Posts Tagged ‘sketchbook’
December 16, 2016 @ 5:15 pm | Filed under: Art
In a comment on yesterday’s “inside my pen case” post, Hanni wrote:
I have loved watching your journey of learning to sketch and draw. I want to start myself but I’m nervous. Have you always been a person who doodled etc? Or did it start when you made it a goal to sketch everyday? Seeing if there is hope for a person like me who has never done it naturally but has always been inspired by others.
I answered with a long reply, which I’ve decided to pull into its own post here. Tl:dr version: If I can do it, anyone can.
Hanni, start, start!!! I wasn’t a doodler before…I used to try to draw as a kid and was always so frustrated by my inability to make anything look the way I wanted it to. In college I took a costume design course that included a brief unit on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. That book blew me away. And in doing those exercises in class, I was astonished at how much better I got, and how rapidly. But then I dropped it again…for over 20 years.
I started this daily practice with Lisa Congdon’s line drawing class at Creativebug in fall 2014. From there I jumped to Sketchbook Skool and was really inspired and energized by those classes. Or—I guess actually I started with a Creativebug class on art journaling with Dawn DeVries Sokol* before the Congdon line drawing class, and I liked that one but found that what I really wanted was to learn to draw (vs art journaling which I always admire when I see other people’s but don’t seem drawn to in my own practice).
Since then, Creativebug has added SO MANY great drawing classes (all for your $5/mo subscription). I especially like the ones that are Daily Drawing Challenges because they walk you through how to draw specific things. (I’m currently obsessed with spatulas. Don’t ask me why. Just something really satisfying about that shape, LOL.)
*Dawn Sokol has a new Holiday Art Journaling class at Creativebug that Rilla and I will be checking out on our next art date, because art journals are absolutely my daughter’s cup of tea. (Affiliate link.)
For dipping your toes in without spending money, I would recommend trying out some of Koosje Koene’s free “Draw Tip Tuesday” videos on Youtube. So good and totally doable. Search YT for them and then maybe scroll back to some earlier ones and work forward. You’ll see that a lot of the stuff in my sketchbook comes from Koosje’s lessons.
Other good online instructors are:
Jane LaFazio, Liz Steel, and Roz Stendahl. I encountered them all via Sketchbook Skool first. Then Jane came to San Diego for a one-day workshop version of the nature journaling/watercoloring class she offers online, so I signed up for that. And oh my! So awesome. Here’s a post with some photos of the work I did in that class.
Liz and Roz are both gifted instructors. Their online classes are video-based and include extremely detailed PDF handouts to download.
Backing up to your question: Honestly, I don’t have natural drawing talent. I think in words, not pictures, and I can’t just sit down and draw something out of my head and have the angles and shapes look right. I’m frustrated a LOT of the time by my shortcomings. But natural drawing talent isn’t required to be able to *learn* to draw. If you can sign your name, you can already make all the basic shapes that every single drawing is composed of. That was one of the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain revelations that floored me, way back when. Anyone can learn.
Danny Gregory (the other co-founder of Sketchbook Skool along with Koosje) makes a distinction between small-a art (which we can all make) and capital-A Art (you know, museum stuff). 😉 I’m not striving for Art, just art. My sketchbook journey has made me really happy. About every ten pages I draw something I actually like. 🙂 And you know what, for now that’s plenty. I usually mess up the page with something else, but sketching is something I do that truly is about process, not product. The pens and paints feel so good in my hand. Mark-making, color-swirling—it’s incredibly satisfying.
And I like having this thing I do that is purely about personal satisfaction. Writing is the Thing I have always done, the Thing that defines me—and because I’m good at it, it’s the Thing I do for a living. Which…puts you in a different relationship with the Thing. If that makes sense. Sketching owes me nothing, and I owe it nothing. No demands beyond the easy five-minutes-a-day minimum I impose upon myself. Most days, it’s much more than that, because once I get sucked in, I never want to start.
I often yearn for a better eye, a stronger and more original sense of artistic vision in my work (like the brilliant creative vision I see manifested in the work of the sketchbook artists I admire on Instagram), and as I said I get plenty frustrated with my fumbling, my un-originality. But that’s all before and after the fact. DURING, when the pen is in my hand, all of that drops away and I experience the pure, absorbed joy of mark-making. That’s what keeps me at it, not a sense of progress (although when I look back, I can see that I have improved).
I hope you’ll dive in! Let me know if you wind up taking any classes…
A last thought. When I began taking online classes, I found that many instructors speak very strongly against sketching in pencil, on the grounds that it makes beginners too fussy, too prone to erase. I will say that while I understand that thinking (and do a fair amount of sketching directly in ink myself, because I’m addicted to pens), for me that advice was a misdirect. I spent about eighteen months obediently eschewing pencil before I had a light bulb moment of: oh wait, I love how pencil feels going on the page. And boom, just like that, things opened wide. I love pencil sketching and then putting ink over it. That suits me really well. Diminished a lot of my frustration over ‘ruining’ things because it takes me a few tries to get the shape right. And I just plain like the texture! It’s funny that with everything else in life (homeschooling, ahem) my entire approach is: take what works and do my own thing with it, but with drawing I was quite cowed by authority at first.
I’ll close with some books Rilla and I have enjoyed working from, these past two years. When I’m stumped for material, I pull out one of them and tackle a page.
20 Ways to Draw a Tulip and 44 Other Fabulous Flowers
20 Ways to Draw a Cat and 44 Other Awesome Animals
20 Ways to Draw a Tree and 44 Other Nifty Things from Nature
20 Ways to Draw a Chair and 44 Other Interesting Everyday Things
Illustration School: Let’s Draw Cute Animals
Illustration School: Let’s Draw Happy People
Illustration School: Let’s Draw Plants and Small Creatures
Practical inspiration from Danny Gregory:
Art Before Breakfast: A Zillion Ways to be More Creative No Matter How Busy You Are
The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be the Artist You Truly Are
Rilla and I are looking forward to working through this book together: Draw Every Day, Draw Every Way (Guided Sketchbook): Sketch, Paint, and Doodle Through One Creative Year by Jennifer Orkin Lewis (AugustWren on Instagram—my fave!). This is one of those books you’re meant to and paint directly in, and I’m excited to think we’ll be creating a little archive for ourselves of our shared sketchbook journey. She’s been my staunch companion every step of the way, so far. Danny and Koosje and Roz are the superstars of Rilla’s world.
(Jennifer Lewis also offers a wonderful course on painting with gouache at Creativebug, as well as a Daily Painting Challenge. I’m making slow progress through both, because gouache takes a bit more planning for me than just reaching for my watercolor palette, but these are marvelous classes.)
• Daily Creativebug Challenge
• Drawing It Out (2005 post that, like this one, reminisces about that costume design class and the Edwards book, but then focuses on the how-to-draw books my older kids loved in those days. It’s funny to reread it now and see that despite its “anyone can learn to draw” message, I wasn’t striving in that direction at all myself. I talk about being able to draw a tree, a cartoon giraffe, and an alligator. That was the full extent of my doodling repertoire at the time and in this post, I don’t seem to express any intention to move beyond that. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that at the time it was written, I’d had four babies in ten years and was expecting a fifth.)
• Notebooks and sketchbooks and planners, oh my!
• 2015, Year of Paper
• Planner Love
• Unearthed: the Notebooks
• Ten Ways to Cultivate a Family Art Habit
• My interview with Danny Gregory about raising creative kids
• Learning in Public
I put this on Instagram and decided to carry it over here in case anyone needs stocking stuffer ideas. 😉 The Amazon links are affiliate but not the JetPens links and the rest.
Everyday pen carry, deconstructed. Washi samples, a beloved Hokusai print I cut out of an old desk calendar, postage stamps, scissors. Hobonichi stencil, Galison notepad (last sheet, wah!), and a Reset Girl “planner honey” clip. I think the washi samples were a freebie included with an order from Etsy seller Cute Things From Japan.
Favorite drawing pens, left to right: Zebra brush pen, Kuretake brush pen in gray ink (my new love), Tombow blue body brush pen, hard tip (which I find myself reaching for more and more often—I like it better than the UniPin or Micron), Pentel Pocket Brush Pen (this one has been a total game-changer for me).
Favorite writing pens: Lamy Safari (pink), medium nib, blue-black ink. Pilot Metropolitan fountain pens, both medium nibs, one gray ink (I forget which, from a Goulet gray sampler), one my dream ink, Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-Kai, a deep navy blue.
I always carry a few Prismacolor pencils with me. Turquoise is essential to my well-being and then I always pack an orange, green, or ruby red/fuschia shade for contrast. I use these for sketching and fancy headers as well as for calling out key events in my planner, or coloring in my to-do boxes. And then I like to pack one or two Faber Castell watercolor pencils for easy planner/journal decoration. Deep blue is my favorite. (That link goes to a set of 36, with a price tag way beyond my art supply budget. I have exactly three colors of these pencils—blue, cranberry, and grape. They layer wonderfully.)
All of these inks and pigments are dreamy in my Hobonichi Cousin and Weeks planners, my Midori Travelers Notebook (I favor their 002 grid inserts), and on the flecked, recycled papers of the impossibly lovely Wild Simplicity Daybook inserts.
Floral pen case from MochiThings (I recommend watching for their sales because otherwise they’re pricey). I carry my tiny watercolor palette and waterbrushes in a separate pouch, but they fit in this case too if I leave a few pens home.
For the papery side of things—see these posts:
Notebooks and Sketchbooks and Planners, Oh My
So this is not a great photo but the sight of all these books spread out on the bed delighted me. And also caused me not a small amount of chagrin—mainly that toppled stack of half-filled notebooks on the far right. This is the past two years in paper: August 2014-2016. I hadn’t realized how many sketchbooks I have filled since I started my daily drawing project two years ago this month!
The top two rows are my notebooks, about which I’ve written much in the past. They contain a hodgepodge of notes, task lists, doodles, and sketches. I used to always use small, lined spirals like the red one leaning against the stack on the right, but a couple of years ago I shifted to the black steno books up top because I like gridded paper better. Then I switched to Moleskine’s Cahier size with the kraft covers—and those are perfect little everyday scribble books, in my opinion. There are three completely filled ones in this photo (one has a gray cover, second row) plus the one I use for all our family medical notes. There’s another gray one in the only-partially-filled stack—I used about a third of it on sketches and notes at the Brave Writer Retreat last month.
The four skinny books in row two are Midori Travelers Notebook inserts. When my pal Kristen gave me a Midori last fall, I abandoned the Moleskines (for the most part—I do grab them occasionally, as with the Bravewriter one). On the bottom left is my current Midori insert. I remain as fervently in love with my TN as ever, although I have scaled down the number and type of inserts I tote around in it. Right now I just have the gridded catch-all (collaged cover, pulled out of the cover for this photo) and a zipper pouch containing washi samples, stamps, and ephemera.
The lower two rows are my sketchbooks—although as I said, the notebooks are also crammed with drawings. In fact, I find I often prefer sketching on gridded notebook paper—I feel freer, less fussy, less concerned with getting things right. The stakes are somehow lower.
But I do love working on good sketchbook paper. The blue Canson Mixed Media books are probably my favorite type—I have learned that I prefer spiral bound sketchbooks, and I like paper with a little bit of tooth. The smaller yellow Strathmore books are also great. In fact, their paper quality is probably better and the smaller size is good for carrying around. I have completely filled two of each, and I’m working simultaneously in the ones on the bottom row. Not really any rhyme or reason to which one I pick up on a given day. Whatever’s closest to hand, usually.
The black Moleskine sketchbooks on the bottom left see a lot less use. The horizontal one contains watercolor paper and is quite lovely, but I mostly only use it for color charts. (A semi-obsession.) The vertical one is Moleskine’s standard sketchbook and it took me about twenty pages to realize I kind of hate the paper. Too smooth. I like texture and skritch. I was excited to discover I have a preference! It’s too bad, because I love the compactness of that book. It would be much easier to carry around than the Canson or Strathmore spirals.
I’ve realized, though, that I don’t—at this stage, at least—do a lot of sketching or painting out in the world. When I do, it’s in one of my grid notebooks. I like the real sketchbooks for working at my desk, on my bed, or on the kitchen table. I have another big one with watercolor paper that isn’t in this photo. It doesn’t have much inside it just yet—mainly just the paintings I did at Jane LaFazio’s watercolor workshop last spring.
Middle right of the photo: my little stack of planners. Wild Simplicity Daybook, Hobonichi Cousin, Hobo Weeks. The Daybook is for homeschooling notes; the Cousin is my current bullet journal/daily calendar/scrapbook; the slender Weeks is my go-everywhere appointment book. I’ve done plenty of chattering about them before so I won’t elaborate here.
And then there’s the pile of Incompletes. I thrive on change, what can I say? Some of those books were begun for specific projects—many have to do with grants I worked on this past year. I’ll fill up the extra pages with sketches and doodles. Eventually.
2015, Year of Paper
Unearthed: the Notebooks
August 5, 2016 @ 4:00 pm | Filed under: Art
August Daily Drawing Challenge: 31 Art Journal Prompts with Dawn Sokol at CreativeBug. Dawn’s Art Journaling class was what kickstarted my daily sketching habit two years ago this month. (!) This “31 Prompts” is a new class that looks like a good time. A CreativeBug subscription is $4.95/month, which I think is a pretty great deal for the huge array of courses that gives you access to. Rilla, Beanie, and I manage to wring every penny and then some out of our subscription.
(Affiliate link, but I’m also a happy subscriber. I recently took and quite enjoyed Intuitive Painting with Flora Bowley. Other favorites are Creative Doodling with Pam Garrison, Daily Painting Challenge with Augustwren who happens to be one of my favorite Instagrammers, and anything taught by Lisa Congdon.)
Creative Lettering with Andrea Joseph at Sketchbook Skool. Andrea’s week in Sketchbook Skool’s Seeing “kourse” is one of my three favorite sets of lessons in the entire SBS lineup. I love, love, love her art and her mellow approach to teaching. And the way her sketchbook pages are an interplay of words and images is tremendously appealing to me. I also really resonated with a comment she made in one of her zines about how she has always had several “handwritings”—me too! Me too! I never could commit to a single style of R or F. So the idea of a whole course devoted to this subject has me pretty giddy, I must say.
(Not an affiliate—just a huge fan of Andrea Joseph and Sketchbook Skool!)
My everyday favorites. After a year of experimenting, I’ve got my system figured out. Top to bottom:
• Midori Travelers Notebook for my monthly calendar, weekly journal, and a scribble notebook;
• Moleskine Cahier for daily to-lists (bullet journal);
• Wild Simplicity Daybook for homeschooling notes and records (including our weekly Shakespeare lines—we learn monologues two lines at a time); and
• the Lamy Safari fountain pen my family gave me for my birthday. (LOVE.) (That’s an Amazon affiliate link but if you’re buying pens in the U.S., you should order from the nice people at Goulet Pen Company. Their instructional videos are invaluable, their customer service is top notch, and they offer inexpensive ink samples so you can try out all sorts of gorgeous colors. And that is not an affiliate link. I’m just a happy customer.)
I still keep the family appointments on Google Calendar, but I enjoy writing everything out in the TN monthly calendar (#017) as well. I use the horizontal weekly TN insert (#019) for chronicling the day after it happens—just a few notes about highlights. For the last several months I’ve used a blank TN insert (#003) for my bullet journal but came to realize I need a separate space for scrawling, sketching, doodling, working things out on paper. If I do that in the bullet, things get messy. WAY messy. So I’ve gone back to my old (cheaper) Moleskine grids for task lists.
The Midori travels with me everywhere; the bullet journal lives on my desk where I do most of my work; and the Daybook has a home in a basket by my rocking chair in the living room.
I’m laughing at how complicated this must seem if you aren’t a pen-and-paper fanatic…but I juggle a lot of roles (and kids) and I find having different paper spaces helps me keep things straight.
More nitty gritty:
I also have a kraft folder (#020) in my Midori to tuck ephemera and snail-mail supplies into. Since I started carrying notecards and stamps around, I’ve gotten much more prompt with my thank-you notes.
• I love the feel of Prismacolor colored pencils on the paper Lesley Austin uses in the Wild Simplicity Daybook. I’m sure I’ve raved about this before—the lovely creamy pencil on this recycled paper with just the right amount of tooth.
• Prismacolor pencils also delight me in the bullet journal: I like ’em for filling in my checkboxes.
• This pic, which I’ve shared here before, shows my favorite way to organize a task list: to-do items on the right, and the verso is for related notes and numbers. I also keep a running “Nag List” on a sticky note that travels from spread to spread. It’s for important tasks that I might not get done today but I gotta deal with soon—like finishing my taxes or booking a doctor appointment. I consult it each evening when making out my bullet list for the next day.
• Sometimes I’ll tuck another insert into the Midori to be used for a specific purpose. For example, I keep a log of incoming and outgoing snail mail. I don’t like a superfat Midori, though, so more often that insert lives in my stationery pouch.
• As I mentioned, I do a lot of casual sketching in my blank Midori insert. I find I’m often more comfortable there than in my proper sketchbook, because it feels more casual. But I do have a couple of sketchbooks going and I try to work in at least one of them daily. One is a spiral-bound 7×10 Canson Mixed Media pad, which gets lukewarm reviews from real artists but I quite like its toothy paper—not to mention its price point when Michael’s has a good sale + coupon combo. You have to watch for it, but now and then they’ll give you a 20% off including sale items coupon during a buy-one-get-one-free sketchbook sale. My other sketchbook is a Moleskine Art Plus, and it’s…okay? I love its size and shape (fits nicely in my bag), but the paper is too smooth for my liking. I much prefer the feel of Moleskine’s watercolor sketchbook—a lovely texture to that paper. But so far I’ve mostly just used that for color charts.
• For sketching pens, I like Sakura Pigma Microns or my Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen (check out all the groovy colors at Goulet Pens) with Platinum Carbon ink, which is waterproof so it plays nice under watercolors. However, lately I’ve come to realize that what I enjoy most of all is sketching in pencil. I love the look of black or brown ink drawings, and most of the sketchbook artists I admire work directly in ink, but I really love the way a pencil feels on the paper. I keep hitting that point over and over, don’t I—the tactile experience matters more to me than how it looks.
Ha, this got long! Would you believe it was just going to be a quick copy-paste of something I tossed on Instagram today?
It started, I think, with my commitment to a daily sketching habit in the fall of 2014. By last January, the habit was firmly established, and I only missed a handful of days all year. January is also when I started taking “kourses” at Sketchbook Skool—which exposed me to not just the lessons and work of accomplished artists, but also to their media of choice. Which is to say: they have firm opinions about pens, making them my kind of people.
Putting pen to paper in my sketchbook reminded me how much I love that feeling. Now, I have never enjoyed doing large amounts of handwriting—I can’t write my books longhand, for example. My wrist aches after a couple of pages. But I love penmanship: other people’s, mainly. My handwriting is changeable and seldom neat. I never managed to commit to one way of shaping letters, so I wind up with different kinds of I and r and k all in one line. Last night I was numbering pages in a new bullet journal and realized that some of my 4s were the pointy kind and some were not. Happens all the time. I like change, y’all.
Anyway—I can’t write volumes by hand all at once, but I adore the feeling of a good pen on the right kind of paper. Experimenting with various pens (Pigma Micron, Le Pen, Pilot Metropolitan, Lamy Joy with 1.1 nib) reminded me how much I love analogue notetaking. So while I still find apps like Workflowy useful for tracking particular kinds of tasks, in the past few months I have shifted almost entirely to written notekeeping.
Notes on paper
Bullet journaling works very well for me. I’ve always kept a notebook as an idea and memory catch-all: phone call records, tasks completed, shopping lists, story ideas, doodles—it all winds up in the notebook in a giant jumble. Adding a bullet-journal-style index and page numbers was a revelation: now I can have my hodgepodge but find things later. Perfect.
For the first part of this year I used kraft-brown Moleskine Cahiers. They’re just the right size for tucking in my bag, they’re sturdy enough to handle the beating I give them, and they fill up in a month or two which means the continual fresh start I love. Then, in August, a glorious friend surprised me with a Midori Traveler’s Notebook. It was love at first sniff. I mean, I. JUST. ADORE. THIS. THING.
A traveler’s notebook, if you don’t know, involves a cover (usually leather, sometimes cloth or vinyl) that has a sturdy elastic cord or two strung through the spine. You slip a paper notebook under the cord to hold it in place. Then you can use additional bands to hold other inserts—various types of notebooks, folders, calendars, even plastic credit-card sleeves or zipper pouches.
My Midori set-up
After playing with my Midori for a month or two, I settled into the configuration that works best for me: a weekly calendar insert, a grid notebook, and a kraft folder that holds stickers, postage stamps, notepaper, and such. I keep a monthly calendar, too, but I don’t need to carry the whole year around with me so I have begun photocopying (and shrinking a bit) the current month and clipping that to my weekly page.
The blank grid insert is my bullet journal/idea repository/casual sketchbook, replacing the Moleskine Cahier. I number the pages and use the first page as an index, just as before. I like big fat checkboxes for my task lists, which I fill in with Prismacolor pencil as tasks are completed. Color is my happy place. 🙂 I also like to paste in ephemera and sometimes embellish with stamps, doodles, or washi tape. Basically, these inserts become collages of all the things that occupy my days and my mind. I seem to do a fair amount of sketching in them, too, even though I have an actual sketchbook for that purpose—I work in the real sketchbook daily but the TN grid insert is a low-pressure place to experiment, and I always have it with me.
Thanks to Lesley Austin’s beautiful Wild Simplicity Daybook designs, I discovered that a week-on-two-pages spread is an excellent space for me to do some chronicling. I’ve posted before about how I use the Daybook for recording homeschooling and housekeeping notes. I really like having a separate space (and such a beautiful one) for those things. I wear so many hats, and I need ways to keep my roles sorted. The Daybook (visible under my Midori in a photo above), like all of Lesley’s paper goods, conveys a sense of peace and serenity, and so it has become a really nourishing space for me to jot down my notes about what the kids read, did, said. I always feel so happy when I open that book.
Taking a cue from that experience, I decided to try the Midori week-on-two-pages for my TN. The version I selected (Refill #19) has the week in seven horizontal boxes on the left page, and a grid page for notes on the right. I use Google Calendar for our family appointments and schedules, so a couple of times a week I open G-Cal and add any new appointments to the Midori insert. At the end of each day, I create an entry on the weekly calendar page, filling it with notes about what happened that day. It isn’t a to-do list, it’s more like a diary. Not what needs to be done (that’s what the bullet journal is for), but what I actually did. The facing page fills up with quotes, ephemera, drawings, and notes on things I’ve read or watched.
Since these pages serve as a kind of journal, I like to decorate them with washi, drawings, and watercolors. I wind up doing the ornamenting mostly on weekends. Often, I’ll start the week with two or three colors of washi in front of me, and that will set the tone for my week. This daily decorating is relaxing, it takes only moments, and I enjoy paging back through previous weeks.
So those are the two main TN inserts I carry around: the weekly calendar for journaling (more or less), and the grid notebook (Refill #2) for everything else. Those two inserts plus the kraft folder (Refill #20) make the Midori as fat as I like it to get. I could easily come up with uses for half a dozen more inserts (the TN’s capacity for letting you compartmentalize is its genius), but I found that I really prefer a non-chunky Midori.
However! I did decide to devote a single insert to all medical and health-insurance-related notes, and this has been one of my best moves ever. Instead of having those notes intermingled with everything else, they live in their own space now, with a list of phone numbers on the first page. I can tuck THAT insert into the Midori when we’re heading to an appointment. It’s perfect.
NEED MOAR PAPER
All this notebooking served to increase the satisfaction I was finding in putting pen to paper. And I found I was thinking about handwriting a lot. My little goddaughter sent me a thank-you note, and her mother’s handwriting on the envelope—the gorgeous, familiar handwriting that graced pages and pages of letters in the years after college when Krissy and I wrote to each other constantly—gave me a little jolt of joy and nostalgia. I hadn’t seen her writing in a while, and I missed it. I told her (via text, naturally) how happy I’d been to see her writing, and she said the same thing had happened to her when she saw my writing on the package I’d sent her daughter.
Shortly after that, I read that Atlantic article that was making the rounds about how the ballpoint pen killed cursive. Fascinating stuff, but the bit that grabbed me was this: “In his history of handwriting, The Missing Ink, the author Philip Hensher recalls the moment he realized that he had no idea what his good friend’s handwriting looked like. ‘It never struck me as strange before… We could have gone on like this forever, hardly noticing that we had no need of handwriting anymore.'”
He had no idea what his good friend’s handwriting looked like. I miss handwriting, I thought. The distinct and beloved scripts of my old friends flashed before my eyes. I’d know those hands anywhere, could pick them out of any penmanship lineup. My kids probably won’t experience that. Jane has friends on the other side of the country she talks to via electronic means every single day, but they probably don’t know each other’s handwriting. I have plenty of friends myself whose writing I’ve never seen. If we met after 1995, chances are I’ve seen your handwriting seldom or never. (Tanita! What’s your writing like?)
Channeling my inner Jane Austen
The handwriting epiphany spurred me to the next phase of my analogue journey: I started writing letters again. Like, by hand. I have penpals in Denmark, France, Austria, and England, as well as various friends across the U.S.
I’m amused and a little baffled that for so many years I thought of letters owing replies as a kind of guilt-ridden chore—I always took forever to answer, always had them nagging in the back of my mind. Because the truth is: snail mail is the cheapest fun around. Sure, they’re slower to write than email; slower to arrive than a Facebook message. But that’s part of the charm: the slowing down, the taking time. Just as many of us have (re)discovered the joys of slow reading in the past couple of years, I have found satisfaction in…what to call it? Not slow writing, really, because part of the point is that instead of waiting months or even (gulp) years to answer a letter, I now try to reply within three weeks; I guess what I’m enjoying isn’t about speed (or lack of it) after all. It’s about a tactile experience. The skritch of a fountain pen on flecked paper. The careful selection of stamps. The smoothing-out of a bit of washi tape across a seal. The rustle of envelopes as they slide into the box, slumbering before their journey to places I’ll never go.
And best of all: the incoming letters. Foreign stamps, unfamiliar scripts, universal experiences. Beautifully decorated, many of them—it’s like getting mail from Griffin and Sabine. This one written at a café in Vienna; that one at a Starbucks in Portland. Kaleidoscopic glimpses of a life gradually resolving into a picture. We talk about things we could easily tell via email, but we’ve decided to let these stories take the scenic route. Some of them never arrive, or show up months later, ragged and stained. This only makes us love them more.
I’m writing to say I’ll write soon
A piece of the experience that affords me much merriment is the impulse, whenever a letter arrives, to hurry to Facebook and ping the friend who sent it. “Got your letter! Will reply soon,” I’ll write, and “Yay, can’t wait!” she’ll ping back. Never mind that the letter asks questions which could be more immediately answered via any of a dozen digital platforms. The answers will keep. Come Saturday afternoon, I’ll settle in with my cocoa, my envelopes, my wonderful new pink Lamy Safari that I got for my birthday. Which paper—the whimsical or the lovely? The fern stamps, or the Ingrid Bergmans? I’m almost out of globals, and the post office won’t have the new ones for a while. But have you seen them, the moons? I’m already imagining them on dark blue envelopes…
Our digital and analogue worlds will forever be intertwined, I believe. We’ll snap photos of our beautiful incoming mail to share on Instagram, hashtagged so our kindred spirits can find and enjoy it. We’ll trade addresses on Facebook. We’ll email to find out if that letter ever arrived. We’ll scour Etsy for traveler’s notebook inserts and stock up on ink at Goulet Pens. We’ll sign up for swaps on websites, and then anxiously check tracking to see when packages might arrive. We’ll reblog Tumblr articles about clever ways to hack a bullet journal. We’ll watch Youtube videos about how to set up a Midori and we’ll tap the heart button a zillion times during an unboxing on Periscope. We’ll link to photos of new USPS stamp releases in our blog posts. 😉
My blog, though, is perhaps the thing that suffered this past year as my attention shifted to paper and ink. I found that when I had a few quiet moments, I was more apt to want to spend them sketching or writing a letter than blogging. After ten years of a steady blog habit, that was a bit of a surprise. In January, this blog will be eleven years old. I’ve successfully figured out how to integrate my analogue and digital calendar-keeping and task-tracking, but it did take a little while for the pieces to settle into place. I expect the same will happen with blogging.
Happy New Year, friends!
February 16, 2015 @ 9:28 pm | Filed under: Art
On Twitter, Kim asked if I had any advice for a family getting started with sketching and art journaling. Did I ever!
I’ve Storified the conversation, if you’d like to see how it unfolded, but I’ll recap it here as well.
My replies below, expanded a bit. Points #6 and 7 are the most important.
Suggestions? Yes, lots!
1) Koosje Koene’s Draw Tip Tuesday videos. She also offers classes in drawing and art journaling. (Here’s a post I wrote about her videos in November.)
2) Sign up for a free two-week trial at Creativebug and take Dawn Devries Sokol’s Art Journaling class and Lisa Congdon’s Basic Line Drawing. I wrote about how much Lisa’s class inspired me in my “Learning in Public” post.
3) A bunch of books to inspire you: Lynda Barry’s wonderful Syllabus; Danny Gregory’s new Art Before Breakfast (it’s a delight; I’ll be reviewing it soon) and the much-beloved The Creative License; the Illustration School series; the “20 Ways to Draw a…” series; Claire Walker Leslie’s Keeping a Nature Journal; the Usborne “I Can Draw” series. And a few more recommendations in this older post.
4) Maybe try a Sketchbook Skool course! They offer a free sample class (I mean klass) so you can get a taste of the magic.
5) Cathy Johnson videos. Rilla loves Cathy’s art and her gentle delivery.
6) The most important thing! Really just dive in and do it—if you do it, the kids will follow. Mine truly love to see me working & playing in my sketchbook. Actually, Rose was just commenting on it today, before this Twitter conversation occurred. She said she has really enjoyed watching me start from scratch (so to speak) and work at learning to draw. They all seem to love to see me trying, making mistakes, learning, improving. My progress excites them almost as much as it does me. 🙂
7) The REALLY most important piece of advice I can give: Allow plenty of TIME and room for mess. Many parents say “I want my kids to be creative” but can’t tolerate mess. Art is messy. Creativity is messy. You need space to leave work out and return to it. Supplies in easy reach. And big spans of time for messing around, staring into space, doodling, doing things that look unproductive. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is to any creative process. Time and room. (More on this in my post “Makers Gotta Mess.”)
When I’m writing a novel, my most intense work happens while I look like I’m doing nothing at all. Sitting and staring blankly, chewing my nails, or filling an entire page with tiny lines and spirals. This is my body getting out of the way so my brain can get down to the real work of creating.
And for the visual arts, these totally tactile pursuits, you’ve got to have a place to spread out your paints, your pencils, your small objects that make you itch to draw. You know what’s nice and tidy and doesn’t clutter a room? A cellphone. If you want them to spend less time staring at screens (I’m not knocking screens here, you know I love me some screen time), you’ve got to grant them some real estate.
With that in mind, I make a point of keeping art supplies in easy reach. We have a dedicated kitchen drawer for placemats, paper, paint supplies so even the youngest kids can help themselves. Jars of colored pencils & crayons on table, a sharpener on the kitchen counter, a stack of art books on the shelf nearby. I want them to have constant free access to art materials. It’s also a good idea to keep a bag packed for outings. I described ours in this old GeekMom post.
8) And what materials do I recommend? For littles: good paper, cheap paints. I elaborated on my reasons in this post from several years back:
When my older kids were little, I read lots and lots about the benefits of providing children with really high quality art supplies. In some cases, I still agree: Prismacolor colored pencils are worlds better than your drugstore variety. The lead is so creamy and blendable. They’re expensive but they last a long time—we’re on our second set of 72 colors in over ten years.
But watercolors? Real watercolor paper makes a huge difference, but it’s expensive; that’s one reason I was so taken with Jenn’s idea to cut it into smaller, postcard-sized pieces. But when it comes to the paints themselves, well, I’ve been the high-quality route, absorbed the persuasive literature that talks about rich pigments and translucent hues; bought the pricey tubes of red, yellow, blue; collected jars for mixing colors; watched my children squeeze out too much paint and gleefully swirl it into an expensive puddle of mud-colored glop.
Lesson learned. The 99 cent Roseart or Crayola sets work just fine. In fact, dare I say I think my preschoolers like them better? Mixing colors is fun, but there is nothing quite so appealing as that bright rainbow of pretty paint ovals all in a row. When Wonderboy and Rilla make a mess of their paints, Jane cleans them up with a rag and they’re practically good as new.
For older kids—and for yourself!—my advice is to skip the student-grade watercolors and go right to artist quality. More expensive but the difference is immense. You can use the money you saved buying cheap paints for the preschoolers. 😉
We’re still addicted to Prismacolor pencils—no other brand will do for me. And I like Micron pens for line drawing. The ink is waterfast so you can paint over it (like my pumpkins in yesterday’s post). I also picked up a few gel pens—white, silver, and gold—and Rilla has had unbelievable amounts of fun with them. I love the white one for writing on a dark surface, like on the tag of my pencil pouch here.
Don’t feel like you have to have millions of fancy supplies right off the bat. Look at what Andrea Joseph can do with a simple Bic pen. (Seriously, this blew my mind.)
The sketchbook I just filled up was a Canson Mixed Media, 7×10 spiral bound. The size worked really well for me and the paper takes watercolor okay (not perfectly but well enough for where I am right now). I also have a small Moleskine journal with watercolor paper, but it feels so special I find myself hesitant to use it and reaching for the mixed media book instead. (I’ve just started a new one, same as the one I filled up.) That’s my real playground, the place I’m not afraid to (in the words of my personal hero, Ms. Frizzle) “Take chances and make mistakes!” But I’m getting braver every day and the lovely paper in that Moleskine is calling to me.
I’ve also found I love doing my first rough sketches with a brown watercolor pencil, very lightly. I go over it with ink afterward and then, when I paint, the pencil just blends in and becomes shadow. I don’t sketch this way every time, but for some reason it seems to free me up. I’m more daring with this pencil. It takes me to a confident place between graphite pencil—with its sometimes overly tempting eraser—and straight-to-ink, which is sometimes exhilarating and sometimes terrifying. The brown Aquarelle feels like my co-conspirator. I don’t know how else to describe it. I have even starting making some first tentative stabs at portrait drawing, thanks to this pencil. (I tried a selfie-a-day project for a week. None of them looked much like me, but this attempt on day seven could maybe be a cousin?)
Guys, I still feel so shy about posting my drawings! I mean, I have so many friends who make their livings as illustrators—heck, one of them even just won the Caldecott! (GO DAN! SO THRILLED!) Do you know how nerve-wracking it is to know pros are looking at your rookie work? Of course you do. Because what I’ve learned is everyone feels that way. Even my most brilliant artist friends look at some other person’s work and sigh wistfully, wishing they’d made that piece. I’ve seen it happen time and again. So bit by bit I’m getting brave enough to share my baby steps.
9) Okay, so you have your lovely sketchbook and drawing implements, now what to draw?? Well, I guarantee Koosje Koene’s videos mentioned above will keep you and the kids busy for a good long while. There’s also this wonderful Everyday Matters Challenge list at Danny Gregory’s blog. 328 suggestions, so you’re just about good through 2016. And Kortney tipped me off to this most excellent Lynda Barry post (in Rilla’s words, I simply adore her) about keeping a visual diary.
10) And a last tidbit I almost forgot: A most beloved activity here (especially for Rilla and me) is to listen to audiobooks while sketching. Many of my happiest hours have been spent this way. We’re especially fond of Roald Dahl while drawing. Nobody brings on the whimsy like Dahl.
Remember those pumpkins I said might be ripe in time for Christmas? More like Valentine’s Day. We gave most of them away to a neighbor (who thanked us with pumpkin bread, so we came out ahead) but kept a couple to perpetuate the cycle. We’ll ignore these and let Nature do her thing, and maybe we’ll have some seeds sprouting earlier in the season this time around. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the jarring contrast of spring flowers and fall harvest.
Spotted two tiny caterpillars on the milkweed! Sadly, however, we also found a withered monarch chrysalis hanging on the fence with a pinprick hole in it. It looks like we’re raising caterpillars for something’s lunch. Not cool, Nature. Monarchs have enough to contend with these days.
1. Leaving the house early yesterday morning, I spotted a pair of goldfinches feasting on the seeds of my basil—yes, another herb I forgot to pinch back, and now I’m glad
2. Pink milk and candy hearts
3. Saturday night ritual: art time with Rilla while the older girls watch TV with Scott (after the early-to-bed boys have conked out). This week, we binged on Cathy Johnson videos. Oh, I just love her, murmurs my girl.
4. Weeded the front-yard flower beds. Began, at any rate, and made good headway. After I mowed the other day, I discovered just how much is in bloom. Nasturtiums, coreopsis, sweet alyssum, snapdragons, viola, milkweed…Ellie said it’s okay to talk about my flowers, hope you don’t mind. 😉
5. Set up a new palette and spent a good while testing colors with Rilla.
6. This one’s a Big Happy: today I finished the last empty page in my very first complete sketchbook. I started it on August 30. Have drawn or painted almost every day since (even if only for a few minutes). Feeling pretty chuffed.