Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Simplify, Complicate: My Multi-Book Life

My many daily-use books. From left: Field Notes for memos, DIY journal/log book
(Rhodia notebook), DIY planner (Leuchtturm notebook), hand-stitched signature
for most of my sketches, red Field Notes for more sketches
Some things get simpler even as others get more complicated.

Years ago before I had started sketching, I saw the sketchbooks and art journals of Roz Stendahl, Cathy Johnson, Liz Steel and Danny Gregory (among many) and so admired the way they artfully integrated their words and sketches on the same page. I loved the idea of making a book containing the “story” of my daily life in both words and pictures. As a lifelong journal writer, I was used to filling pages with words, but making pictures on the same pages felt like stilted, self-conscious add-ons. I tried it off and on, but the practice never lasted. (It further convinced me – falsely– that I must be a “word person” and not a “visual person.”)

When my urban sketching habit finally took hold, I had no problem filling sketchbooks (even when one cost $160!) – I burned through page after page without hesitation. But whenever I tried to write and sketch on the same page, both the writing and the sketch felt tight, restricted, uncomfortable. If I could both write and sketch with ease, why was doing both on the same page so difficult?

A minor reason was incompatible papers. I don’t like writing on thick, toothy paper that I prefer for sketching. While I enjoy using a fountain pen to sketch with, I write much faster than I draw, and the slight drag of the nib on cold-press paper when I’m writing annoys me. I also don’t like using wet media on thin, smooth paper that I prefer for writing.

But the more significant reason is related to privacy: I want to share my sketches but I have no intention of sharing my journal writing. If I put a sketch online, I don’t want to have to digitally blur the writing surrounding an image. If someone asks to see a sketchbook, I want to be able to hand it over without hesitation. And most important, I don’t want either my writing or my drawing to be hindered by whatever else might be on the same page.

My DIY planner
Once I understood this, I accepted that my sketchbook would never be the words-and-sketches kind I admired of others – and that it was perfectly fine to have a separate book for each task. But that’s when things got complicated.

For the past several years, my planning and journal keeping processes have become more and more streamlined, and I’ve gotten them down to two A5-sized notebooks that I’ve DIY’d into a planner and a journal/log book. So at least my writing life has gotten simpler. (Oops, I forgot about my occasional travel journal. . . more on that later.)

My sketching life, however, has gone both ways. After experimenting with many sketchbook sizes, types and formats and using several simultaneously, the past three years I’ve been very happy binding my own in a single consistent format – apparently the only way to get everything I want. That simplified my primary sketchbook need beautifully. But I’ve also always had a secondary need – a smaller, catch-all sketchbooklet that I could pull out quickly and use with simple materials. After going through nearly every commercially produced pocket-size notebook, ranting about the crappy papers in them, I finally resorted to the same DIY solution: making my own.

Field Notes Workshop Companion: Just right for both sketches
and notes.
For a while I was happy with those – a large and a small sketchbook, both portable, both handmade. Then last summer I stumbled upon a surprise: Field Notes finally came out with an edition containing paper I could happily sketch on. I started using the Workshop Companion for small sketches as well as memos and other brief notes when I’m out and about; I was able to eliminate the small scratchpad I used to carry for brief notes. And I decided I liked the Workshop Companion well enough that I wouldn’t have to make my own sketchbooklets anymore.

Then a few months ago Field Notes surprised me again – with the Sweet Tooth edition’s booklet of red paper! You know from my recent sketches how much fun I’ve been having with those (I’ve filled three so far, and I’m on my fourth). I may eventually go back to white or lighter colored papers, but in the meantime, I’ve bumped up against another complication. Since the red paper is a little too dark to take notes on easily, I’ve had to start carrying an auxiliary notebook just for memos again. One step forward, two steps back.
Messy notes and sketches in my auxiliary Field Notes.

And then there’s still the occasional need for a travel journal, which is currently being met by a pocket-size Rhodia notebook. When I travel, I leave my planner and journal/log book at home, so the pocket Rhodia serves both those needs. It holds not only my written musings; it also contains reference information; glued-in ticket stubs and other ephemera; even some sketches. (Interestingly, my travel journal comes closest to the fully integrated words/collage/drawings book I’d always wanted – and what a beautiful mess it always ends up being!)

Just recently I started pondering whether I could use red or Workshop Companion Field Notes instead of the Rhodia. . . ? One Field Notes is certainly slimmer and easier to carry than the chunky Rhodia, but I’d need four of five of them to match the number of pages I typically fill in a Rhodia. Can I stand having all those separate books for one trip? (The one with reference info I need will inevitably be the one I happen to leave back at the hotel.)

My France travel journal filled with writing, sketches and
collage (pocket-size Rhodia notebook).
Some things get simpler even as others get more complicated. 

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