I’ve carried a sketchbook with me since I was 16. Barring a few rare instances when one was not available or I decided to take my chance on some other brand, it’s always been a Strathmore sketchbook. For my use, the Strathmore seemed to have the nicest texture amongst day-to-day sketchbooks. The spiral binding is durable. The paper strong enough for average (and often times above average) wear and tear. I tried a few hard-backed journal style books here and there. They were decent but they aren’t as handy; the spiral binding and ability to lay flat are important. At some point or another, I decided the 5.5″ x 8.5″ size was best. It packs down well: fitting just about anywhere and seems unobtrusive even sitting on a table with someone else.
Larger sketchbooks declare themselves to the world, as well as the mind. The smaller book is a tad more innocuous and, when the mind approaches the empty page it doesn’t seem so daunting. After all, this is for sketches – illustrations of a feeling, intimations of a curve of a branch or a hip or the vast plane of awareness that is Mind. If you give it too much space, it’ll freeze up. Give it too little space and it feels cramped. Just enough, so that the window can rest upon the knee without feeling like there are distant corners that need to be filled, and it will submit and surrender itself. Yes, I trick my own mind into unlocking it’s secrets. But I would never tell it this. Only later, in paintings, do I begin to understand what those early sketches might have been insinuating.
This never-ending sketchbook has been carried with me on all journeys: from epic skylines to the most random of situations, and, in the most mundane of places, it has opened up spaces in me that I didn’t know were there. It emerges while sitting in a cafe or at a bus stop, riding on a train or a plane, at my desk, waiting in an office, pausing during a hike on a mountainside. The images are rarely planned. They ride along a stream of consciousness echoing my emotional and psycho-spiritual state mixed with my general will and momentum. By allowing the drawing its own narrative, the inner visual language expresses itself unhindered. The observant viewer/sketcher will note the similarities amongst the imagery and different visual symbols and cues that show up over periods of time, again and again.
It just happens. I sit. I observe. I let my eyes relax. I let my mind… I let my mind just be. I set it adrift. I don’t try to force it into anything. I don’t attempt to still it but I don’t attempt to agitate it by thinking such things as “this had better be good” or “this is going to be a drawing for a painting” or “people are going to judge this”. I allow it to be whatever it is: a tidal wave, a simmering fire, a cool breeze, a breath. I notice how I’m sitting. How I’m holding the pen. I do all of these things and, at the same time, none of them: just sit and draw unself-consciously. I allow elements of nearby architecture or the shapes of leaves or roots of trees or a glimpse of a pattern to be points of departure. Our minds are shaped by the world around them as much as by their own preconditions. Why not allow the drawing the same freedom? The surface of the page gives way to a penetrable depth. I allow my instincts and intuitions, however subtle and unknown, to draw me onwards. Everything, however, seeks light for growth. It is nice to allow the drawing the same.
The sketchbook is a meditation tracing mental symbols, stories, and tangents, drawing out underlying connections, seeking, however organically, to find logical conclusions. It has it’s non sequiturs and moments of random association and completely free connectivity. It has moments of clarity, moments of abstraction, moments of pure thought and pure selflessness, and moments of complete, unadulterated, distraction. Then the lines take shape into something that I understand. I could expand on that, I think, I could make a painting out of that.
When I stand in front of my canvas, I flip back through sketchbooks, finding a drawing that speaks to me from a certain place, embodying a direction or vision that I wish to pursue. Only then do the symbols they contain begin to make sense.
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