Sunday, December 20, 2015

Why keep a sketchbook?

I'm sure I've mused on this question before but as we come to the end of the year I'm thinking a lot about my intentions for the next one.

I have let my sketchbook practice slide. Not because I don't want to sketch but because I've been busy with this and, you know, life.

But I do want to sketch and I want to make it a habit so that it becomes ingrained in the pattern of my days.

Habits are useful because they are things we do without conscious thought or consideration (or self-bargaining). Brushing teeth, for instance. I'm not going to skip that because I don't feel inspired. It's the same with other things I want to be a part of my life - like drawing.

But to establish a habit you have to know the underlying reasons you want it to become second-nature.

This morning I went out to sketch (after a long break) and so I have been giving it some thought.

Here are five reasons I want regular drawing in a sketchbook to be a part of my life:

1. I want to record the world as I see it. Both as a potted account of my life to look back on in the future and something my children may be interested in one day.

2. I want to connect with others. One of the most rewarding things about being a sketcher is the community out there. I love talking about sketching with others - both online and in real life. I love the discussion it generates which can lead to fresh directions and ideas and the discovery of new techniques and materials, not to mention friendships.

3. The chance to make meaning out of chaos. Life can alternately seem either painfully predictable or like a series of confounding, random events. Keeping a sketchbook over time can illuminate patterns in our lives. We often return to certain places and themes. We can be attracted to subject matter that may seem random at the time but begins to take on an interesting significance when it is revisited. What we are drawn to draw (pardon the pun) says more about us than we might think.

4. I want to slow down and be present. I've tried meditation. Many times. I just get too wriggly, my back hurts, I get itchy. I have never had any of these problems when immersed in a drawing. Time becomes irrelevant, the world falls away. It's me and the page. You can't will that kind of mindfulness.

5. Refining my style. Personal style isn't something we choose, but a way of drawing that develops from practice. It's the doing it which creates the style, not the thinking about it.

So those are the main reasons I want to maintain a regular sketchbook practice. There are probably more I'll think of after this. But for now, this pretty much covers it.

I've also identified my barriers to keeping a sketchbook:

Problem 1: Too tired at night. Solution: I must try to do a drawing, however quick, before lunchtime whenever possible.

Problem 2: Don't like 'ruining' pages with ugly drawings. Solution: Keep two sketchbooks. One 'nice' book for location drawings (when I can usually spend a little more time on the drawing and am not wrangling kids) and one for home with paper I'm not precious about. That way I can dash off a drawing over breakfast and won't mind if the kids draw in it too.

Problem 3: Uninspired unless out on location. Solution: make sketching at home a 'location' experience. I can never get excited about sketching a single object. But if I sketch a little scene at home (there are a lot of 'little scenes' that my girls make every day!) then that would give the sketch context, which I really need for my own motivation.

Problem 4: Absence of a true habit. Solution: sketch daily. I really don't like giving myself rules like this but actually, I think it's the thing that's going to work. This doesn't necessarily mean I share every sketch online. I would freeze. The stakes would be too high. But I do need to make drawing a regular part of my day - just like brushing my teeth. Gretchen Rubin says, 'What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while'.

I also need to remember how it feels to sketch (wonderful) and how it feels to be finished with a sketch. It's satisfying, even if I'm not happy with it. Because I made something out of nothing with my own hands. How often do we get to do that?