Art Unboxed,  Thoughts

Art Unboxed – Going Through Your Sketchbook

In today’s art unboxed, could we talk about going through your sketchbook?

It incorporates two skills that are very important to an artist. Ask a hundred artists, and these two things will keep coming up.

One isn’t surprising, that is to practice your drawing. Even if not a great draftsman, any improvement in drawing will help your painting. This is true from tracing onto your canvas using a projector, to sketching a portrait in pencil.

The other thing artists will tell you, and there’s an argument as to which is more important, is to learn to see. If you’re an artist you understand this immediately, if you’re just starting out it sounds odd. If you’re not an artist it might sound just plain weird, until you realize what they mean.

One point is to find something interesting where ever you look. A trash can is just a trash can, unless you try to paint it. An artist will highlight the light on the metal, or the shine of the plastic etc.

Another point is seeing with composition in mind. The two are slightly different. One is about finding something interesting to look at, the other is about finding interest in whatever you are looking at. If all that’s in front of you is a barn don’t just draw a barn, make it a unique sketch or painting of a barn.

Both skills benefit from something you do after you begin drawing or painting, and that’s going through your own sketchbook. Reviewing what you’ve drawn, painted, etc in the past can provide mass quantities of information. It will give you an idea, not only of where you’ve been, and how far you’ve come, but new ideas as well.

You aren’t just looking at what you’ve done already. In one sense you are looking at what you have not done. If you’ve never painted a sunrise, or if you’ve only painted snow as it’s falling, and not as it’s melting, you suddenly have two new ideas.

It can also remind you, not of a picture you’ve done, but of a technique that worked. That’s part of what inspired this article. I saw a painting I had painted that was on a black canvas. It was the only landscape like this I had ever tried. Now I’m working on a portrait on a black canvas to experiment with lighting.

I would not have tried if I hadn’t went through my old sketchbook. Eric Rhoads, an artist I follow and have great respect for, said he goes through his old paintings every year, and it’s a good practice. I’ve also found that digitizing my old paintings and drawings is a good way of archiving, organizing, and searching for an image.

It’s quicker to use the search function to find a barn painting for example, than to physically go through the old sketchbooks. This is also great from a marketing perspective. If I suddenly realize it’s national coffee day, and I want to post something related to coffee, I find it much sooner. It’s also faster than I could paint a new image.

I understand more now than ever the truth behind the saying he who doesn’t know his history is doomed to repeat it. Whether good or bad, if they make you smile or cringe, I would encourage you to go through your old sketchbook. You can draw so much from old drawings, and see something you haven’t seen before.

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