Keeping a Sketchbook

I love sketchbooks. I have them all over the house – in the kitchen, by my bed, in the car, in my purse. There’s no rhyme or reason or system. They’re messy, disorganized, and a rather apt expression of their owner.

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I will admit though, it took me some time to understand the purpose of and grow to love my sketchbooks. For a long time I felt like drawing in a sketchbook was, well, meant to be a slow compilation of artwork, amassing a portfolio little by little. I pictured all those lovely images that I’ve seen from the pages of famous artists’ sketchbooks.  From Marc Simont to Leonardo Da Vinci, sketchbooks seemed like hidden treasure troves full of the best kind of art – spontaneous, from the heart, personal. Sketchbooks are something to  be unearthed long after you are gone and those never-before-seen masterpieces will inspire and delight and affirm that by gosh yes, she was the real thing. Right? Well, not exactly…

Sketchbook River

I’ve come to see that sketchbooks are sort of like blogs. What gets shared is the best part of a person’s experience. What you see is real and true and sincere, but it is not the whole story. All those imaginings that I had of “THE ARTIST” sitting at a cafe whipping out perfectly enthralling little sketches of passersby in her sketchbook? Well, maybe, but there are likely several pages of that book that just aren’t that great too. There are experiments that didn’t work. There might be a shopping list or two. There are pages in there that make the artist laugh or even cringe a little.

Here’s the thing: no artist loves everything she draws. No artist creates something wonderful every time she puts pencil to paper. That’s why God made erasers.

And sketchbooks.

You know what? Those mistakes are fine. In fact, they’re maybe even good for you. It is the heartbreaking loss that spurs an athlete on to improve her game. It is the failed trial that moves an inventor toward his crowning achievement. For an artist, it is the too far apart eyes, the colors that didn’t quite gel together, those darn hands that never look real that urge her to draw and draw and try and try again.

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Sure, the thrill of victory is sweet, but failure has its merit too. That is the bitter taste that leaves you hungry for another go at the game.

A sketchbook is a safe place to try, and perhaps to fail, to discover what you love, to find your voice.  My sketchbook doesn’t have to be good, or proof that I have any skill  at all.  It doesn’t have to be some kind of evidence of my “realness” as an artist. It’s just a place to play, experiment, wrestle with ideas. It’s not a record of my best work, a portfolio, it’s a record of my journey.

Sketchbooks Raindrops Sticks and Stones

So, if you think that you maybe sort of remember a time when you loved to draw, but you’ve grown up and gotten yourself responsibilities, and perhaps a smidge of self doubt along the way, I encourage you to get a sketchbook. Draw what you see. Write down lines of poetry or quotes from a movie or book and then doodle around them. Sketch your supper, or your son’s baseball game, or your dog, or your half dead house plant. Just try. Everyday. I promise that you’ll be glad you did. You’ll look back when those pages are full and remember good times. You’ll be proud of the skills that you’ve gained along the way. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It just has to be yours.

Sketchbook Bottles