If you would have asked me four (4) years ago if I kept a sketchbook, I would have said, “No!” This was mostly due to the fact I cannot draw very well. I want to learn, but I didn’t have confidence in my skills and truly avoided it to keep my pride intact. It’s really dumb when I think about it now.
I started classes at Academy of Art University and one of the requirements for an online student is to keep a journal of all the work that you do. At first, I absolutely hated having to do this. Each week, we had to sketch, research and insert progress photos into this journal and turn it in for each class. I spent a lot of time procrastinating this task and hated every minute of it.
With that said, I now have to say it has changed my artistic life! I never thought this would be a useful tool, but now I find myself reaching for it more often than not. This is because of several reasons. First, I always have a ton of ideas running through my head when I’m working at the bench and sometimes, I just need to get something out of my brain to finish the work I have in my hands. The only way for me to do that is to write down the idea or do a quick sketch and then I can go back to the work at hand.
My advice… Even though you may hate it or are afraid of “messing up” the pages… JUST DO IT! I promise, after some time, you’ll thank yourself for it. I know, I know, people always say this and I didn’t believe them either, but I am converted. I’m loving working in my sketchbook now. It gives me the chance to practice my drawing — which is desperately needed — and it allows me to kind of empty my brain so I can focus on what I have to do right now.
The “BIG” sketchbook above will be my next book. I still have two (2) more of the Canson XL books left and when those are filled, I’ll move to this book. I originally chose the Canson XL Mix Media book because I really wanted to practice my watercolor and dip pen work and the pages are thick and can handle the extra moisture fairly well. So, the challenge will be to see how the “BIG” book holds up in comparison.
How to use the sketchbook/visual journal is not nearly as important as just doing it. In order to enjoy working in it, you need to find the ways you “LIKE” to work in the book. If you had a specific formula designed by someone else, you’d be less likely to do it because it would become a chore. I know this from personal experience. Instead, play around with it. Try different approaches and play. Have as much fun as you can so that it becomes a time where you can be loose and non-critical of yourself and really look forward to the time you set aside to work in it.
The rest of this explains my way of using the sketchbook/journal for the last few years. This process has changed significantly for me and I’ve become more detailed with what and how I use my journal, so feel free to adjust, change your approach, add more, remove some and do what it is that you like to do.
Here are some of the ways I use a sketchbook and some images from my own journal below:
Random Sketches: I pick a shape or color I’ve worked with that will perhaps end up in an entire collection of work. I draw them in pencil, then I use watercolor to add color and finally I use a black ink pen to add some details.
Brainstorms or Spider Webs: I start with a central idea then start mapping out colors, shapes, textures, feelings, etc. in words first. Then I start thinking about what those words would look like if they were pictures.
Research: I find an artist, style, technique I’d like more information on and research online or in books and make notes in my journal with photos of the things I really am drawn to visually.
Work-in-Process Photos: I like to keep my phone or camera handy when I’m working on something new to document the process for future reference. I print, cut & paste them into my sketchbook then make notes about what worked, what didn’t work and what I would do differently if I did it again.
Technical Drawings/Template Storage: Once I decide on the next piece I’m going to make, I begin to draw out a technical map of the dimensions, I put samples of the natural elements I might use and then I store my paper templates for the models in plastic self-adhesive pockets with the technical drawing. This is very helpful for the next time I want to use that shape or modify the piece.
Debrief: When a full collection is complete, I take photographs of all the pieces; front, back, detail, on-the-body and styled. I paste these images into the sketchbook and try to look at the pieces from an objective view and make a list of the things I like AND dislike about the work.
So, whether you are an avid sketcher or have never sketched, I highly recommend getting into the habit of doing it and start it as soon as possible! It won’t hurt and you’ll be happy to have a record of your ideas, your processes and even some of your epic fails! That’s ok, you’ll never know how much you’ve progressed if you don’t keep both your successes and your fails. I recently went back to my first record book (which had absolutely no drawings in it) to see where I started. Fortunately, there were a few photos of the work I had done and boy!!! I surely have developed my skill tremendously and the complexity and concepts of my work today vary so much than from the beginning. I just wish I had sketched something because by now I would be really great at drawing!
To give you an idea of how much I have grown, here is the very first image of jewelry I ever made next to the last piece of jewelry I have made: