In praise of weird-shaped containers

Sometimes all you need is a weird-shaped target area to overcome perceived obstacles.

Notice I said, “perceived.” Most of time, what’s keeping us from writing, from sketching, from taking up guitar, or even harmonica is the crazy notion that we don’t have what it takes to be successful. We think a lousy first draft, or a wonky sketch, or a sour note says something about us, which of course it doesn’t at all. But wow, can it feel like it does.

So what if, as a sketcher, you create an intentional wonkiness right from the start? How might that lower the bar in your mind so you can enjoy “wasting” that piece of paper, because what the heck, it’s already less-than-pristine-perfect?

That’s precisely what I illustrated on page 56 of Look at That!

This is the original drawing, in a well-used 2015 sketchbook.

When I created that two-page spread, I was working through a Stillman and Birn Beta Series 5.5″ x 8.5″ sketchbook, and I was only two pages from the end. Even though the book only has 56 pages, I was bored, really bored. I was using up pages, which is crazy when you’re working in a $20 beautifully bound, hard-cover book made with high quality watercolor paper. Crazy right?

But the thing is, that happens to me all the time. The sage Lao Tzu once said, “Take care at the end as you do at the beginning.” It’s a great idea, and I remember it every time I lose steam before I get to the finish line, especially in sketchbooks. I needed a solution.

The opened book is 11″ wide x 8.5″ tall which is a great shape/working size for a single image if you have an inspiring subject, but I didn’t. At the time I also had no idea how to create a well-designed layout (something I remedied by taking Liz Steel’s Sketchbook Design course in 2021). So instead, I just started drawing boxes. No plan, just draw. The big shapes went in first, and little by little I got bold enough to draw that wonky triangular shape on the right, and the tall skinny box in the lower left.

I had no idea what would go in those boxes, but at least I no longer had a blank spread, right? Over the coming weeks I simply left this sketchbook in my car on the passenger seat, and when I saw something that caught my eye and I had a few minutes, I added a quick line drawing in whatever box was calling my name at the moment.

When every box was filled, I liked it, sort of, and decided to splash in some intentionally-uneven color washes to liven up the page. Next, in a few of the boxes, I used my tint brush to add a few suggested shadow areas. Finally, to tie it together, I added the word Viewpoints, written to reflected the overall funkiness of the spread.

Remember: There Was No Plan. There Never Was.

The result? I liked it, what a surprise! There’s no way I could have done that with a master plan; then it would have felt like work, and I wasn’t interested in that. I already had a job; this was what I did for fun!

This year I’ve made a goal to finish all my half-filled sketchbooks before I start a new one. I think I have about five at the moment. All but one are “themed” books that I started when I was taking various online classes and wanted to use a designated book for each course. (There’s proof that I also struggle to complete courses I’ve paid for! If it weren’t for parental constraints, left to my own devices, I might never have finished kindergarten.)

The fifth book, the one not linked to a course, is the one I’m slowly filling now. I took a leaf from a Koosje Koene video (see at 14:37 for my aha inspiration), and decided the best way to use this panorama-shaped book would be to create cartoon blocks within it, all different sizes, as the subject dictates. The book is made by my favorite company, Hand.Book Paper Co. Travelogue Watercolor Journals, and I do love the paper, the cover, the binding. This is the second panorama one I’ve owned (glutton for punishment!) and I won’t replace it, although I continue to use and love the more normal-sized books in this series (5×8 and 8×8). Nevertheless, I’m thoroughly enjoying filling this one, now that I have an approach. I’ve posted a few of the results on Instagram using the tag #bhcartoondiaries.

When the entire book is completed, I will attempt to make my second video and post it here. For now, here’s what this odd little 3.5″x 8.25″ book looks like closed, plus two images from inside. Ahhh, the suspenses of it all!

Hand.Book Journal Co., Panorama version

Here are my questions:

Do you ever panic when you look at a blank page?

Do you get tired of working in “Golden-Mean” shaped boxes that feel like a formula, because they are? (Golden Mean is a ratio of roughly 1:1.6, which creates those very familiar shapes line 3 x 5, 5 x 8, etc.)

Do you want your sketchbook to feel more like a playground and less like study hall detention?

If so, weird-shaped containers just might be your answer. Give it a go, and let me know how you got on!


As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it. Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below, private questions, comments, etc. will reach me by using the Contact link on the menu bar at the top. As always, thanks for spending some “aloft” time with me.

About Bobbie Herron

I live surrounded by watercolor brushes and paints, fountain pens, sketchbooks, and journals- often wanting more than anything to write and paint at the same time. If you like what you're reading, feel free to share it with others. If you see something that needs correction, please let me know. Thanks for visiting!
This entry was posted in Cartoons, Pen & Ink, Seeing and looking, Sketchbooks, Watercolor and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to In praise of weird-shaped containers

  1. Linda says:

    I can relate to it all. So relieved to know I am not alone….💜

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Linda says:

    I can relate to it all. So relieved to know I am not alone….💜
    Wow it’s saying I’ve sent this before. Some things never change.

    Liked by 1 person

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