Why I Don’t Do Sketchbook Tours

A couple people have asked why I don’t do sketchbook tours like so many people do.  My first thought is that I’m not set up to shoot video, but I could be if I wanted to do so. No, the real reason is that my sketchbooks are not done to be presented.  Lots of people approach each page as part of the whole, a place where a significant sketch must be completed to fit with the rest.  Others do everything with carefully organized graphic and text presentations.

I’ve tried doing both and, frankly, both approaches seem far too limiting to me.  I want to be able to scribble down whatever I want and however I want.  My sketchbooks are more about trying stuff, having fun, and generally putting in the work to improve my ability to draw.  I don’t feel I can do any of that while trying to produce something for presentation.  If some presentable sketches come from this, so be it but that’s not my goal.

And since I’ve been talking about the Hahnemuhle Cappuccino notebook recently I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and talk about it some more while I show you a couple pages I did this weekend.  They reflect how this paper responds to different media and how miserably disorganized my sketchbook pages are (grin). I’ll discuss these pages in the order in which it occurred.

We were at the Maritime Museum of Charlevoix this past weekend and we were sketching.  At one point I decided that I needed to sit down (my knee still limits my energy/mobility) and so I did.  Chantal took the opportunity to investigate views to a church she wanted to draw.

In front of me were some rocks so I got out the Cap. notebook and drew a small cluster of them.  I used thin watercolor washes to give them some life.  Then I started drawing a woman who was standing far away. This was a signal to her that she should walk behind a ship.  She did and I was left with a scribble.

I sat for a while, enjoying the sunshine and the fact that one of the virtues of the pandemic is that these museums are nearly devoid of people.  But eventually I started doing a quick, scribble of an old tugboat.  The point of view was weird but I was comfortable and didn’t feel like moving.  Besides, I was just going to draw the cabin roof and a few windows.

I didn’t worry about proportions and ended up with a tugboat with a shortened bow.  I also had a tugboat that had bumped into my little rock drawing, so I drew a square around the rocks.  It wasn’t a great sketch, but like all sketches it was fun to do.

Then Chantal came back.  We got into a discussion of faking perspective because she’d been trying to sketch a church.  The little scribble in the top left was my pen brain trying to assist my mouth brain in describing things.  After that lively discussion I put the sketchbook away and we continued our visit.

When we got home I decided to see how the Cappuccino would handle gouache.  So I painted the tugboat.  I didn’t worry much about staying inside the lines or doing careful shading.  I was only looking at how the gouache and paper interacted.  It does quite well, by the way.  For me, one of the advantages of gouache is that you use much less water and the paint sits on the surface so paper quality/type isn’t nearly as important.

Someone on YouTube mentioned using a Tuscan Red Col-Erase pencil and presented a few portraits done with it.  Looked good to me so I hunted down my box of Col-Erase and drew the guy you see here.  The drawing isn’t finished but I’m finished with it.  As a proof of concept this was a winner and I’ll investigate further my Tuscan Red pencil.

So, you see, none of these partial sketches are tour-worthy.  None of them are even finished drawings. They reflect me learning, trying, doing.  I place most of the emphasis on that last word.  Do you have sketchbooks like this?

11 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Do Sketchbook Tours

  1. I enjoyed reading this. I like posting my art on instagram but also realize that too often I am paralyzed by the thought that my art needs to be instagram worthy. I have done a little more art that I am not posting lately and it is so freeing to just play with no worry about how it comes out – I think I need to do more of that. Oh, and my sketchbooks are a mixed up mess, no theme (at least not after the first few pages) and I seem to manage to do at least one page upside down before I get all the way through!

    I enjoy your blog.


    • A long time ago, when I was first trying to learn how to draw, I made a post about how paper was cheap and that we should all use the best we could find. Laure Felita, a first class artist suggested that yes, good paper was great but in addition to that we needed a cheap notebook to give us opportunity to experiment and develop. I resisted that at the time but she was right. She still is (grin) As for the idea of theme sketchbooks, I only understand this for a travel book where you want to document a trip somewhere. Lots of people enjoy them for other reasons, however.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one! I have too many unfinished pages and I occasionally let my daughters and niece draw and paint in my sketchbooks! Ha!

    Enjoying your blog!

  3. You know me, Larry… all my sketchbooks are about learning, trying, doing — just like yours! 😉 I can’t imagine the pressure of producing a sketchbook with each page perfect as it gets turned on the video flip-through. If you mess up one page, you’d have to rip it out to avoid spoiling the perfection! 😉 Sometimes I wonder if those so-called “sketchbooks” are simply the finished product, and the artists have actually done all their practice work in the “real” sketchbooks — the ones we never get to see. At museum exhibits, I love the ones that include a few sketches along with finished paintings. It’s so fascinating to see the artist thinking in those rough drawings (some of which are just as beautiful as whatever is considered the real work).

    • I suppose there is that too. I’ve always seen my reluctance to do “perfect sketchbooks” as limiting my ability to scribble, doodle, and just plain goof off in my sketchbooks. I can’t imagine trying for perfect 🙂 I think you’ve got a point about some sketchbooks being finished products. We’ve clearly seen a redefinition of what a sketch is. Webstle still calls them “unfinished works” and prior to the modern era, they were described mostly as a form of note-taking. But with people framing sketches, publishing books full of them, and selling them, the term has certainly evolved.

      I’ll be honest, I’m getting “all full up” of the rat race of posting my work on the internet and having the “need” for things to post guide my daily art activities. Like it or not, this is affecting us all, and what we do or don’t do is affected by it.

  4. I’ve kept sketchbooks since 1989 and they’ve always been as you’ve described…personal and unplanned. But now with my social media presence and interest in teaching some of what I’ve learned over forty years in one art-related field or another, I’ve seen all these beautiful, well-planned and executed sketchbooks and wondered if that’s what I need to be doing. And have found that, actually, I’m highly resistent to it. And I think you’ve quantified for me why. I find the variety of your page more interesting than a consciously designed one because you’ve shared your process of exploration and experimentation without worrying about the result.

    • You raise a very good point. What we do, or at least think we should do, is being affected by what we see others doing on the internet. Artists affecting other artists isn’t new but the degree to which we’re overloaded with in your face postings causes us to not only adjust what we draw but how much of it we feel we should be doing. Yes, we fight against these inclinations but are we really successful? I know I keep telling myself that I should do some larger works but things like “how would I scan them for my blog?”, “they’ll take longer and my sketchbooks won’t fill”, and other silly phrases dance through my brain. We talk a lot about the advantages of the internet but rarely discuss or even think about the downsides.

  5. I love the idea of your pen brain helping your mouth brain. Some of my sketchbooks are for learning and experimenting, while others are for writing and illustrating stories about what’s going on in my life. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to watch an entire walkthrough of one of my books unless it’s a travel sketchbook. This is such an interesting topic.

    • It’s clear from the responses that lots of people have “learning and experimenting” sketchbooks. I guess we just don’t hear about them because of internet-think filtering that causes all of us to only post finished sketches and most don’t come from those experiments. We don’t talk about this stuff enough.

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