Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sketchbooks, Plural

Some of my current sketchbooks.

Many artists keep one sketchbook, carry it with them everywhere, use it wherever they may be, and when it’s full, they have a chronology of their sketches. Then they start a new book.

As a lifelong journal writer, that type of continuous chronology appeals to me greatly. Some part of me wants to have a chronological sequence of my sketches – a visual and parallel analog to my huge collection of written journals, which I have always kept sequentially, one volume at a time.

And yet, to date, I am actively and concurrently using 11 sketchbooks and have filled three others since September 2011 when I began sketching. Why do I use so many sketchbooks at once when my natural and emotional propensity is to use one at a time?

The answer is threefold: paper type, portability and laziness.

The first part is obvious. Unless I bind my own sketchbook (which I have done, but then the sketchbook took on a life of its own and refused to let me sketch in it), I can’t have a single volume that contains both toothy, heavy paper for water media and smooth paper for pens.

12/7/11, watercolor, 9" x 12" sketchbook
Another important factor is portability. The smallest sketchbook I use is 3½” x 5½”, which fits easily in my everyday purse, so I carry it at all times, and it’s ideal for sketching during idle moments in my day. But the drawings in it are necessarily small, and I always end up feeling cramped when I use it. The largest sketchbook I use is 9” x 12”, which stays in my studio for larger studies, and I enjoy the wide expanse of space. But I don’t take it with me anywhere.

In between are other sizes and formats with a variety of paper types and weights. I favor 5¼” x 8¼” (landscape and portrait) and 5½” square formats, which offer both portability and a relatively spacious surface.

10/24/11, F-C Pitt Artist Pen, graphite, 3 1/2" x 5 1/2" sketchbook 
The third major factor influencing the number of sketchbooks I use is the same as the one explaining why I own six pairs of reading glasses: I’m lazy. If I’m downstairs and my sketchbook is upstairs, I don’t want to walk upstairs to get it. I want to be able to sketch wherever I happen to be. (And in the same way that I won’t carry a sketchbook around my neck so that I’ll always have it with me, I refuse to wear my glasses on a lanyard – a flag of middle-age if there ever was one.)

I can think of a couple other practical reasons for keeping multiple sketchbooks simultaneously. Since the sketchbooks I use are all relatively slim, if I were to ever lose one, it would be a loss of only a few weeks of sketches, rather than months or years. (I’d bet at least some of those artists who carry one sketchbook continually have lost a huge chunk of their work. Ouch!) And sometimes when I’m short on time but want to work with watercolors, I can work in a second book while the first is drying.

Maybe sometime I’ll try working in only one sketchbook for a while, from first page to last, to see if my desire for chronological continuity overcomes my need for paper variety and portability. (I doubt it will overcome laziness.)

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