Do Sketchbooks Organize Your Art?

I’ve spent two years being “isolated” by an inability to run around because of a bad knee and rheumatoid arthritis.  You’d think I’d be used to it by now.  But the truth is, this new form of “isolation” is getting to me, probably because I can’t make pilgrimages to the local art and book stores (they’ve all been closed since Mid-March here in Quebec.

On the one hand, this isolation is nice as I have my family home so we’ve been baking/cooking more.  I made scones last night.  On the other hand, we’re watching and fretting over too much news, watching too many Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc. movies and generally all discipline in out lives has gone to pot.  I hope you’re doing better on that score.

I may be learning something about my art production, or lack thereof.  On and off I’ve tossed around the idea of giving up sketchbooks in favor of working on single sheets of paper.  The later has always made more sense to me and for sure more convenient if you like to use different papers, different sizes of paper, and maybe different surfaces.  Sketchbooks have always remained big a part of my sketching, though, because I do (did) most of it on location.

With the isolation, however, I’ve been doing almost all my drawing on hunks of 6×9 paper, whether that be sketching paper, toned paper, or watercolor paper.  The darn things are everywhere and most of them end up in the trash.

I’m beginning to think that much of the reason for this is that I don’t value a single piece of paper like I do a sketchbook.  A sketchbook is a collection of sorts, a compendium of what I did over a time period.  These single sheets don’t do that.  Heck, I’m not even dating them.  I just draw something, set aside that piece of paper, and grab another sheet.

Another thing spins off of that for me.  If I’m not filling sketchbooks I don’t feel as much need to sketch and maybe more to the point, I have no direction.  Some of this may simply be the stressful situation these days.  I don’t know.  Anyways, I’m curious, do sketchbooks organize and/or provide discipline for your art?

I’ve been sketching a bunch of Schleich animal figures I have collected.  These are beautiful models.  While small, they don’t move.  Some of the sketches were done in pencil, some in pen.  Some have been done quickly, while others were done more carefully.  It’s been fun but more a matter of doodling than sketching.  Here’s a pig that I did with pen and gouache.  This one was done in a sketchbook I made from Strathmore Toned Tan (184lb) paper.

I wanted to post some of the others but realized that the garbage got taken out, along with all the rest of them.  Maybe I need to go back to using sketchbooks (grin).

7 thoughts on “Do Sketchbooks Organize Your Art?

  1. This is a subject that I can definitely relate to. Since I began sketching years ago I have struggled with this. I enjoy both sketchbooks and loose sheets, as well as digital sketching. I like trying different sizes and types of paper, and I love experimenting with different kinds of art supplies. I have found that sketching in a sketchbook while traveling, or out and about, is way more convenient for me, but single sheets are definitely lighter (even compared to a soft bound sketchbook) and offer greater flexibility for experimentation. There are times when I definitely want to record a moment using observational sketching or illustrated journaling, and then there are times when I want to be detached and free to just experiment and see what happens on the page.

    I have spent a lot of time on, and tried, many different ways of organizing my sketches. I’ve tried sticking to one type and size of sketchbook, but I find that I am easily enticed by other sketchbooks and papers that seem easier to carry, more interesting to sketch on, or more appropriate for certain mediums. So, I have lots of sketches from the same years/months scattered among multiple sketchbooks and papers.

    I have tried sticking to single sheets and organizing them into photo containers, or into binders with sheet protectors and in sheet protectors that have photo pockets, postcard pockets, and trading card pockets. I have researched ways of binding single sheets after I’ve sketched on them. I have tried making/binding my own little sketchbooks, but lost interest because I just want to get on with the sketching.

    I have also had local office supply store bind various papers into a sketchbook, but I flip-flop between preferring a stitched binding and a wire binding. In either case, I was sketching in a bound book again. What can I say? I am not the most organized person, and I guess I’m fickle. Or, maybe I’m letting my inner critic get the best of me…?

    The closest solution I’ve found is to bind various papers, a lightweight backing, and a cover of some sort with book rings as this allows me to remove sheets, but I still like to have a few different sizes.

    Then, there’s digital sketching. It’s very similar to sketching on single sheets. It offers a lot of flexibility, and I can easily organize them into digital files in chronological order. However, digital will never completely replace traditional mediums for me. There’s something about the flow of watercolor, and the feel of oil pastel that simply cannot be replicated.

    So, do sketchbooks organize and/or provide discipline for my art? I kind of feel like those are two separate things, and yet maybe they are not. Sketchbooks don’t seem to help me be organized, but maybe that because I’m not very disciplined. On the other hand, I just want to sketch and not have to worry about organizing them. I have given up believing that I am the kind of person who will meticulously keep and fill one sketchbook at a time (even if they are different types of sketchbooks), in chronological order. It’s a beautiful dream, but apparently it’s not me, and that’s ok. It’s something that used to really bother me, but for the sake of my sanity and my enjoyment of sketching, I am resigned to making sure I date a sketch and then just let the rest go. I’ll probably never be able to do one of those fun sketchbook tour videos, at most it will be a few pages at a time!

    Can I find a sketch when I want to? Not without a certain amount of effort. Social media (mainly Instagram and FLICKR) helps because I am taking a photo with my phone or tablet and uploading it. So, the photo is saved in my device/cloud storage, and online, and it will have a searchable date. I have tried making a digital photo album for my sketches organized by year, but I keep forgetting to move them into it. Now that I’ve had to temporarily close my massage therapy business during this pandemic craziness maybe I will take the time to do that.

    I think I understand what you mean when you say you have no direction which might be due to the situation these days. I’ve kind of been feeling that, way too. My energy is drained even though I’m doing far less in general, and my motivation and enthusiasm are sporadic. Convincing myself to pick up a brush or pen and put it to paper seems like a long, steep, uphill walk. I don’t know why, because while I’m sketching I definitely feel so much better. What seems to be helping me a little, though, is encouraging others to try sketching. So, maybe try something different… a different medium, a subject that you normally wouldn’t tackle, a style you don’t know anything about, or really big size… The main thing is, I think… we just keep sketching.

    Thank you for your blog, and sharing your art. I really enjoy enjoy it! Take care, be well, and stay safe.

    • Hi Wendi. Thanks for taking the time to write such a complete response to my question. It sounds like you’ve dealt with the same sketchbook vs single sheets thing and have “resolved” it in a very similar fashion 🙂 I spent a lifetime where I had to be VERY organized in my work. In my retirement I’ve gone a different direction. I do have a list of my sketchbooks with begin/end dates so I have some chance of finding a sketch if I need it, but I rarely look back when it comes to sketching so it hardly matters.

      “I think I understand what you mean when you say you have no direction which might be due to the situation these days. I’ve kind of been feeling that, way too. My energy is drained even though I’m doing far less in general, and my motivation and enthusiasm are sporadic. Convincing myself to pick up a brush or pen and put it to paper seems like a long, steep, uphill walk. I don’t know why, because while I’m sketching I definitely feel so much better.”

      This is what really motivated my blog post, as well as the fact that I’m throwing away pretty much everything I’m doing of late. Like you, I do keep some single sheet art in portfolios but not most of what I do on single sheets. I’ve never faced a motivation problem when it comes to sketching so I’ve been surprised by this one. I suppose I need to accept that these are trying times and that they will pass… some day. Thanks again for your comments.

  2. You’ve followed me long enough to know that I’m a sketchbook girl, through and through — either handmade or store-bought. The only times I’ve ever used loose sheets were in classes where the teachers recommended a certain size that I didn’t have in a sketchbook. And all of those drawings I’ve done on loose sheets are in a mess of piles and jammed against walls. If I would just toss them as you do, I’d be better off, but I want to keep them as documentation of what I did in those classes. Anyway, I really do need and prefer the bound orderliness of books, if only because they eventually store easily. And I guess they do motivate me to fill them, because there’s an immense sense of accomplishment in putting a completed one onto a shelf.

    Thanks for asking this interesting question. It’s similar to how often I’ve wondered how much I am motivated by my materials rather than any subject matter or “need” to draw? I just wanted to use “a pointy device,” so I might as well draw with it. 😉 I bet you are motivated in the same way by your “pointy devices.” 😉

    • I grinned when I read your comment about whether motivation comes from materials or the need to draw. I’ve wondered the same thing at times. I’ve concluded that it comes from both for me. I love moving a fountain pen across paper, so I do it a lot. But I can just doodle, hatch and scribble and satisfy that need. But if I do that too much, I start missing the other stuff of sketching. The choosing of a subject, deciding what to add and what to leave out, and the satisfaction of finishing a scene. So, my pointy devices are important but so are my fuzzy sticks and I will continue to use both. Stay safe.

  3. P.S. That last paragraph I wrote just gave me an idea for a blog post, so thanks for that, too! 😉

  4. Hi Larry,
    I began my art adventure with a sketchbook and although the idea of sketching on sheets of paper popped up over the years but I never entertained it. As I read your post, I’m thinking that if I did sketch on loose sheets of paper, my story/experience would mirror yours.

    • First, let me apologize for my tardy response. I somehow missed your comment. I thank you for it in any case. You sound like you’ve gone down a similar path to my own. My single sheet use comes mostly from my new-found interest in drawing in a studio. COVID-19 might have something to do with that 🙂 Still, there’s something special about sketchbooks, in spite of their drawbacks.

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