When you are using a 160-page sketchbook, as well as two other ‘specialty’ sketchbooks, all at the same time, it is a big deal when you Finish A Sketchbook.
Why three at once you ask? Simple.
1) I want one sketchbook made of decent watercolor paper (think heavy and thick paper, like each page is five paper towels welded together). This is for intentional local painting excursions when I know I will have Time To Hunker Down.
2) I usually have a partially-filled Travel Sketchbook going as well, made of decent watercolor paper. My current Travel Sketchbook began in May 2019 during my trip to England, and I want to keep it as a travel book, all about adventures outside my zip code.
3) The final book, the one I just finished, is lovingly called my “junk sketchbook”. It is always in my shoulder bag, always. Its paper is adequate, but much thinner than the paper in the other two books: thick enough to handle a small, controlled bit of watercolor without falling apart, but thin enough, inexpensive enough, to use for jotting down sudden brainstorms, insights, and quick, not-so-perfect sketches. The paper crinkles and buckles when wet, never again returning to a pristine flat page. It is best for pen and ink, light washes, and lots and lots of random journal entries. More than adequate, less than precious.
Essentials of a Junk Sketchbook
Here’s what to look for if you too would like to be the proud owner of a Junk Sketchbook. First of course is the paper quality, described above. Second is overall size. For me, it has to fit comfortably in my shoulder bag, or else it will spend its whole life comfortably on a shelf at home, never used, just reeking of potential. If I can’t easily carry it with me every day, it is not a good Junk Sketchbook.
How to know your book is finished
I often lose my enthusiasm before I get to the actual end of a sketchbook. When there are a fistful of finished pages in my left hand, and a back cover and a few feeble blanks sheets in my right hand, I am ready to move on. That used to be a bit of a problem, but no longer. Yesterday I invented a solution.
I found myself a comfy cafe where I could hunker down and number the pages discreetly in the lower outside corners. Then began the really fun part: Reading. The book I had just completed started 18 months ago, so it contained a lot of thoughts and sketches and mini-movies that seemed like ancient history to me now. The index I was about to create would depend on what contents I found interesting while reading the book, a very organic process. (Note: This index is so much richer for having been created when the book was finished. In hindsight many things are more [or less!] interesting than they were when first written, right?)
The first index category became Watercolor/Full Color Pages.
The second was Brainstormed Teaching Ideas for the sketching class I teach at my local art school.
Next list of pages was for sketches that were Tint Only,
followed by Mostly Ink. I thought that would be enough for an index.
I realized I wanted a whole page devoted to Follow-Up Soon entries. Now I was getting into it, and discovered it really had been worth the time to number all these pages, and harvest any gold within the book, because this index was going to be valuable in the future. The Follow-Up Soon list included names of YouTube art instruction videos, ideas for blog posts like this one, and an idea for my next themed sketchbook.
I also created an index page for My Favorite Quotes from the book:
12- “I love this book for irrational reasons.”
95- “Looking is common; actually seeing is rare.”
41- And by Kasimir Malevich, early 1980s Russian painter.
Another whole index page appeared, devoted to:
Plein Air Lessons Learned:
8- Don’t forget to pack the bug spray in May
24- Add a couple watercolor pencils to purse kit. Good for sketching dry and for adding a pop of focus on pre-wet paper
67- Watch the slant of the sketchbook! If I balance it in my lap, or angle the paper (like we all naturally do when we are writing), I end up with drawings of buildings that look like they are listing to the right every single time. I never notice it until the sketch is almost finished! It’s fun, and funny-looking, but not always what I’m after.
159- In November remember to add a folded plastic bubble wrap mailer to my art bag, to use when sitting on a granite bench in the winter
160- Add a few blank post-it notes to the back page of every active sketchbook, so if I get a brilliant idea while sketching (it happens all the time), it will be easily transferable to a planner book.
I have an idea for my next themed sketchbook: “Waiting for the Bus”. It has been almost a year since I gave up my car and discovered the unexpected world of wandering on foot, and community travel by bus. I never would have been able to reduce my carbon footprint this much by sheer willpower alone; it happened because I can no longer see well enough to pass a driver’s license eye test. The good news is that I can still see enough to look, and look again, and really see things that other people with 20/20 vision overlook. Perhaps it’s because people who can see so much have to constantly filter out distractions. Not me.
My “Waiting for the Bus” sketchbook will have to be lightweight because I’ll be sketching standing up, balancing the sketchbook and pen without the aid of a table and chair. In it I will capture glimpses of ideas rather than full-blown ponderings. I can use my favorite spur-of-the-moment writing prompts, like, “I’m so glad I noticed…” and “the part that makes this sketch really work is…”, and my favorite “what I learned from sketching this was…”
It goes without saying that this small “Waiting for the Bus” sketchbook will have to know its place from the very beginning though. It will always be deferring to its big brother: my next beloved Junk Sketchbook.