What I learned from The Sketchbook Project

Meant to post this a few days ago but didn’t get to it, so better late than never. 🙂

The Sketchbook Project is done, and they’re now getting the sketchbooks checked in and ready to go on tour. Originally we had to postmark them by the 15th, but thankfully they extended the deadline to the 18th because of the various weather issues going on around the country that were slowing things down, which gave me enough time to finish a couple more pages than I’d expected.

I don’t have any pictures/scans of the interior pages, but as soon as they get the ordering system up, I’ll be paying for them to scan the book and (as I understand it) have it available via their website for anyone to view.

Now the introspective part (taken from my paper journal):

1. Moleskine Cahier paper is pretty worthless for art unless you’re doing basic pen and ink or pencil — and even then, just soft pencil lines show through horribly. I wound up doing most of my art on other paper and then pasting it in. (I wish they’d use the full-on Moleskine sketchbooks, but those cost more and are much thicker and heavier, which would also make them more expensive to cart around for the tour — let alone how many more pages the artists would have to fill.)

2. Procrastination remains one of my major weaknesses. I waited so long to start working on it that at one point, I had resigned myself to two choices: not even trying to complete the sketchbook by the deadline, and just doing it over time as a personal project, or having to send it in (at best) half full. Neither were pleasant prospects, and fortunately as I dove in, I realized I had more material in mind that fit the theme than I had previously thought. As it is, I wound up including a great deal more text than I originally intended. Which brings me to…

3. It’s difficult to combine art and writing in ways that enhance both, instead of one simply being a lesser complement to the other. Having both be equal halves of the whole is very tough to pull off, at least from where I am with my skills at this point.

4. For me, creating a piece of visual art means going through an emotional process that bears an odd resemblance to the stages of grief. I wind up mourning the fact that what’s developing on paper has very little resemblance to what I envisioned — often because what I’ve envisioned is fairly vague and not grounded in the physicality of whatever medium I’m working in. So I journey through anger and depression, resigning myself to the process, to seeing what these lines will turn into even though they’re not at all what I wanted. And eventually, if things go well, I’m able to slowly fall in love with the actual physical piece that exists in front of me, having let go of the piece I longed for but couldn’t attain. This process might be gentler and more muted if I had greater skills and talent for the tools I’ve chosen, but based on what I’ve read and heard from other artists (visual and otherwise), I have a feeling the journey would still go through similar stages.

What has been particularly interesting to note, though, is that I’m not really aware of this same mental cycle happening with my written work. I don’t know if this is because I’m more practiced and confident with writing, and so I’m able to get what’s in my head onto paper in a form that’s closer to the original impulse, or whether I unconsciously expect that a story is going to wind up taking various turns on the path from nebulous concept to actual text, and so it doesn’t come as an emotional shock the way it does with an image. I suppose it could also be that visual imagery and text are processed differently, and that developing a story from concept to draft is just fundamentally different from trying to reproduce a mental image in two dimensions.

5. A creative project that allows me to be as odd as possible is quite fulfilling.

6. I hate having to explain what a piece of art is supposed to represent (literally or figuratively), or even having to explain what inspired it. (Come to think of it, I equally despise having to define what my writing is “about” in terms of theme, though I don’t mind talking about the thought process that led to a story’s spark and development.) Some of this may be insecurity — the feeling that if I don’t have some Deep, Well-Constructed Theme behind my work, then it’s just something dashed off and stupid and amateurish.

7. I love the physical sensation of oil pastels blending into each other on paper. Creamy oil pastels seem to encourage me to work more loosely and more boldly than any other media I’ve experimented with.

8. I should make an effort to learn more about watercolor techniques.

9. My creative rhythm with art (impending deadline or no) is the same as my rhythm with writing: steady for a few days, off a day or two, and back on again. As much as it would help my productivity to be able to keep up a diligent pace, it just doesn’t seem to work for me to try to plod steadily along.

And finally,

10. My husband is awesome, not to mention far more patient with me than I probably deserve.

Assuming they do this again next year, I don’t know if I’d participate or not. On the one hand, I’d like to have another chance to really do a sketchbook focused solely on visual art — and start earlier next time, so I’d have the time to invest in it. On the other hand, once I’ve done something like this, I’m usually ready to go off and try something else. I suppose I’ll wait and see — first, if the project continues, and second, see what the themes are next time around.

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