On ‘should’ and sketchbooks

I have been amazed by the impact of starting my little journal even in two days.  I have felt connections being made all across my brain, pinging between the synapses (or whatever the correction physiological term is) linking all areas of my mind and my life – creativity, the past, the future, emotions, the textiles course, the day job.  It might just be coincidence or the positioning of the stars and planets but I rather think it has to do with freeing myself up to just do what I want in my little sketchbook rather than what I think I should be doing.

Pernicious little word that – ‘should‘.

I’ve been so focused on ‘making the most’ (another corrosive phrase) of the free time I get that it hasn’t been free at all.  At times, I’ve approached the OCA course (my textiles degree with the Open College for the Arts) with the same grim determination that I approach the day job.  Alarm bells ringing. That’s not right.

And this has been particularly the case with the sketchbook issue.  I am not an artist,  I have no art training, I have no experience of working in anything like a sketchbook.  And I can’t draw, not in any conventional sense.  All of this has been buzzing around in my brain after the feedback from successive tutors about developing my sketchbook practice.  Their advice is excellent and has certainly nudged me along.  But it’s starting to feel like a ‘should‘ – like a sketchbook should look a certain way, contain certain elements, work in a certain way.  In my mind’s eye I can see it, and I’ve seen it in the work of many fellow students.  But mine does not look like that and I doubt it ever will.

I like taking photos more than drawing.  There, I’ve said it.  As soon as I make an interesting sample, I pick up my phone (handier than my camera) and take pictures, from all angles, close up and distance, in different lights, samples singly and grouped.  I hold samples up to the light and photograph them; I put them on different surfaces and photograph them.  I go back to photographs I took of inspirational surfaces and forms and see how my own work resonates with them.

Then I remember I’m supposed to draw them so I dutifully pick up my fine-liner.  It’s hard but I push through the pain barrier and it really does work, making me look more closely and more critically.  I am lazy and stick to my fine-liner and blind or continuous line drawing.  I need to vary my media and tools.  That will be good for me, I know.

But somehow the sketchbook is becoming work rather than exploration at the moment, as I have to consciously learn these skills and practices.  Setting off in a little blank journal with no title and no purpose and no brief was a way of exploring what actually does work for me.  I’m not afraid of the blank page; I relish it.  I love setting off across the surface, seeing the marks forming as I write or draw.  And instantly this little book has become a quiet place to be.  A space to just be and be me.  I sit with it and ponder, jot, ponder some more.  I have even made a collage in there (my very first as a voluntary act).

And I have jumped forward in my creative thinking faster and further than I can remember doing since starting with OCA.  In deliberately stepping away from MMT Part 5 and the looming ‘Final Piece’ I have actually found it.  I have found the whole reason I’m doing what I’m doing at the moment and suddenly it all makes sense.  (More on that elsewhere). The whole point for me is about being relaxed and confident enough to step away from the work and trust that the ideas will still come, and they’ll come better and stronger.  Wish I’d realised that a million or so MMT samples ago, but still – better late than never.



7 thoughts on “On ‘should’ and sketchbooks

  1. A very timely piece from my point of view. You make a good point about drawing or photographing what you want to rather than what you feel you ‘should’ be doing. I am struggling to get the sketchbook habit at the moment – hence my tutor’s recommendation of the Austin Kleon book!


    1. Yes, I think that must be on all tutors’ lists as I was recommended it too! A good read – I find I agreed with what I was reading but find it harder to put into practice, though I guess all of this takes time.


  2. Ah, the Kleon book…. It no way near captures the torment of establishing a sketchbook praxis..I found. I am so pleased for you Julie, that you have had that breakthrough. I recognize the ‘should’ very well I have that feeling too – good that you discovered a way to transformed it into want and enjoy..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, I was really emboldened by your own ventures into expressive drawing and your E book and so on – made me realise that the course is not everything but part of what can be a bigger whole.


  4. ‘Should’ ruins the fun but if work is being assessed the ‘should’ feeling is usually inevitable. But equally, ‘should’ can force us to work in ways that feel uncomfortable but are ultimately fruitful (hopefully…). Sketchbooks shouldn’t look a certain way but it’s good if they feel used, invested in and a key part of the development process. Ideally they’ll evidence thinking, investigation, play, as well as documenting what we see (whether samples, visual research etc). They’re highly personal and their role in the development process differs for everyone. Not sure these comments are helpful or makes it worse…!

    Anyway, my ‘should’ for today has been prompted by this blog and particularly by your Mau post. My blog is thin and neglected….


    1. Yes, your comments are helpful – the whole point of doing the course for me is to push myself and learn new things, even if that’s uncomfortable sometimes. The ‘should’ is largely self-imposed, I think – part of learning that spending all of this time being creative is ‘allowed’ – somehow, if I ‘should’ be doing something it’s allowed (in my own head) whereas if something is for fun, it needs permission. Crazy! Learning a whole new way of looking at the world – exciting but a stretch at my age!


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