Many thanks to Sarah Loomis, visual artist and MFA in Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts student, for inviting me to participate with her in the Sketchbook Project.
In the Sketchbook Project, artists purchase a blank Moleskine sketchbook from Art House Coop and then agree to complete it by a certain date (this year, January 18). The project has only two rules—artists (1) must use the book and (2) can’t change its dimensions. The Brooklyn Art Library catalogs all completed sketchbooks (sent in on time). They are also placed in a touring exhibit.
I joined the project for fun—a chance to play. For me play is at the core of the creative process—and often provides a gentle way for artists to learn about themselves and the art-making process. It can provide an opportunity to ask, What if? But initially this project made me question myself and play did not come easily. Instead of asking what if, I got hung up in what is? What is a sketchbook?
In exploring what a sketchbook is, I also explored what the act of sketching means to me. As a text/image artist, I often write, make notes, or initiate work through use of materials (what if I use XX materials in a certain way?)—so I don’t often sketch. So the thin/lean pages of the sketchbook would be unfamiliar to me—and I was curious what it would be like to draw and use pencils or markers—new tools for me.
Right away, the sketchbook dampened my enthusiasm. The pages were too thin—and I didn’t like the way markers bled on the page. How could I evoke my images? How could I get the sense/feel of texture that is so much a part of my work?
My first learning was to make the sketchbook what I wanted it to be—rather than what I thought a sketchbook should be (it’s so interesting no matter our age or experience how easily we allow someone or something else to shape our work). To make the pages more manageable—I could work with them more as I wanted to—I glued two together. I could play with pencils and markers (even use watercolor over them), but I could also glue words or cut outs onto the page and the surface would hold them.
My second learning was to be playful instead of literal with the theme I choose (everyone gets a theme to work with). I choose “trading forever”—because I liked the combination of words—and the associations I quickly made to them. I let myself play—what does “trading forever” mean? I looked up both words and then realized that an image of things moving kept coming to me. So I let myself play with that.
My third learning was to be true to myself as artist and use what was around me. One thing would lead to another. I took a trip to Memphis and that trip gave me the chance to reflect on trading as a kind of motion or movement—just as travel is—so trading forever aligned with traveling forever and what that could mean/could tell one about place or identity. Maps, images, found words, stenciled words appeared/materialized and I followed them.
This project also required me to listen and learn from the advice I often give students. When I didn’t like a page—and realized others would see it (my sketchbook on tour!), I wanted to tear it out. How could I let others see my bad work? I reminded myself a sketchbook is a sketchbook, a place to try things out, make mistakes and learn. Also, I reminded myself I didn’t have to worry about the entire sketchbook each time I sat down to create—all I needed to do was play with each page, let each one evolve and have its own identity.
The more I experimented (I used stencils for the first time) and drew from what made me comfortable (materials I like to use and feel confident with), I became more committed and did better work—and also had a lot more fun. Now, my sketchbook is in the mail, and I’m hoping Sarah will invite me to get a sketchbook again next year.