Thursday, January 1, 2015

Looking Back and Moving Forward, Sketching as a Lifestyle

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These are the thirteen sketchbooks I filled in 2014. There are three "bonus" sketchbooks that I began in 2014 that are still in progress. They are media specific. One is the Crescent RendR which allows you to work with alcohol markers, like Copics, without them bleeding through. The other is a Gazara Papel watercolor sketchbook, filled with luscious paper,  and the other is an altered book art journal. I will keep working on those now and again until they are finished.

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I like to decorate the covers of my sketchbooks, and all but two of these have cover art. I often collage, use a Gelli plate, or stencils, or all three. I seal the cover with ModgePodge or acrylic matte or gloss medium. The two sketchbooks in the first photo, that are laying on the table, I made. The one on the left is a meander style sketchbook and the other my very first attempt at any kind of bookbinding, so a very simple pamphlet stitch holding together a single signature of paper and a cover.

New Year/New Sketchbook

This morning first thing, while still in my jammies, I made the cover art for my first sketchbook of 2015. The sketchbook is a Stillman & Birn Zeta, hardbound, 5.5 x 8.5.

The cover art was created using a Gelli plate and a stencil.

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I chose the colors and the simple branch and leaf motif for a few reasons. First, green as a color symbolizes (to me) among other things something that is fresh and new. The branch and leaves are reminiscent of an olive branch and thus bring up the idea of peace, something I desire to be more bountiful in the new year in my own heart and in the world at large. This particular leaf/branch image also reminds me of a young tender shoot and the "leaves" may possibly only be buds full of the promise of growth and life. All very appropriate imagery for the beginning of a new year.

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I always make sure my contact info is on the inside cover of my sketchbook, just in case (God forbid!) I ever lose it. I also always include a quote that inspires me.  Often, as in this case, it is from a book I am currently reading.

The first sketch was created using a Platinum Carbon fountain, black Sharpie, gold and white gel pens and QoR watercolors. My daughter and I went on a First Day archaeology/geology hike at a local state park. It was very, very cold and unbelievably windy. So cold and windy in fact that there were news crews from two different stations filming the 100 or so of us that came out to brave the ridiculously brutal weather to take a hike.  Now although I did bring my sketch kit, even I have my limitations. I couldn't manage to do the sketch on the spot so I took a good long look at the scene that caught my attention and sketched it from memory when I got home.

Sketching as a Lifestyle

As of this moment my post of my 13, 2014 sketchbooks in the Artist's Journal Workshop Facebook Group has 760 likes and 126 comments. That's staggering to me.  I know for sure that there are plenty of  other sketchers who fill at least that many sketchbooks in a year, so I'm definitely not unique. I do appreciate the sentiment of many of the comments and I completely understand their disbelief because 10 or 15 years ago I struggled to fill a sketchpad, sketch consistently or even know what to sketch.

That leads me to the idea of sketching as a lifestyle, which I think is something you grow into gradually, I know I did. I have always been captivated by the loose look of quick sketches filled with vitality and energy.  They are brilliant works of art in their own right, and really in a genre all their own. I would spend hours pouring over art supply catalogs looking at pencils, drawing leads, Conte crayons, charcoal sticks, inks, pens, and the like.  I wanted to draw in those beautiful sketchy loose, expressive lines and smudges of tones.

In the beginning I worked on newsprint pads with wood-less graphite pencils and a smudge stick. I sketched my pets.  I went through spurts where I would sketch a lot and then put it down for months at a time. I never really liked the product BUT I always loved the process, the feeling I had when I was sketching. That's what kept me going back to it.

Little by little I learned more about what it meant to keep a sketchbook as a total way of living life. Documenting, learning, growing, experiencing, recording, expressing, capturing and finding yourself in the lines and pages.

I feel so good when I'm sketching, so relieved of burdens, worries and stress, so fully engaged with life and present in the moment that the feeling is truly addictive. I literally crave time sketching. I dream about places I'd like to go and sketch, I think about challenges and techniques I'd like to try, and dream about buying all kinds of new tools and materials to experiment with. I see, experience and live my life more full through sketching.

Given the soul nourishing benefits I get from sketching is it any wonder that I filled thirteen sketchbooks in a year?

I think the biggest hurdle to making sketching a lifestyle is not finding the time.  Sketching can be quick and easily portable and squeezing it in is really pretty easy,  It's not even figuring out what to sketch. Sketch what you love. If you don't know what you love do a little thinking and soul searching, and you'll find your "thing".  So what is the biggest hurdle?   It's  learning to believe, deep down in your heart, soul, joints and the marrow of your bones that the joy and benefit of sketching is in the process and not the product. You have to love the act of sketching, the journey of creating so much that the sketch you produce takes second place to the satisfaction you get from making the sketching itself.

The amazingly good news here is that if you can get to that place of loving moving a pen or pencil across the paper so much that you sketch everyday,  in time without any conscious effort on your part, you will get better and better and sketching will become more and more and more satisfying and fulfilling, and your sketches will be "better" ( that's such a relative, subjective term, but what I want to say is that you'll like the sketches you make more and more  as time goes on).

 I now think of sketching as both a meditation and a practice of celebration, enriching my life with so many good, affirming and uplifting gifts. I hardly ever go a day without sketching, and when I do I'm very conscious of it and make plans as quickly as I can to block off time to sketch, it's that important to my well being.


  1. Great post Jan; I look forward to your posts and never miss one! Before I recognized you on FB and other places I liked the premise that sketching makes you happy -- i have a long story about not making art for a few years and this year making changes so I would do art all the time -- and sketching is making me very happy! Six sketchbooks, plus four in process (three dedicated to certain things) this year. Happy happy!

  2. Your post is so inspiring that I'll shut down my computer now and open my journal to make a sketch, although it is still a bit scary for me.... Thank you and my best wishes for 2015 to you!

  3. Jan, thank you for sharing your thoughts on sketching as a lifestyle. I just started keeping a sketchbook in 2014, but I've been going at it in fits and starts. It's encouraging to know that if I stay with it, I'll likely grow into it as you did.

  4. Jan, what a great post. I also filled 13 or slightly more sketchbooks this year. I have been sketching on daily basis since Christmas 2013. It is not something I have to do, it is just a part of my day and the best part of my day. My favorite sketchbook is the last sketchbook. I am finally starting to turn a corner and I am not talking my sketching skills, yes they have improved! My last sketchbook tells a story..moments in time. It has taken me a long time to get to that point. Thank you for an inspiring post. Love your work!


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