I recently scanned a bunch of new sketchbook pages that I’ve worked on over the past two and a half months. I’m quite happy with some of them. I’m very picky in regards to what pleases me and I’m pretty hard on myself even with sketchbook pages.
I’ve always felt that a sketchbook should reveal something about an artist. Someone who looks through an artists’ sketchbook should come away with an idea about who the artist is as a person: his thoughts, his ideas, his opinions, etc. In order to achieve this, an artist must put himself on the pages of his sketchbook. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s something that, ultimately, must be done. Otherwise you’re just filling pages that don’t say a damn thing.
Over the past ten years or so, keeping a sketchbook has really become a popular thing to do. This, of course, isn’t anything new – it’s an artistic tradition and has been around for centuries. I, myself, have been keeping a sketchbook since my first year of art school in 1986. I think it’s fantastic that doing this has caught on in the way that it has; a sketchbook is a great medium that has gone from a way to practice to a way to journal your entire life. It’s fantastic to see this transformation. People are creating visual journals that tell their stories in ways that are new and exciting. The sketchbook has become an authentic and valid medium. Like any medium, it should be approached with the same high standard that you have for a finished piece of work. As a valid medium, a sketchbook should have as much impact as anything else you do. It represents you as much as any finished piece of art you produce and should be approached with that in mind. You should leave your personal stamp on each and every page. Two people that are great examples of this are Barron Storey and Robert Crumb (Google Crumb for examples of his sketchbook work). Barron’s journals were a revelation to me when I first had the pleasure of seeing them. I remember him walking into class with a suitcase of journals that were far and beyond anything I’d ever seen before. In many ways, they still are. Robert Crumb’s sketchbooks were also a revelation to me when I first encountered them twenty or so years ago. Looking through his sketchbooks is like looking directly into his mind. Barron and Robert don’t pull any punches – they put down every thought, idea , and opinion they have. I’m pretty sure that the last thing they worry about is pleasing anyone or following any type of trend, movement, group, or whatever. That’s the way it should be, always. They remain, for me, the two greatest examples of people who have defined what it is to keep a sketchbook. Coming from this same point of view, I also turn away from following any sort of trend. I become weary when things start looking too much the same. It’s great that keeping a sketchbook has caught on like it has, but you have to be careful to not fall into doing whatever everyone else is doing. If you’re not careful, poof, your work looks like everybody else’s. I’m not into that. Do it your way, and say something.
At the beginning of the year, I switched over to a new brand of sketchbook after 25 years – Stillman & Birn Alpha series (great sketchbooks, check them out). It may sound strange but this had an impact on the way I looked at what I was doing and what I expected to see in my sketchbook. My recent pages are some of the strongest that I’ve produced. I’m almost halfway through my book and am excited about what I’ll be doing in the upcoming pages. I look forward to sharing those pages with you.