Since I was teenager, I have always had a sketchbook. Sometimes, I have been reticent to use it, as it takes a certain level of focus to have a worthwhile sketchbook “practice.” However, as I look back through the large stack that I have gone through over the years, I am so glad to have engaged in this activity. In fact, I wish I had dedicated more time and energy into them. Going back through the pages, sometimes I remember where I was when I made a specific drawing and sometimes I don’t. It’s a little spooky to me when I read something that I wrote in the margins that I don’t remember at all, such as references to a book I don’t even remember reading, or a dream I don’t remember having. Some of the drawings are just for fun, some are documenting things I was interested in/studying, and some are working out ideas for two dimensional works or sculptures.
As I look back through the pages, interesting trends emerge. One of the most obvious is my interest in structure, whether it be architectural or anatomical. In my earlier sketchbooks, I wrote more, and boy is there a lot of confusion, searching and angst going on. I am relieved that although my current life is not without insecurities, the extent to which they dominate my thoughts is much more sustainable!
I have started to require a sketchbook for the Drawing I class that I teach at Wesleyan. Some students don’t take advantage of it, and others dig in and create page after page of interesting stuff. I am not exactly sure what makes keeping a sketchbook appeal to some people and not to others, but one thing is sure: everyone likes to look at them! I think the appeal lies in the surprise of not knowing what will happen next when you turn the page, and the extremely personal nature of the content.
Of all the benefits of keeping a sketchbook, I think the most valuable one for me was learning how to draw. It was in my sketchbook that I made many of my biggest breakthroughs in understanding how to translate the three dimensional world into two dimensions, and also how to do so with a personal mark-making technique that I enjoy. My all time favorite sketchbook is from the Fall of 1994 when I began my studies in Rome. That sketchbook contains my most exciting page turn where I went from a bland drawing of an alleyway utilizing shading with pencil to a much more exciting drawing of a church interior using, of all things, ball point pen. The lines are accurate but full of energy, and the difference in line weight lends a wonderful sense of space.
Of course, my sketchbooks contain page after page of bad drawings and failed experiments. However, it is the freedom to make a mess that makes possible tremendous growth. Although they are not the pages I would share with others, I value the messy pages as much as my favorites.