Friday, 25 March 2011

sketchbook blocks

I've just come to the end of my most recent (lovely, Seawhite of Brighton) sketchbook. It's interesting to review the changes throughout the book, in my use of it, over a period of three months. Like many people, I find sketchbooks hard. That beautiful white paper, and, in this case, so nicely bound in hardback black (although only costing about £ 3 so hardly a big deal) - not only all those fears that you'll mess it up, but somehow there's also this idea that your mess-ups will remain there, for all to see. Which, I gather, is partly the point of a sketchbook - that you can't throw away things you don't like, and you have a record of your learning, and your changes through time. And also, you can come back to things you detested at the time, and learn something from them later.

'For all to see' is telling, isn't it?  Because no-one needs to see your sketchbook, and you ain't doing it for anyone but yourself. In my case it's about 50/50 between disappointing myself, and being shamed when people ask to look.... Anyway, I persevered. The Tombow pens were a great help here. I started with the wonder of lines like those in the image above. With a Tombow you almost don't seem to be able to go 'wrong', in the sense that once you stop worrying about what's going on, everything becomes interesting. I think it's partly because they're so completely water-soluble, which brings in an element of lack of control, which I love. I love only partly knowing what's going to happen. Which is, of course, one of the reasons that I find acrylic and oil painting, and drawing, much harder, because you have to be more deliberate - there's less chance of the unexpected, of accidents taking you off in new directions. Or so it has seemed, up to now.

Sometimes, I got a bit braver, and did try to draw some thing, and then to keep on responding if I didn't like it, to keep on going and see what would happen.

Gradually it got to matter a bit less what happened. Until one day I started being quite messy, still keeping on with the idea that if I didn't like it, I would just keep going, and see what happened....

Which led to quite a dramatic change in direction, that ended up feeding into a whole series of experiments:

So it's quite interesting to see what messing in a sketchbook can lead to. Mostly, I ended up just exploring materials, getting messier and messier, and more and more interested in effects:

The book got bulkier and thicker, as the paper plumped up and warped. I stopped being able to close it. And cared less and and less about what ended up in it.

Right near the end I started layering my experiments, also in a way that had never happened before.

So now I start a new book. And I don't know how that book will be, though I do know that it will have to start all crisp and neat like the last one. Something I've realised, though, is that these hardback bound books only really work at a desk - you can't bend them back on themselves for drawing when you're out and about. And drawing out and about is something that I so want to do. HOWEVER, that raises a whole new load of insecurities, sparking off countless unhelpful, well-established old neurological pathways....

Drawing 'from life'? All those confused voices come back, asking what I think I'm doing. Do I want it 'to look like that thing I'm looking at? Am I trying to 'reproduce' it? Am I using the thing to make something else? etc etc. Which then leads me to a thought I've had in my mind for a long time about 'close work' versus 'making a mess'.

I'm drawn to close work. I like detail. I carried the ghosts of art school teachers around for decades, telling me that I wasn't allowed to do that, that I had to be 'big and messy and free'. But just recently, I've been thinking that the two needn't cancel each other out. And drawing out and about has to be where it's going. I've been photographing out and about like crazy. Learning that even photographs don't have to be about representation, or not about representation.

This morning I was sitting outside in the sun, drinking my tea. As usual, I was looking at everything. I got fixated on a tiny corner of early morning light which was making chrome green blades of grass stand out against a dark background. And I thought, you gotta start now. You gotta start making drawings from these things you look at. Drawings, not drawings of things, just drawings. So I did. In a small sketchbook that folds back on itself, sitting out there in the garden.

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