowded so I wanted a size that would be easy to manage in a crowd. Once I've decided on the type of sketchbook I set about personalizing the cover. This is more than just decoration though. I try to settle into a broad theme for the book, which is often based on the
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 season we're in since most of my sketches are nature based. I used my new stencil cutting tool to make a stencil that, while not a specific actual plant is inspired by a number of things going on in my yard right now.  The hydrangeas are drying on the bush and turning lovely colors, the wild black raspberry and wine-berries are turning all kinds of rich scarlet colors, and fall mums are appearing everywhere. So the design is an amalgamation of all those images. I used Golden Fluid acrylics to paint the stencils. I like to use what I call a wet stenciling technique along with the usual dry brush technique for stenciling. Wet stenciling involves having a lot of paint on your brush and letting the paint push through the stencil and bleed into the areas adjoining it, blurring the image. I like this because if you use a dry brush to stencil everything you get a very regular, mechanical perfect set of repeating images, that looks, well, stenciled. I prefer to create a more painterly, layered look by letting some of the images blur, dry and then placing the stencil back over the image and using a lighter color and a dry brush to create a cleaner stencil image of parts of the design. When everything is dry I seal it with either Modge Podge or Chroma Binder Medium. So the loose theme of this book will be the variety of changes going on during this transitional season of dying off we call autumn.
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Next, I peruse books and articles to find quotes that speak to me at this moment in my life. In this journal I've chosen two quotes from women poets. These along with my contact information and sunburst hand carved stamp go on the inside cover of my book. 

Finally, I set aside time to work in an unhurried way on the opening page of my new sketchbook so that the first page is appealing and carries through on the loose theme I've chosen.  On this page I say good-bye to summer as today is the autumnal equinox. Some treasures from the sea, a reminder of the beach days of summer, including another hand cut stencil of pebbles, and a brief reflection on the passing of summer and the growing darkness of autumn finish off the page.

So there's the ritual, seek out the new sketchbook, find a loose theme, personalize the cover to embody the theme, find meaningful quotes for the inside cover and set aside unhurried time to work on the first page as a way to enter into the process and manifestation of this particular book.

What will I see and experience through this journal?  What will I learn? What will I take notice of?  What will I discover?  I don't know.  It's all in front of me now beckoning me on to creative output and mindful engagement with life.


  1. Such an interesting and inspiring post Jan. I am very drawn to your ideas. I'd like to use your approach to my next new sketchbook if I may?

  2. Hi Jules, Thanks for visiting. I encourage you to use any of the ideas and create your own ritual for beginning a new sketchbook!

  3. Great blog post and very inspiring. You provided a link for the heat tool, but what material and what thickness do you use to make your stencils? Does the heat tool cut as clean as edge as using a craft knife?


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