Thursday, January 9, 2014

New Sketchbooks and Journals: Break the Ice

One of the most difficult creative tasks for me is to start a new sketchbook or journal. It isn't about a lack of ideas or an unwillingness to dive in and play. Rather, it's all about:  ruining the first page!

Ridiculous, I know. But I always have this nagging feeling that the first page has to be "just right."  What if somebody were to open the book and see--a big mistake? (Hey. What are they doing looking in my journal anyway?)

This last week the problem was doubly-compounded because I have both a brand new writing journal as well as a fresh sketchbook to start off the year. The journal is leather-bound with creamy lined pages, and is actually the least intimidating of the two, especially as I won't be working in it until I finish my current novel WIP. Being lined also means that my handwriting will be tidy. (Yes, I'm still in the third-grade. Gold stars matter.)

The sketchbook is a hardbound Strathmore book full of gray-toned drawing paper that totally terrifies me. After about an hour of hemming and hawing, though, I decided enough was enough--time to just start. So in keeping with my 2014 theme of "animals" together with my plan to use only Conté pencils this month, I began with a teensy mouse. Talk about baby steps. He looks about as scared as me.

Okay, it's a beginning and now the rest of the pages don't seem quite so daunting. (I've also discovered that the gray paper is a dream to draw on--a big help toward keeping me motivated.)

Past journals and sketchbooks, regardless of quality, have been equally challenging to me, and I've had to rely on a number of creative mind-games and tricks to get past that "first page barrier." A few of the ways I've done this include:
  1. Choose a theme. Trees, collage, landscapes. If you have a themed sketchbook or journal, you don't have to spend too much time thinking about what should go on the first page. The answer is obvious: a tree, a collage, or a landscape!
  2. Work on that first drawing carefully--then paste it in! It's a bit of a cheat, but if you work on a separate piece of paper rather than the actual sketchbook, some of the pressure to be perfect will disappear. You can do this with your writing too.
  3. Collage the covers, both inside and out. I love doing this because it not only can form my theme and color palette, but it also lets me relax into the creative process in a fun and purposeful way.
  4. Call the first page "practice" and label it as such. I once heard author Sid Fleischman say that if your plot has a hole, point to it. I've always found this to be excellent writing advice, and one that works just as well for drawing, too. For instance, if that first-page drawing really is a mess, call it a caricature, or your own personal take on Cubism, etc. Spell it out with Sharpie and let the whole world know.
  5. Ask someone else for an idea--and let them try it out first. This has always been fun. Ask your friends what you should draw, and then give them the sketchbook to start things off.
  6. Use the first page to list creative goals. There, that was easy! Kind of like a built-in Table of Contents.
  7. Choose a specific medium for the book. So much about making art is about making choices. Unlike writing, where you basically choose to write with a fountain pen, ballpoint, or a computer, art choices are so boundless it's easy to freeze up and choose nothing at all. That's another reason why I've made my list of mediums to use each month--less dithering means more drawing/painting.
  8. Start in the middle! Break new ground--start in the middle. Who says life starts on page one anyway?
  9. Paint in some backgrounds, random shapes and colors. Often the results will be so surprising you can't stop yourself from drawing on top of them. 
  10. Don't use a sketchbook. Seriously. While a bound sketchbook can be a handy tool, if you find it too big to fill, use single sheets of paper. One benefit of this approach is you can always bind the pages later, and in an order that shows off your work or tells your story in a way that is particularly pleasing to you.
  11. Carry your sketchbook or journal everywhere--let it get a little worn and beat-up. Once you've dropped it or spilled some coffee on a few pages, the novelty and newness will soon wear off. Mayonnaise on the first page works great, too.
  12. Buy two! One for good (that you promise yourself you will never use) and one for practice and playing. There, the "good one" can sit on the shelf and look pretty. The other one is to totally make beautiful with your own style, personality, and wonderful words and pictures. Gosh, you might even use that other journal one day too!
Tip of the Day: My first inclination was to suggest that if you find yourself constantly shying away from good or expensive supplies, then buy cheap ones. However, in reality I think that's a terrible idea. Cheap paper, pencils, and paints often give you bad results that you'll blame yourself for, thinking it's you and not them. Nothing could be more wrong. Buy the best materials you can afford--look for sales and coupons as well as online discount stores. Give yourself permission to make the worst/best first page you can.


Anonymous said...

You will make a wonderful children's books illustrator - you are so talented. It's such a cute picture, and I love the photo - looks like IT comes out of a children's book illustration!

Valerie Storey said...

Thank you so much for such kind and thoughtful words. Made my day! I'm really excited about (finally) finding a real direction for my artwork, and it's always great to hear from readers. Thanks again!