As long as I can remember I’ve always had at least one sketchbook. As long as I can remember having sketchbooks, I’ve always been weirdly averse to using them. I think I’ve only ever filled one, and it must have taken years and years. I’ve only recently spent any time thinking about this. I’m not sure what the aversion is exactly.
The only sketchbook that I really use regularly is all text. I write down ideas for paintings as they come so I don’t forget them, or even just ideas for details that don’t have a home yet, or a background, or a color or an image source to think about. But I use it quite often. It’s the place that the queue of upcoming paintings sorts itself out, where things get combined and cropped and edited before I even work them out as images on a surface, where they’re still just hazy pictures in my head.
Don’t get me wrong though, I make a pretty large number of rough drawings and studies before almost every painting that I produce, but these are almost always on old packing paper (which I horde) taped to the walls. I recently noticed that I have stacks and stacks and rolls and rolls of these old studies, I often give them away with paintings or use them to wrap other finished work. But they’re never in a bound sketchbook. It’s like the book makes me uneasy, like it demands some level of finish or polish to what’s going in it, which is weird. What am worried about in there? Is it that someone one day will open it and decide that I’m terrible? Am I afraid of showing process for some reason? But if that’s the case, then why do I hand out studies left and right? Maybe I’m lazy and I don’t make enough work. It’s probably somehow related to an “I’m not good enough” mental block. Maybe it’s because if I’m in my studio I’m usually standing so paper taped to the wall makes more sense, and if I’m not in my studio I’m more likely to be lazy or distracted or eager to do any other thing but produce art. Hard to say really, but this all sounds plausible and at least partially right.
Recently while wondering why I don’t ever use my sketchbooks, I came to this realization and decided it was wrongheaded and needed changing. So now I’m trying to give myself permission to just mess around in there. It doesn’t have to be on the subject of what I’m really working on in my studio, doesn’t have to be studies for paintings or illustrations, doesn’t have to be related to anything. What it does have to be is a regular practice, while I’m sitting doing nothing, when I’m away from my studio or watching tv with my dog, or traveling. Essentially I want to just doodle and fuck about in there while giving myself permission to not worry about anything. Feel like drawing a skull for no reason other than they’re fun to draw? Go for it. Weird eye and beak combos that have nothing to do with anything? Cool. Birds that are for a painting four paintings down the queue? Get after it. Lines and text and abstract loose shapey weirdness? Do it. Just fucking relax for God’s sake, would you? Sit down and draw, you’re making me nervous.