Recently, I’ve had a few people ask me how I create the artwork I make. Specifically, there were a few who asked me if I did any kind of sketching prior to the creation of my work. It sounds like an easy question to answer. It’s a yes, no, or ‘sorta’ type of question. If you’ve read anything I’ve posted here in the past, there is no such thing as a ‘simple answer’ for me. I’ve got to make it insanely complicated and dissect my whole personal history of sketching, so that I can answer, yes, no, or sorta.
I’ve had sketchbooks for as long as I can remember drawing. My early adult manner of keeping a sketchbook solidified when I was in art school in the early 1990’s. I’ve always found proper drawing paper incredibly intimidating, so the vast majority of my sketchbooks were 5 by 7 in. (12 by 18 cm approx.) Mead 5-Star Spiral Bound Notebooks, college ruled. I did a great deal of writing in them, along with drawings and sketching out ideas for illustrations, prints and hand-bound books. Yes. You read that correctly. I was learning how to bind books, but chose a mass produced sketchbook for myself.
There was a period of my life in which I lived the greater part of my creative life inside of my sketchbooks. They were always close at hand. I was very possessive of them, never letting anyone look at what I was writing or drawing. By the time I moved to New Mexico, the vast majority of my physical art creation were direct photocopies of selected pages of my sketchbooks, hand-painted and sometimes altered. I was letting people see portions of my sketchbook, but edited and altered them as I saw fit.
I’m sure that these sketchbooks are largely unintelligible, due to the subject matter I was writing and drawing about, as well as my incredibly bad longhand writing style. I coded some things within my sketchbooks, on the off-chance that anyone would read them. When I was in my early teens, my younger brother read portions of my personal journal. When I complained, loudly and through tears, to our mother, I was made to feel as though the invasion into my privacy did not matter. That left a deep mark on me. I leaned-in to my horrid handwriting and added codes and abbreviations to deter/confuse anyone who might attempt to pry into my private thoughts.
My privacy was invaded again as an adult, when people in the small office I was working in went through my sketchbook and journal when I was out of the office. They could make heads nor tails of anything I had written (remember: bad handwriting and codes) or drawn. My personal style is very Dada and Surrealism influenced, so my drawings meant little to them. I’m led to believe my co-workers did this because they thought I was writing down things about them.
Nope. I was just writing about how depressed and unhappy I was. (insert shrugged shoulder emoji here.)
When I began teaching art in the public schools, my daily Class Notes became the place in which I did a great deal of writing. This writing was a form of reflexive writing, used to assist me in being a better teacher. I had a form that I printed out, with four sections. I filled out the day and time, the class grade, teacher and the lesson taught. I still wrote in code. Again, there were times when my clipboard was out of my control. Although, now that I think about it, my handwriting was enough to disguise everything. ANYWAY, these class notes were kept for use by me, with occasional usage by others, like classroom teachers, or principals. They really did save my bacon a number of times, and in a variety of ways.
After moving here to Finland, I began making my own sketchbooks, partially because I wanted to, and partially because the types of note or sketchbooks I wanted were out of my price range. Even though I can create utilize much more complicated bookbinding techniques, I go the easy route with my own note and sketchbooks; a saddle stitch. I use recycled carton board for the covers, and loose-leaf notebook paper for the inside pages. I like the graph paper that is used here in Finland. It lends itself to drawing as well. A little folding, a little stitching, some tape and ephemera decorations and voila! I have a sketchbook. I do sometimes use a sulfide drawing paper, but not always. It depends on the mood I’m in, or rather, do I really want to hunt for the drawing paper.
My current sketchbooks are filled, just like my previous sketchbooks, but not in the same amount of detail (and not nearly the amount of depression) that they once were. I feel like there has been some switch flipped in my brain regarding the amount of sketching or drawing I do prior to beginning a piece now. I just don’t feel like I have to, or need to spend days or weeks drawing before beginning work on an idea or theme or doll. I’m choosing to call this the ‘Pinto Rule’.
(Okay. Long story longer. I had a photo teacher while I was getting my art education degree who counseled me regarding writing good art lessons that were in compliance with the state standards and benchmarks for art and education. A good lesson would fit nicely, and the standards and benchmarks would fall into place within the lesson, some lessons you might have to rethink or work a little to make them fit, while other lessons just did not fit and would never fit, maybe. So, just put them aside and work with the lessons that do. Applied to my own personal art creation, I use this rule to use and keep the good ideas, the ones that won’t leave me alone mentally. The others, that require too much effort to stuff them into my sketchbook. Put them aside and let them be.)
In New Mexico, I created very detailed sketches of the dolls that I was creating. Full-on colour sketches with over-lays, etc. And while I like the work that I did, there seems to be something missing in it when I look at it now. I think that’s because I know what the sketches looked like and how the finished work failed to live-up to the vision I had for them. The doll work that I have created here in Finland has, by comparison, very little sketching or planning done prior to the actual artwork being created. This has been practiced for the past two years through the Creative Experiment.
The Creative Experiment was meant to just give my creativity a little jump-start. It evolved into something far more complicated for me creatively speaking. In a nutshell, I did no sketches and just started working with the materials in front of me. I felt as though I needed to be more comfortable swimming around in the ‘grey space’. One of the unexpected outcomes from the experiment was that I stopped needing to sketch or draw so much. I was still drawing and sketching, in my mind, but also in three-dimensions, while I was creating the work. And the ‘sketching’ that I’m doing happens more as performance, while taking this shape and putting it with that shape, in the physical world. My sketching is me playing around with the forms that I build out of cardboard and papier mache.
I still sketch. They’re really rough though. Mostly shapes and colours. I may work out how I want the limbs to look. How I want the eye to travel when looking at the piece. I do still enjoy seeing how different ideas smash up against other ideas on the pages of my sketchbook, but I don’t ‘live’ there anymore. I don’t have to anymore. My handwriting is still awful and yes, I will always write in code sometimes. And no, I will not share my sketchbook with you, and woe be unto the person I find pawing through it without my permission.
Woe. (insert a stern look here.)
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next Tuesday.