Thoughts on sketchbooks

I finished a sketchbook today. It’s a Moleskine sketchbook that I started in the beginning of 2017. First of all, that makes me think I draw too little. But I try to throw away that thought, because it’s not productive anyway. Instead, I think it more interesting to reflect on my relationship to sketchbooks and how I use them.

Sketchbooks in general are like treasuries. I like to think of them as Gringotts Wizarding Bank, only the kept treasures are ideas. Some are kept safe in their vaults for poorer creative times, some are forgotten and when found again they can be polished to shine, and some are best left locked away in the deepest dungeons garded by firebreathing dragons.

I have filled out a few sketchbooks during the last 12 years. They are standing on a shelf beside my work space. Most of them are different from each other, with different formats, binding and paper. To change between different kinds of sketchbooks is something I really enjoy. I think it affects how I relate to them, and following, what I draw or write in them. In addition the variation gives an even stronger feeling of a start on a new journey.

For me a new sketchbook is really exciting, but also a bit scary. The look of a sketchbook affects my expectations. A really nice looking sketchbook makes me feel that the contet should reflect the qualities of the book, and that I shouldn’t use it for trivial notes and stupid doodles. The scariest part is the first page. I see a tendency in several of my sketchbooks that I make greater effort in the start, and then I fall back in the same procedure as always.

Some years back I realised that I didn’t really sketch a lot in my sketchbooks. Instead of drawing the ideas I got, I tended to write them down. Why I’m like this, I’m not sure. Maybe I’m just too lazy? The sketchbooks were also used as notebooks with to-do-lists, lecture notes, plans and everything random. In other words, most of them don’t look very nice! They are far from the beautiful sketchbooks that you see artists posting on Instagram. On the other hand, there is a positive side of this way of using (or misusing, if you like) sketchbooks. The books become a bit like time machines. If I like I can go through them and look back at what was happening in my life at different points. Sometimes I can see parallels between what was going on in my daily life and my ideas and doodles. In other words, the sketchbooks become a documentation of my life, that might be interesting for me on a personal or conceptual level, but not so interesting aesthetically.

I like the Gringotts metaphor as a general illustration of how sketchbooks work as idea banks. But I think I have a better metaphor for my own sketchbooks, that also captures the visual part of them. First I thought, they are like junk yards! But then I found that a little bit too harsh, and I moved to thinking of an Antique shop. That sounded a bit too organized again, but maybe something in between? Then I remembered the thrift store just down the street from where I live in Bergen. It’s messy, with it’s own logic both organized and disorganized, and there’s a lot of crap with the occasional gem here and there. So there you have it!

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Picture from an «organized» part of the thrift store. Last time I was there most things were just piled in heaps all over, with small paths between.

The sketchbook I now finished marks a small shift in my sketchy story. This was my first fancy Moleskine sketchbook, and I got it from Geir Moen (who I worked for as a part of the practice period in my visual communication bachelor). I thought of the rest of the world making a big deal out of Moleskine, and I thought I could use the book to test myself and set a goal to have it contain mostly drawings. And I have managed it! And there is not one single to-do-list in it! Now, this does not mean I have totally changed my «sketchbook misuse» or how I work with my idea process. I just figured that I need to  use two sketchbooks. This has really worked for me. I have one «no pressure»-sketchbook to misuse as much as I like, and one «doodle & draw»-sketchbook (not too much pressure here either). To mark the end, I think it fitting to show the beginning, and here was my first drawing in the now finished Moleskine:

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A couple of weeks ago I bought a new sketchbook. I’ve been glancing at it and caressing it from time to time, contemplating what I should expect from it, and myself. I think it will be an even bigger challenge than the Moleskine, because of its format and thickness. It’s quadratic, 25x25cm and 2,5cm thick, so it’s probably going to last for a while. I think I am going to allow more text and scribbling, but the right kind. Wish me luck!

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