Confession: I used to think I wasn’t a “real” artist because I didn’t have a regular sketchbook practice and carry a sketchbook with me everywhere. You know, like “real” artists do (says my extra-snarky Inner Critic team member) Oh, I have sketchbooks! But many of them are empty, some of them are only half-filled, and some of them were bought because the covers were simply “cute” or “pretty.” Every now and again, I decide to dip into my haphazard sketchbook practice. Last evening was one of those times. This is the story of the sketchbook that I chose to open.
I never say “no” to free art supplies, even if I don’t know what’s in the box. (Lord help me if it ever includes spiders!) A couple of months ago, a friend who had recently moved asked me if I wanted a box of art supplies she no longer was interested in keeping. She's a very creative person herself, and I asked her at least twice (maybe even three times!) “are you sure you don’t want to keep the supplies just to play?” No, she assured me, she didn’t want them anymore.
I happily accepted the box and was delighted with its contents: new Tombow markers, tracing papers, lots of deep plum card stock, some Dr. Ph. Martin’s inks, a beginner’s calligraphy book and kit, various papers in different weights for marker and paint, a canvas stretcher, and a wire-bound sketchbook. An artist’s feast!
Last evening, I pulled out said sketchbook. Before I even opened it, I decided I would use it as an art journal for a book study on Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee. (My sisters and I are doing a “long-distance” book study together but that’s a topic for another blog post!)
In the sketchbook, I found my friend’s early attempts at using the calligraphy kit. There were several pages of calligraphy hearts, “X’s” and “O’s”, Christmas greetings, and various marks and lines. At first, I thought “oh, I’ll just tear these sheets out and use all the blank sheets left.” But then I decided, no, that would be wasteful and I would instead just make art on top of the various marks, shapes, and letters my friend already made.
A funny thing happened when I decided to make art on top of her calligraphy marks: I wasn’t scared of the blank page. Of not knowing what to draw or color or paint or write. Of messing up. Of doing it wrong. I wasn’t scared of all those things that my Inner Critic always tries to make me scared of when I open a sketchbook: the things that make me think I’m not a “real” artist.
Her first attempts at calligraphy became my permission slip to simply play. And it was fun! I am tickled with the outcome. So tickled that I let her know what happened and thanked her again for the sketchbook that ended up taking away some of my fears about creating in a sketchbook format.
I have decided I will now use simple mark-making, shape-drawing, and lettering practice in a sketchbook before doing any painting or doodling on top of it. I am hopeful that this approach will make keeping a sketchbook less intimidating and more fun. So, if you're like me and need many permission slips for your sketchbook practice, perhaps this approach will work for you too.