Thursday, June 23, 2016

What I’ve Learned from Field Notes

6/22/16 ink, colored pencils, Byline
I’ve done my share of whining about Field Notes Brand notebooks. Even though it’s quite obvious that these pocket-size notebooks are made for holding memos or journal entries written with a pencil or ballpoint pen, I kept trying to make them into sketchbooks. I liked the form factor so much – thin, small, inexpensive, easily available – that I kept insisting that Field Notes could meet all my needs for a small, auxiliary sketchbook – if only the paper was better. Frustrated, I started making my own, but I still couldn’t resist trying out new Field Notes editions as they came out, just in case the folks at FN decided I was right.

Around the time Field Notes did decide I was right (OK, they didn’t really, but I like pretending they did) and released the Workshop Companion edition, my own attitude started to change. I did and still do enjoy being able to use most of my favored sketching media on that edition’s paper. But it’s a limited edition, which means I can’t count on it indefinitely. Small notebooks filled with paper ideal for ballpoint pens are ubiquitous. Instead of wishing I could use a fountain pen or paint in them, why not simply sketch with a ballpoint pen? I started grabbing any Field Notes for that, and I was happy.
6/20/16 brush marker, colored pencil, Byline

4/1/16 ballpoint pen, Two Rivers
Of course, the release of Field Notes’ Sweet Tooth edition is what really changed my attitude. Something about that brightly colored paper liberated me to try a different kind of sketching than I normally do in my “regular” sketchbook. Different media, different subject matter and mainly a different approach – quicker, more casual, more ephemeral.

And now it has happened again. Field Notes just released its limited Byline edition, which is homage to the classic reporter’s notebook. Long, narrow and topped with a spiral binding on its short side, it’s meant to be held easily with one hand while the other pens quotes from sources during press interviews. Although I appreciate the historical reference, I had initially dismissed the edition as anything I would use. The longer shape certainly doesn’t fit in the pocket of my bag where other pocket notebooks fit so nicely, and I couldn’t imagine the paper would be sketching-media friendly. (As it turns out, the paper is actually friendly to almost everything I’ve put on it so far.)

But then one day I was sketching across the gutter of my red Field Notes as I often do, when suddenly it occurred to me: Maybe that long, narrow shape would be good for tall buildings, bridges and skylines. Actually, I have a landscape-format watercolor sketchbook, but I rarely use it; I hardly ever see anything to sketch that would require that format.
4/3/16 brush pen, Sweet Tooth

Or is the other way around? If I happened to carry a landscape sketchbook, would I be more likely to see things that could be sketched in it? Just the other day as I took a sketchabout in the neighborhood with a Byline in my bag, I noted how different all the many utility poles are. I could probably fill a whole book with nothing but utility poles!

It’s an existential question: If I hadn’t had a Byline with me, would I still have seen a balloon man in a tuxedo standing on stilts?

Instead of demanding that Field Notes be made to accommodate me, I now let the notebooks show me how I can use them to expand my sketching. Different media, different subjects, different attitude – sometimes I need a kick in the pants to make me try new things. And sometimes that kick comes from the notebook.

6/13/16 brush pen, Gelly Roll, Sweet Tooth
4/8/16 ballpoint, Two Rivers

6/21/16 inks, Byline
8/14/15 ink, Workshop Companion
8/25/15 ink, Workshop Companion
6/22/16 inks, colored pencils, Byline


  1. Great post! I resisted the shape of the watercolor Moleskine the whole time I used it.

  2. That's a very interesting concept.... let the materials open up a new way of seeing. Hmmm.

  3. Classic go-with-the-flow attitude! Love how you've flexed your sketching mind with this format, despite the rules. "What rules?" ;-)

  4. Great to see how with this sketchbook you are seeing scenes in a new light. Love the balloon man!!!

    1. The balloon man was so much fun! I couldn't believe it when I spotted him at the farmers market!


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