Why Sketchbooks Work

“The reason that sketchbooks work is that they don’t count.” –Craig Frazier, illustrator

The beauty of a sketchbook is that it is simply that: a sketchbook. It’s a place to do what you want as an artist. It is ideas and experience and creativity and experimentation crammed between two covers. One blank page after another, it becomes something extraordinary when filled earnestly and honestly. Yet, in the end, it doesn’t really count. And that is a beautiful thing, too. There is no price tag, no commission, no gallery wall waiting for it. It’s just for you…and so, it is one of the freest places for an artist to make a mark.

Click to view larger.

Click to view larger.

This page was an experiment in capturing dogwood blossoms using “negative painting” techniques. I like the effect and look forward to trying it again on higher quality paper. Unfortunately, the pages of this spread came stuck together with a bit of glue seepage at the gutter, so it’s pretty rough there.  But, it’s just my sketchbook, so it doesn’t really matter.

43 Comments on “Why Sketchbooks Work

  1. Really like this piece of art in your sketchbook; the colors harmonize so well and the detail in the negative spaces gives depth. Your comments about the free feeling of sketching is soooooo true. Thanks for sharing

  2. How very true!! From this example I would say your sketchbook must be full of some very beautiful pieces of art!!

  3. I love my sketchbooks for this very reason! Nothing need be shown to anyone else unless I want to. It’s a perfect spot for experimentation and yes- even failure, for that is how we learn what works and what doesn’t. Perfect blog post!

    • Thanks Sharyn. Yes…this is a place to practice without needing to be perfect. And though I don’t love the failures, they are important, too.

  4. Jean – thank you for this posting – I whole heartedly agree. I was explaining to a couple of artist friends this very sentiment – only for me the journal matters hugely because it’s the place where I can take risks, where I’ve been able to connect deeply to myself so much so that journaling has become a daily meditation, and where the deeply personal can be expressed without fear of judgment. I taped this quote from Jon Kabat Zinn to the front of my art journal: “This journey is uniquely yours, no one else’s. So the PATH has to be your own. You cannot imitate somebody else’s journey and still be true to yourself.” And by the way, your journal painting is absolutely beautiful.

    • Thanks Mary– I agree. My sketch journals matter A LOT to me. Posting on the blog adds the twist of my books being quite public, but I somehow manage to let that go when I am working on a page. Thanks for your feedback!

  5. Love the sentiment here, I definitely feel like my sketchbook is a safe place to try things, make mistakes, and learn. And lovely painting to go with it!

  6. Or perhaps sketchbooks are what it IS all about? This is a spectacular piece…gorgeous gorgeous colors and the negative painting is wonderfully evocative. Brava!

      • Not much sketching, sadly. Was sick for two weeks and uninspired, despite the arrival of spring. But I am off for two weeks to Ohio and Michigan and Ontario, to the shores of Lake Erie, to see the Midwest migration at its peak….and the sketchbook and travel paints and pens are packed. I am hoping the spark returns with the warblers!

    • Great Laura…thanks! I just keep at it and keep enjoying it and sometimes things just come together. I was happy to find that quote– it just made perfect sense to me.

  7. It is a beautiful sketch. I keep trying negative painting…unsuccessfully. Love how yours looks.

    • I kept coming back to this over the course of several days. I didn’t have enough going on in the background at first so I just kept adding layers and patterns until I felt like it had the depth I wanted. Thanks for your comment!

  8. I love the quote and your painting is so lovely! I want to try negative painting and I think my sketchbook would be the perfect place, since it doesn’t count! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Stunning example of beautiful paintings found in sketchbooks. Splendid view of the freedom an artist’s journal can provide, thank you so much for sharing.

  10. Agree,I love the freedom of a sketchbook…all the half-formed crazy ideas you might one day decide to turn into a fully fledged piece of work. I love skimming through all my old sketchbooks and reflecting on those wonderful little snippets.

    • I seem to rarely get to that magical “one day” turning things into fully fledged artwork, but the practice definitely makes a difference when I work on something more finished.

  11. Your pages are all beautiful and it’s a treat to see them. I consider my journal a learning tool and a place to experiment, without worrying about how things turn out. I rarely show anyone that journal but it pleases me.

    • That sounds good Ros. I love seeing what other people do with their journals…and getting a peak at private artistic work is a privilege.

    • Thanks Rebecca- It took a couple of sessions of coming back to this to deepen it and get it to this point. I’m glad it came out as well as it did, though I’d like to give it another go now that I have a clearer sense of what works.

  12. I love my pile of sketchbooks – and when I share them it’s with the understanding these are my ‘working it out” tools so don’t have great expectations.And then beause they don’t matter in that sense there’s the odd gem that I can never duplicate later on no matter how hard I try. So I treasure them doubly – for the freedom and the odd gem! Love your sketch.

    • Love the concept of the “odd gem!” Here’s wishing you many of them. Isn’t it funny how looser expectations can sometimes lead to better results?

  13. You are so right! I feel so free in my sketchbook. Several years ago when I started drawing I had my first successful piece which I framed. After that I set up every drawing/painting with a frame size in mind. I became so paralyzed. I was afraid to put a mark down and ruin anything. Thankfully I realized what I had done to myself. Now I approach everything as playing, without any pressure. When I’m free to make mistakes, I also make surprising things that I love. And practicing in my sketchbook has become my favorite thing. I learn so much by observing and drawing something over and over. Love your dogwoods! Thanks for the post. 🙂

    • Thanks Eileen! I can work myself into a tangle as well– both inside and out of my sketchbook. But it comes and goes, thankfully, and I try to keep the pressure in check.

  14. Not carrying or not, your spread here is lovely!
    I really get the feeling of reflection in the petals
    and your greens. Thanks Jean

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