What’s a Sketchbook?

What’s a Sketchbook?
What's a sketchbook and how can I use it? What if I can't draw? That last part doesn't matter...

A sketchbook, for me, was always something “other.” All the examples I had ever seen seemed perfect – little books of art worthy of publication. I couldn’t live up to the expectations!

A note: the above is objectively not true. My mother’s sketchbooks were full of fits and starts and stops, but I adored her so much I didn’t notice them, and, of course, she’d been a graphic artist and her skill level was so far above mine that even her mistakes seemed museum-worthy to me.

And I had friends who were naturally gifted – realistic art seemed to flow from their pencils like water from a faucet. (I thought my work looked more like water from Flint.)

Happy Day Flower in SketchbookAll of this, obviously, relates back to the post on perfectionism. I stopped doing anything but silly doodle monsters on my school notes for years.

Then Came Cheri

Cheri was my roommate in college. and her art blew me away. She was the one who showed me that sketchbooks really ARE places to make mistakes, cross things out and write “Ewww” over them, and so forth – by showing me hers. I do wish that artists who write books about sketching would include their truly crappy pages. I think it would make the rest of us more likely to continue plugging along with the pencil!

How I Use My Sketchbook Now

Armenian knotted lace glued into sketchbook (or studio journal)Now my sketchbooks serve multiple purposes. I took an embroidery design course about 10 years ago¬† from Sharon B of Pintangle called “the Studio Journal.” After that I started integrating my embroidery samples and design work into the pages. Now I keep a separate space for more 3D work like stitch samples, because I find they make a book difficult to actually draw in.

The photos on this post are some of my sketchbook work – things I’m proud of and things that still make me go “eeew. Yuck.” And things that I can’t remember at ALL what I was thinking!Potted plant in sketchbook... WHY does it have potential? Where would I take it? Both of these are on the same page… the plant – what the heck? the weird thing up in the corner? Eeeeew. And there are some truly ick and unfinished pieces on the page below the little ship in the main image!

Try It

My advice after 20 years of bad and 1/2 filled sketchbooks is – if you want to draw, do it. Sketchbooks are nice because if you keep them you can see yourself get better. You’ll see your thought process change from “I hate this” to more and more “Maybe I am getting better!” And you’ll start being able to identify things you want to work on (in another sketchbook, of course!).

If all that triggers your perfectionism, well, draw designs on scratch paper, knowing that you can throw them away. But please do play!

Sketching for Embroidery

Little Ship Pencil Sketchbook ThumbnailA note if you’re an embroiderer. Your sketches don’t have to be fantastically drawn to make good embroidery designs – in fact, less detailed is sometimes better. I started designing years before I felt I could draw. In fact, I’m only recently beginning to be comfortable with my drawing skills. Go for it. Try an abstract of just combined geometric shapes if it’s easier and makes you more likely to try. The REALLY ROUGH little ship to the left became a small exclusive cross stitch design presented to guests at an Under the Sea Fabrics cruise.

Just Keep Playing with It

Most of us don’t have to be the next Rembrandt. Which is good, because at 50 I’m never going have the amount of practice that the Old Masters had by my age. But don’t let yourself talk yourself out of just playing. Picasso famously said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.

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