13 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Started Keeping A Sketchbook

5:52 AM

15-year-old Joey, trying to catch a nap as I try to catch a sketch late at night
Looking back, I see  lot of my assumptions about journaling were way out there! It would have been nice if someone would have pointed out a few things. I'm not sure if I would have listened or even believed them, but I think if they had I might have not wasted quite so much time on some parts of the learning curve.

In light of this, let me share these 13 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Started Keeping A Sketchbook.

In no particular order:
  1. Keeping a sketchbook is a lot like running a long distance race...against ourselves. We have to prepare by getting the right equipment, learning how to stretch, how to breathe properly, how to pace ourselves, and so on. We have to train on a regular basis and then we have to do a lot of running, or in our cases, drawing. If you think you're just going to show up one day and run 13 miles, you're in for a let down. It takes a commitment. 
  2. It's evolution...not revolution. Improvement usually happens in tiny increments and it's likely we will even notice until one day, we'll think, "Dang, I just sketched Notre Dome and I didn't even break a sweat!" It will seem like a revolution as the realization our skills have improved comes on suddenly, but it's really happening every time we put pen to paper.
  3. There will be mistakes...celebrate them. Embrace them. Be glad for them. It means we're learning. The only artist who doesn't make mistakes is the one that is not creating...and gosh, what do you know? That's a mistake too!
  4. Don't let mistakes stall out your efforts...it's so tempting to quit and pout and obsess when we mess up a sketch. Don't. If we were on a trip to somewhere we were unsure if we'd ever go again, we could not afford to throw a hissy fit about a messed up page. Learning to finish the page is important. If not, holler out, "next!" and turn the page.
  5. Finish every page...even if it has a big, ugly mistake right in the middle of it. I figure it's kinda like this—once the mistake is made or I flat don't like the page (and yes, it happens), I just won a "get-out-of-jail-free" card! I can do anything I want to and if I still don't like it, I haven't really lost anything. But more often than not, I find I like where it winds up. Yes, it's different than what I originally had in mind and that's okay. And even if I don't like it, I've usually learned something.
  6. Improving our sketching skills...by sketching as regularly as we can. Most artists want to jump straight to the fun part of adding paint, but we're almost guaranteeing our disappointment because an incorrect drawing is still an incorrect drawing and no amount of paint is going to cover it up. That said, don't let making a mistake stop you. Finish the sketch or page anyway.
  7. Be aware of fear sneaking up on you...we all want to look like we were born with a pencil in one fist and a brush in the other. Chances are good, that's not the case. Fear tells us not to go out in public "until we can do better." It will tell us others will be "better than we are" and they might "laugh at us" or worse, "revoke our artist license." Kindly ask fear to take a seat in the waiting room and then ignore that fear and Do. It. Anyway! Fear will steal as much of our creativity as we let it. 
  8. Don't let the fact you're "still learning"...keep you home or stop you. Go out with other sketchers at every possibility. We learn from others because we cannot possibly live long enough to try every approach, let alone think of them! Take classes and workshops. Ask questions. Again, chances are outstanding you'll surprise yourself with how much you already know as well as with what you will learn by getting out there.
  9. If you absolutely must compare your work...be sure you are only comparing today's work to work you did last week or last month. Never, ever, never compare yourself to someone else. Not only is comparison a killjoy, it is also a thief of inspiration and motivation.
  10. Quantity is far more important than quality...it is a foregone conclusion that we put our best efforts forward every time we put pen or pencil to paper. Don't believe me? Try to deliberately make a bad piece of art. It's hard to do. It's far more important to put in the time, fill the page, make the mistakes and learn to keep going. Eventually, through the quantity of work, our skills will start to improve.
  11. Use the good stuff...especially when we're just starting out or still a beginner. The theory goes we'll save money by using sub-par materials until we're "good enough." Malarkey! Do you know how many artists bail on their artistic journey, not because they can't create, but because they're fighting with their materials? It's a lot. It will take an artist twice, maybe three times, as long to learn what they could have learned in half the time if they weren't fighting with their materials and then there's no way of knowing if it's our skills or our materials that are causing the issue.
  12. There are no magical tools...but there are tools that seem magical because the owner of said tools has learned to create with them to the point that it appears to be pure magic. It's tempting to buy every new paint color, pen, brush and sketchbook we see or hear about on the internet. When temptation bites, remember one thing: paint, palette, pen, pencil, sketchbook, and other art supply manufacturers are in business to sell us their product and they will sell us with the marketing idea that their item is "just what we need to make magic." Buyer beware.
  13. Make it fun...or we simply won't sketch. Yes, it can be frustrating growing new skills, but time and again, I have seen artists with little to no experience surprise themselves with their sketches simply because they are having fun. They're playing. Have you ever heard a three-year-old critique their latest work and find it lacking? Nope. In fact, if you don't see their genius right away, they'll shrug and ignore you so they can get back to creating a new masterpiece. Be the three-year-old. Play and splash with abandon. When you're done, turn the page. There are plenty of critics in the world. We need more joyous, happy creators!
  14. And one to grow on...You must sketch daily...to get better and be "an artist." Umm, no. Sure, we get better the more we sketch, but we're in charge of our schedule and the frequency in which we engage with our journals. (See Number 10.) I will tell you this though...I sketch frequently enough to keep the rust from clogging up the system because I never know when something I really, Really, REALLY want to put in my sketchbook will come along and I want to be ready. 
What would you add to this list of things you wish you had known when you first started out?

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4 Creative Thought(s)

  1. Excellent advise. It is good for us all to refresh our thoughts as to sketching. Love it.

  2. Wow Laure - the perfect list for me. Will be coming back to read this one again. Bless you for sharing. Hugs!

  3. Thank you for sharing this very good advice Laure!

  4. Hope you are safe in this hurricane, Laure!


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