I work with digital tools. In some ways, it’s the same skills artists who work in traditional media use. In other ways, it’s a very different skillset. I couldn’t tell you anything about mixing paints or prepping a canvas, but I can tell you about RGB vs CMYK and working in layers.
Ah… layers! I use them as a bit of a crutch. When I’m unsure about something, I simply draw it on a new layer in Photoshop. If it doesn’t look right, I can erase it without disturbing the work I’ve already done. That may sound like a very sensible thing to do. It is, really. But it has also become a crutch for me. I haven’t been pushing myself to improve (an artist should always be growing and improving) because I know I can just erase things if I need to.
I recently started reading Sustainably Creative, the website of Michael Nobbs. I’ve found a lot of inspiration there, and started thinking about sketchbooks. I had a Moleskine several years ago that I used for writing. They are very good quality books, and there’s something very comforting about them. The outside is so ordinary… anything could be between those plain, black covers! The inside becomes something of a treasure box because that’s where all the good stuff is.
I got a Moleskine sketchbook and started looking at what other artists do with their sketchbooks. I started following a few more artists on Twitter to keep up with new sketchbook pieces they do. I’m very interested in The Sketchbook Project and hoping to commit myself to participating in the next one!
So what am I doing with my sketchbook? I’m using it in those moments when I only have two or three minutes to draw. I’m also finding myself wanting to set aside a block of time to do more drawing in it. I’m enjoying the feel of working with ink and paper. There are no second chances. I either need to take the time to draw the line correctly, or I have to make the result work no matter what it looks like.
It’s a bit like life. If a line doesn’t curve exactly as I meant it to, or the angle isn’t quite what I wanted, I don’t get to undo and redo it. I can take the time to draw the best line possible, but other things may get in the way. The cat may jump up where I am suddenly, throwing off my focus or knocking my hand to the side. A knock at the door or ring of the phone may startle me. I can go back and do something to “fix” it. I can make the mistake blend in, or I can change what I’m drawing in that area so that it’s no longer a mistake and just becomes part of the pattern. But I can’t go back in time and undo what happened. I can’t change the fact that it is no longer what I originally intended for it to be. Sometimes, I wouldn’t want to change it. Some accidents might just be the universe turning you around when you were headed the wrong way and didn’t know it.
I think this is an experience I need. It’s smaller scale work than I usually do. It puts my focus on the basics… line weight, shape, positive and negative space. Even I’m not sure how a page will look until it is finished, and I look forward to having a book filled with these drawings one day.