Monday, August 27, 2012

The Most Important Tool: A Sketchbook

Besides the computer, there is one tool in my creative arsenal that I find to be absolutely invaluable. That wonderful, magnificent tool which I value above all others is my Sketch Book. My sketchbook is where all my ideas are first hatched. It’s where I work with them and play with them until I’m ready to make them manifest in the world. It’s where I jot things down for later. It’s a simple thing, spiral bound with a black cover and white pages. The size is an 8 1/2” by 11” with perforated pages. You can find ones just like it at Wal-Mart or any hobby store and they’ll run you close to $10. Most of the time, I decorate the cover in some way that is whimsical, makes me happy and inspires me to continue working with it. My sketchbook, which I keep on my nightstand by the bed or often carry with me, is the place where I allow myself to dream my wildest dreams on paper.

If you ever see me doodling, writing or painting in my sketchbook and you ask me what I’m doing, the answer will 100% of the time be one of two things. Either, “dreaming” or “playing.” In my current book that’s beside me, now, are sketches for costumes, bits of poetry, mandala paintings, self-help book workings, fairy drawings, tattoo ideas, blog post topics and inspirational quotes. Within the pages of these free-form books, I hardly ever take myself too seriously. It’s not like anyone ever looks inside but me. I also use this book to play with new tools like watercolor pencils (used in the Self Care series) or Art Masking Fluid.

In my sketchbook, there are no lines, no margins. Just plain sheets of white paper. This is what I prefer for recording my free-form creativity because the lack of lines and structures makes me feel less constricted. I don’t have to write neatly on the lines or stay within the margins or make anything look pretty. Writing or drawing all of my ideas without lines gives me the space to add to them, later, if I need to add notes or expound.

Keeping a sketchbook also helps me see not only what I’m thinking about and saves my ideas for later, but it also allows me to observe how I’m thinking. This can be a big help in the future. If I see that, say, most of my ideas about “play” are coming from nature, from observing animals, I can go to the internet or library and research more on that particular topic. If I’m drawing mandalas and I notice a theme, again, I can research various symbols and use that to extrapolate.

I’m also a fan of “word bubbling” in my sketchbook. This is another format for storing and expanding on ideas and “to do” projects. If you’ve never tried it for brainstorming or organizing about goals, I’d give this exercise a try and see if it works for you.

A word bubble from my sketchbook regarding what I want to do with my creative work

Another exercise I do is "what's broken"? This gives me an idea of potential pitfalls to work on. I draw circles within circles, like a bulls-eye. Then, I label each one, broadening the scope as I go. The very center is "My Desk." Going out, the layers are Office, Workload, Team, Division, Organization, Neighborhood, Country, World. Inside each ring, I write what I don't like. In "Desk," I may write 'no central creative location.' In "Office," 'constant cleaning is frustrating' and 'lack of space for myself.' This gives me very concrete things written down that I can work towards changing. Maybe I could hire someone to come in once a week and do some cleaning for me. No matter what exercises you use, let them guide you to figure out what you really want out of your career, your art and your life.

Now, as far as size of the sketchbook goes, I prefer no bigger than the standard 8 ½” by 11”. Any smaller and I feel like I’m cramped in the writing space. Any larger and it’s not as easy to transport. I try to always make sure my purse is big enough to carry my sketchbook because I love going to places and people watching. I’ll sketch random people in there or write down snippets of interesting overheard conversation. It’s always nice to have my sketchbook handy, just in case the lightning of inspiration strikes at odd moments. 

For convenience, I also prefer my sketchbooks to be spiral bound. They lay on flat surfaces or on my lap better. But you should experiment and try different types over time. Maybe a pretty Leather Journal would work for you. But don't get something so expensive that you feel you are only allowed to put your "good" ideas down. 

This happened to me with more expensive journals. I payed a nice price for a beautiful leather bound journal and you know what happened? I didn't write anything down. Not a thing. My inner critic kicked in before the ideas were even put on paper, judging them as "not good enough to record in such a beautiful book."

If you’re interested in living a creative life, a sketchbook is the first tool that I would say that you need to own. Even if your sketches or notes are things that only you can read, it’s okay. Who cares?!? Better to get the ideas down on paper, available for review and mulling than to not record them and end up forgetting them completely. Take this little thing and make it yours. Color the cover. Paste pictures from magazines in it. Let this blank book reflect all your hopes, dreams and vitality.

Here's a picture of the cover of my current sketchbook.

The artwork is not mine. I found it on the internet, here, and used (a free version of Adobe Photoshop) to add my name. I also used a black pen to define the lines a little more. The cartoon is originally by Rion Vernon and I felt like it represented an idealized version of how I wanted to be -- beautiful, sexy, confidant, relaxed and artistic with just a bit of a sly, knowing smile.
All of the best artists have kept sketchbooks and, after their deaths, their sketchbooks have become quite famous. The sketchbooks of Leonardo da Vinci are some of the most amazing things I’ve seen. Also, books are available which show you inside others’ sketchbooks and those can be used to spark ideas of your own. I haven't read any, yet, but they're worth checking out. Seeing the inspiration of how others work creates a beautiful web of creative individuals, all interconnected and adding to the pool of beauty in this world. Our stories and processes build on and boost each other. That's a pretty cool idea, don't you think?

If keeping a sketchbook ends up just being a thing that tickles you, you might want to take a look at a thing called a smash book. Personally, I haven’t made one, yet. But I’m going to on my next vacation. Part scrapbook, part travel journal, I think the concept looks like a fun one!

For a very little investment, some pluck and a pen, you’re on your way to living the vibrant, beautiful and creative life you’ve always dreamed of having. Let this world excite you and, if you've got a sketchbook, you don't have to work about losing your ideas, no matter how fleeting they are. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors. 

And, who knows? Maybe we’ll meet one day. I’ll let you flip through my sketchbook if you let me flip through yours. Creativity, like wildfires, can be set ablaze by just one little spark which we share between us.

Forever encouraging you, my shining loves. 

Remember! We're all visionaries. We just have to figure out where we excel!