Artists throughout the ages have used sketchbooks to gather ideas, to practice, or work out the details of a new works. There are as many ways to use a sketchbook as there are artists. One of the ways I use a particular sketchbook is a near and dear constant in my studio life and I want to tell share it with you today.
I call it my studio book or studio journal. They are always 5 ¼ X 8 ½ (13.3 cm x 21.6 cm), bound, with a hard cover that is always black. They are usually manufactured by Utrecht. Whatever I am exploring at the time goes into this book. Therefore, they tend to develop themes, although this was completely organic and not planned at all. When completed I use a white acrylic pen to label the spine with the main subject(s)of the book. You can see a set on the shelves by my ‘desk’. They’ve become my own personal reference library and snapshot of my artistic journey at a given time.
The below examples are all from my current book, unless otherwise stated.
Inside the cover I’ll jot down quotes that inspire me.
When I experiment with color, I record swatches of the interesting colors and combinations in the book. I can then hold a page over a work in progress to see if a certain color would work in that piece. When I know I want to use a certain color I’ve recently discovered I can refer to the book to get the palette used.
Speaking of color, in February I took a free taster workshop by Gabriel Lipper and there was an exercise download to help work with the value of color (as in light and dark). There was a grayscale photo of one of his paintings and 5 outline renderings of the same photo. Seeing the value in color is something I often struggle with so as a warm up to studio sessions I would fill in one of the little line drawings using a different color. The idea was to show how we really see value not color and using ‘unnatural’ colors can still create a recognizable representational image.
Another color exercise I created for myself, when working with landscape, I did line drawings of a landscape and then finger painted to fill it in. I was trying to focus on the colors and how they worked together to create certain effects and a pleasing whole without the distraction of details.
I took 2 workshops in February and both had a heavy focus on value in color. I combined the notes here.
I recently discovered the brilliant artist Gareth Edwards. I just love his work. So, I did some thumbnail value studies of some of his paintings to try to learn from a master.
I’m sharing this with you, now, because my studio book played an important part in my artist journey this week. I had a medical issue that forced me into stillness several days this week. This, naturally, led to much soul searching, dream work, and contemplation. This was good for my soul, my life, and my art; they are all connected after all. When reflecting on my current project I had to admit I wasn’t happy with how it’s been going so far. I’d been so focused on learning the techniques of another I’d left myself right out of things. I’d learned the techniques, and followed the rules, but still wasn’t happy with outcome because the work didn’t reflect me. What I love about his method, what inspired me to learn more about it, is the spontaneous, lighthearted, feel. I liked that it was different from anything I’d seen before; both representational and somewhat abstract. My trying so hard to stick to the rules left me creating heavy handed work that didn’t look like Blackburn or myself. So, I need a new approach focusing on the words light, spontaneous, and unique. They are now on the walls of my studio as a reminder.
I’m thinking that instead of covering the canvas with color I want to try concentrating the fluid, saturated color and sharpest contrast to the area of the focal point.
Some of my favorite painters do calligraphic work (like Fabienne Verdier) so that is something I’m drawn to. I should try some line work in these paintings.
I am also drawn to the power and simplicity of Chinese art. Perhaps use some of those composition principles. As things began to take shape in my head, I began to put them down in my book.
Then in preparing to write this week’s blog I was looking through some of my other books. Apparently 2 years ago this same attraction was manifesting and I didn’t really pursue it. Here are 2 pages from my 2019 book where I was preparing to do some Poppy paintings. Again I wanted loose and light and spontaneous. I had even played, once, with some line work a la Isabelle Zacher Finet.
The fact that this keeps surfacing tells me there is something here I need to explore further. I’m also liking the spatter work from this painting I started last year and fixed/finished after my February workshops.
I’m now energized and eager to begin playing with these ideas on paper and canvas, not just in my head and studio book. Join me here again next week to see how it is going. Have a wonderful week.