If you read Katherine Tyrrell's blog, "Making a Mark," you are familiar with her wonderful sketchbook work. I am not as prolific at sketching as Katherine, because for years I resisted the idea of using a sketchbook at all. Why spend all that creative energy working out a detailed drawing? When it came to painting, I found that I'd lost the creative spark that ignited my interest in the first place. Besides, sketching books were indelibly linked to my art school days and those endless, boring assignments...perspective drawings, along with the glued on color swatches depicting the color wheel...
But about two years ago I was in Barnes & Noble and found these beautiful leather journals with an attached, old-fashioned ribbon book mark. There was something about the tactile quality of the leather and the gold edges on pages that appealed to me, so I bought several. Then I had to find a good use for them -- it seemed ridiculous to keep these beautifully bound books totally empty. They were literally screaming "important stuff in here" - well, not screaming, that could be over-doing it on the hyperbole, but you get my drift.
For instance, during those "down" creative times, I will look through art magazines and cut out paintings that visually appeal to me, including what information I might find about the artist. Then, I'll write out a detailed analysis of what I see. Questions I might ask and answer are:
What do I like about the color choices?
How did the artist divide the space?
What are the value choices?
My goal is to deconstruct the painting according to my own artistic understanding, learning what I can about why the image works. I can get quite detailed on some pieces. Others might not get beyond being mounted in my sketch book for analysis on another day. This process has been extremely helpful to me.
Here I broke down an artist's work into the major shapes and looked at the values and color temperatures. Details like "color temp is expressed in mid values and complemented in dks and lights" are extremely helpful to me as I gain a deeper understanding of how these artists accomplish their goals. If I can't attach the actual image to the sketchbook, I've learned to make detailed notes as to where I found the painting, and to keep those sources handy. Early on, I spent countless wasted hours trying to track down something I had mentioned and wanted to look at again.
Another use for my sketch books is to actually work out what I've learned and apply it to a work in progress. Here I was analyzing a sketch of mine and how I might approach it with paint. I wanted to recall as much detail about my initial impression at the location, including the direction of the sun and what initially drew me to the scene.
This is pretty standard stuff, of course, but I've found that I like to actually see what others are doing and not just read about how an artist "recorded details, including color notes," so I'm including this image so you can compare it to what you are doing.
One other important note: be sure to include a definitions page if you use shorthand or abbreviations. I have no idea what I meant by the "ZIP" in the notation about the Cad/red medium - turquoise. Any suggestions as to what I might have meant?
Another way that I use my sketchbooks is in evaluating some of my photographs. Here is one of many photographs that I've broken down into the major shapes and value pattern. My goal is to evaluate the information in the photo, to see if it might develop into a successful painting or not. Part of this analysis includes whether the dominant shape is organic or geometric, and what value key works best. Many of these initial work-ups get no further than this, but months later, I might come back with fresh eyes and new excitement. I often do lose some of my initial enthusiasm for a creative idea by doing the "hard" work first, but I've also learned that a time-out can make a huge difference. Often, I will see where a sketched idea has real potential as a painting, or where it might fizzle out as boring. I just need to leave it alone for awhile.
I think the key to any idea like sketchbooks or journals is to find a way to adapt it to your personal way of working. And that might be a totally different use of the idea than what everybody else is doing, but that's OK if it serves you well. As an artist, I am such a visual person that I appreciate seeing the actual "things" other people create to help them on their artistic journeys -- I hope that these pages will inspire you to create your own personal textbooks.