Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Still Seeing Red

5/3/16 non-hairy brush pen, gel pen
One of many reasons why I enjoy Liz Steel’s blog is that she is as interested in the creative process as I am. Much of what she says about her sketching process resonates with me about my own, and she often prompts me to explore my thoughts more thoroughly. Just as I had been thinking about how a chosen sketchbook format heavily influences the sketches in them, Liz blogged about this very issue.

Like Liz, I’ve tried many different sizes and formats of sketchbooks since I began sketching, and each one had its benefits and drawbacks. Size (portability, spontaneity, discretion), paper type (media), format, binding, cover stability – all have a significant impact on the subject matter and compositions I choose and whether I’m encouraged to or hindered from sketching. I spend a lot of time and energy thinking about pens, inks and colored pencils, but I’d venture to say that my choice of sketchbook is the single-most influential part of my sketch kit.

If you’ve kept up with me for a while, you know that after trying all those commercial sketchbooks, I eventually settled on binding my own, because it was the only way to get as many as possible of the qualities I want and need in a sketchbook. It’s still not the ideal sketchbook, but it’s as close as I’ll probably ever come, and I’m happy.

That’s why I’ve been so surprised by how my little red Field Notes notebook has influenced my attitude toward the sketches I put in it. As of today, I’ve filled two 48-page booklets in a little more than a month while also filling my regular sketchbook at the normal rate, so the red books are not replacing those pages. They’re filling a different need.

5/3/16 hairy brush pen, white colored pencil
At first I thought the brightly colored Field Notes would be nothing more than a novelty; after all, how versatile can red paper be? I didn’t see it fulfilling the role of my pocket-size, catch-all sketchbooklet (which is more of a smaller-sized extension of my usual sketchbook) because I wouldn’t be able to use ink wash, colored pencils, watercolor or other favorite media.

But always having a little red booklet in my bag has done something that I wasn’t expecting at all. Since I can’t use color, I don’t even think about it – all I use is a black brush pen and add highlights with a white pencil or gel pen. The page is so small that I can’t bite off more of a composition than I can chew. It takes only a couple of minutes to fill a page, especially with broad brush pens, so I always have time for a sketch. I don’t even scan those red pages; taking a “trophy” photo with my phone matches the spontaneity and ease with which the sketch was made.

5/3/16 hairy brush pen, gel pen
While using my main sketchbook for all my “normal” sketches, I find myself looking for different types of subject matter just to put in the Field Notes. My main sketchbook records the visual stories of my daily life; my red notebook shows the mundanity that happens in between. These are often my most uninspired, unambitious sketches, and I’m pleased as punch to have a place to put them. Even the pages themselves, which are perforated for easy removal, seem to confirm the sketches’ ephemeral nature. In short, a red Field Notes notebook liberates me from expectations and lowers my standards to nothing. Previously I had always tried different sketchbook formats to meet various needs; this may be the first time that a sketchbook has shown me what I need.

The big question is whether a little notebook containing white paper would serve the same need. Now that my mind has been opened, perhaps the paper doesn’t have to be red. It’s an experiment worth doing for a process-oriented sketcher like me. But maybe not for a while – I’m having too much fun seeing red.

P.S. Many of my Field Notes sketches have not appeared on my blog, but you can see them all in this Flickr album.


  1. I like the addition of a bit of white gel pen in this. I'm enjoying these!!

    1. Thank you, Joan! Glad you're enjoying them!

      - Tina

  2. I totally agree that the size, shape and paper of a sketchbook do all contribute to the way we end up using them. I've often thought that I'd like to just use one book but in the end having a number on the go for different purposes works well. I like to have some 150gsm paper (Stillman & Birn alpha) for quick sketches, notes, testing materials and all the non-precious stuff. I like to have watercolour paper for the plein air sketches. I like to have some larger and some smaller sketchbooks for different subjects. While I've pre-painted page in various colours, I've never tried red - very striking.
    sketchbooks are our playground, where we have licence to do whatever we wish. It's interesting how a small red sketchbook has created an even broader space to play :-)

    1. Thanks for your comments, Jane! I, too, always thought that if I could just find THE right sketchbook, I'd only need one. But it takes a long time to figure out one's needs, and once I accepted that it's OK to have more than one, I've been happy.

      - Tina


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