Monday, August 6, 2012


Semester is over, life is good: I have started a new sketchbook today. I am not an accomplished artist or illustrator, so probably nobody cares, but I thought I would share some personal thoughts on sketching nonetheless. 

I have always sketched, mostly on loose sheets, but I started keeping sketchbook(s) since about two years - and it has turned into a self-indulgent and regular habit, like smoking. I generally have two running - a big one for a serious job and a pocket-sized one for the quick drawing in-between. I also sketch on notebooks and the back of printouts when I am supposed to listen to whoever is holding a seminar, but that is another story. It took me a while to get over this maniac and misguided idea that sketchbooks have to look nice. Forget about all the examples out there that show you fantastic A3 spreads with awe-inspiring drawings - sometimes in color. My sketchbooks look ugly. They are and full of unfinished drawings, careless notes, unreadable thumbnails and my daughter’s scribbles. They are a cross between diary, shopping list, scrap paper and...well...sketchbooks. To realize that this is ok was an important step forward for me. I often have only five or ten minutes time to sketch, sometimes with my daughter chatting in between and my son trying to eat the wheels of the push-chair in the meantime, so if things had to look nice I would never sketch at all.
Of course there are nice drawings in there and a lot of great visual notes and ideas in thumbnail or study form, but the overall impression is careless and disorganized. And still, while I have read a zillion art books, my sketchbooks are the most inspiring and didactic collection of information in paper form that I own - actually most of the books I read only start to make sense after I have experimented on my sketchbook whatever they are trying to teach.
So, to my new sketchbook. For my standard, it is a luxurious volume. I bought it in Bookbinders Design on sale - still ludicrously expensive with 50% discount. Apple green and almost square, opens to about 60 cm width of ivory white paper with a wonderful silky texture (my last one was very rough, so this is a welcome change). The quality of the binding allows me to draw across the gutter (that is why I never buy ring-bound sketchbooks). The paper is just thick enough to avoid seeing the drawing on the back (I have never understood how people can draw on Moleskine paper, where you see the three previous drawings through the ultra-thin pages!).
As usual, the first sketch is always of my children - with some inspiring text to remind me of my luck and responsibility in having them. This time I also sketched on the return information page.

My absolute favorite sketching instrument is not a pencil proper - it is a Caran d’Ache Luminance colored pencil No 009 (Black). This tip comes from one of the old Loomis’ books, where he suggested that a black colored pencil (I do not remember the make) is a good choice for sketching because it does not smear. This was one of those little golden nuggets that may easily go unnoticed. For me it was a revelation. I went to an art shop and tried all black colored pencils they had until I found one that really did not smear. After working with this for a while, I have to say it is far superior to graphite pencils for sketching and I will probably never use a standard pencil again on a sketchbook. It has many advantages:
  • It is permanent and lightfast
  • It really does not smear (minimally, if you really insist), which is a must for the conditions under which I normally sketch (see above)
  • Has very little wear. I can go through a whole page and still have a reasonable point at the end
  • The point does not break when it falls (again, a must under my sketching conditions)
  • It is soft enough to leave a mark with minimal or no pressure
  • It gives an almost full value range, up to near black
  • Even if you fill the tooth of the paper completely, it will not reflect light like graphite does
Such a perfect instrument has of course a little cannot erase! But who has the time to erase while sketching? Erasing is for finished pieces or underdrawings, not for sketching! And carrying a kneadable eraser around is a such a messy undertaking anyhow! To be honest, I think it could be erased with the right tool, but as I only use kneadable erasers I have never tried.
I also sketch in ink and washes at times, for which I found my perfect tool in Rotring’s ArtPens, with their standard water-soluble black ink, and a water brush (a pen with a brush instead of a tip and a water reservoir behind - a very simple and clever device).
I sketch everywhere. Actually my family probably hates the moment when I take out my sketchbook - they know I will get stuck where I am for a while. I love sketching people, particularly faces, and I do it at any occasion, but I also sketch in museums, conference halls, coffee shops, tram stops, playgrounds, in the middle of the road...whenever anything catches my attention and I have enough time to stop and jot it down. And if there truly isn't anything interesting, I sketch from imagination. It is really an addiction! One day I might take part in the sketchbook project. Check it out, it is a truly great idea.

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