Wednesday, August 19, 2020

A Place to "Waste"

Some of the "working" sketchbooks that live on my desk.

When I hear the term “sketchbook,” I most often think of the kind of sketchbook that I keep – the 100-plus handbound and store-bought books I’ve filled with sketches made on location during the past nine years. For the most part, the contents of these books are the finished product; they are not rough ideas or thumbnails for future “finished” works. But I was recently reminded of the more traditional use of the sketchbook on the website of Australian painter John Lovett.

In an article about artists’ sketchbooks, journals and diaries, he talked about the importance of keeping up a regular practice of sketching and notetaking as a way to record and generate ideas. While many pages in his sketchbooks look like mine – street scenes, travel sketches, thumbnails and value studies – he also showed pages of media experiments, studies and notations that he uses as reference.

Seeing those pages made me think it would be fun to share some of mine. In addition to those 100-plus sketchbooks you’ve seen, a page at a time, on this blog, I also have another couple dozen sketchbooks that I keep at my desk. About half of those pages are filled with still lives (like all those primary triad apples and product review test sketches) and other studies I make in the studio. The other half are experiments, scribbles, notations, color swatches and who knows what else. They are not the kinds of things I would typically share unless they are related to a review. These reference pages bristle with Post-its that I use as tabs.

I refer to these books frequently. To an art material junkie like I am, they are also just fun to thumb through.

Like the ones I take out on the street, my “working” sketchbooks are also Stillman & Birn sketchbooks. When I’ve mentioned this, some have asked me why I would “waste” good, relatively expensive sketchbooks like S&B if all I am doing is making swatches and scribbles. My answer is that I always use the same papers to test media as I would use to make “real” sketches; if I don’t, I’m only testing halfway. How media interact with the specific paper used is probably the single most important reason to test them. These good, relatively expensive sketchbooks aren’t wasted if I learn from them. That’s the whole point of a sketchbook.


  1. Love seeing some of your "real work" Tina. I often feel that my web presence shows the fluff, the stuff I do using my current knowledge. The real work, though is in the learning, the trying, the experimenting. I've never kept track of time investment but clearly this is the majority of what I do. My web presence is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I see a lot of people who only sketch when they go to an event.

    While I agree that it's best to test stuff in the paper you're going to use, I don't typically do real work in my S&B sketchbooks, though I certainly have a lot of failed sketches in them :-) Rather, I use 9x12 multi-media paper for all the stuff you're showing. Since I'm not trying to make presentable sketches I simply scatter stuff willy-nilly across the larger pages. As for waste, I can't imagine why people treat paper as a precious commodity. Anyway, great post.

    1. Thanks, Larry -- glad you enjoyed seeing this stuff! It wouldn't have occurred to me to show this on my blog until I saw Lovett's post and realized how much I enjoy seeing other people's messes. ;-)


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