Making the most of my sketchbook
Like most people the white emptiness of a sketchbook page can intimidate me. Even with years of dedicated practice starting a new sketchbook or even a page can be a hurtle. I purposely purchase sketchbooks whose binding design inherently makes it difficult to tear out pages. I tell myself, and my students, that to tear out pages is to deny yourself the joy of seeing your own progress. Sigh, but which one of us does not have pages in are history that seem best left not revisited. Oh well, that's my mantra and I'm sticking to it, because I'm pretty sure it's good for me in the long run both artistically and humility is supposed to strengthen everyone's character, right?
So how to get past the whiteness and emptiness of the page? I've developed a few strategies:
1. Pre-painting a background color on a page. I find a better quality sketchbook allows you the freedom not to worry about it falling apart from months of hurried stuffing into this bag and that as well as being toss, dropped, and generally abused. In addition, acid free, mixed media (for both wet and dry media) paper allow you the freedom to use what every media you need/have for the situation and subject. I usually pre-paint a least a dozen pages in my sketchbook, some solid backgrounds, other I create shapes and half sheets with painters tape. I always keep complete blanks in between the painted pages, just in case! Then I choose the page that seems best suited in situ. I am sure to date my sketches because this of course means that you work is not in chronological order.
2. Decorative papers. Think "scrapbooking." My love of Asian Art led me to the practice of framing, edging and even binding in pages with decorative papers. Occasionally, I create pages with various shapes of pattern and then work my writing or drawing as part of an overall composition.
3. Sketches, seconds, and mementos, again scrapbooking techniques. Loose trace paper sketches can make wonderful overlays that you can incorporate into an overall page design and still include notes if you like. Printing seconds, works that you are less pleased with`, or loose small works (like postcards) with can be mounted and framed, or trimmed and employed as decorative elements. The same can be done with greeting cards. I recommend using a standard PVA white glue (like Elmer's) instead of a glue stick. Glue sticks are convenient and can work well on travel. However, I have yet to find the one that doesn't eventually give up after a few months.
4. Lastly, I am quite fond of little panoramic, accordion sketchbooks also known as Japanese albums. I have had good luck with Pentalic and Moleskin brands for mixed media work. One word of caution here. Be sure the buy two books, if possible, or remove one or two panels of the book you have purchased and rebind with a simple tape binding in order to have pages to experiment on. I have worked on some beautiful handmade papers but, fought them the entire time because I was really asking the paper to do something that it didn't do well. For example, Crow quill pen on soft cold press paper or ink washes on paper with little or no sizing so the bleed was difficult to control.
With these panoramic books, I like to keep a few blanks on hand as well as several with different pre-painted backgrounds. I prefer watercolor, experimenting with different effects like tea staining, salt, and plastic wrap. Sometimes simply daubing the wet wash with a sponge, or tissues can give a wonderful effect. Some are washed with non-staining pigments so I can lift later to obtain highlights. Others I just see what happens. I do try to keep a record of what the washes and effects are however, in tiny notes in pencil on the back of the page for future reference.
Above are some samples of all the techniques I have described above. Since it is summer, I make the most of my addition time to prepare a number of pages and books for the upcoming busy months. I hope this helps you overcome the white emptiness and feel free to share in the comments below any strategies/techniques you have discovered!
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