(Update: I have created an Instagram Highlights containing photos with captions of my Daily Journal, as well as my sketchbooks and gallery notebooks. You can find them under the title Sketchbooks.)
Using a sketchbook is something that I’ve done since I was in high school. The way in which I use them has changed as I’v changed at a person, as well as an artist. A sketchbook, in my view is like any other tool that an artist might use. My use of sketchbooks has been is something I keep flexible, so that it can continue to be functional for the ways in which I create my artwork.
The type of book:
To be honest, expensive sketchbooks, filled with lovely white paper make me extremely nervous. There is something about them that just makes my brain shut itself off. I can never seem to relax and just draw in them. There is this feeling that I’m going to somehow ruin them by using them.
For many years, I used a small, spiral bound Mead brand notebook. It had lined pages and a few pockets that I could put things in. The large spiral was handy for keeping a pen clipped inside. So I always had something to draw or write with. The covers always had to be dark green too.
I filled these sketchbooks with an endless stream of sketches and ideas. My sketchbooks became even more personal as I also used them for a tremendous amount of personal diary-type entries. The writings fed the artwork, and the sketches fed the writing. Showing my sketchbook to anyone was far too risky a proposition. So it was off-limits to everyone. Even my friends.
After becoming an art teacher, I began keeping separate sketchbooks. One for my personal artwork. And another for the ideas I had for potential student art lessons. Dividing the sketchbooks into two distinct entities kept my personal artwork a personal expression of myself as an artist.
The sketchbook for potential student art lessons was something that I could easily share with fellow teachers. Most of the time, this art teacher sketchbook was also crammed full of articles, snippets of this or that, sometimes even partially completed art lessons.
My personal artwork has been greatly influenced by my work as an art teacher, and vice versa. There were ideas that migrated from my art teacher sketchbook to my personal sketchbook, and the other way around as well. I didn’t want to limit myself. Sometimes ideas died after transfer. While others found a creative place to grow.
After moving to Finland, money was a little tight. I was surprised at how much the type of notebooks I wanted to purchase to use as a sketchbook cost. Loose-leaf, gridded notebook paper was much more affordable. My knowledge of book binding, as well as some rudimentary sewing tools, went a long way in helping me to create my own sketchbooks.
My sketchbooks aren’t complicated. They’re simple saddle-stitched, pamphlet books. I found an inexpensive brand of large-format, colorful card stock to use for covers. Recycled carton board is used to reinforce the front and back covers. Each of the sketchbooks I make have around 30 pieces of loose-leaf paper folded in half (A4 folded to A5). If I use an inexpensive white drawing paper, 15 pieces of paper are used.
I have several different small books, some for sketching, some for writing and yet another daily journal. At this point, I’m in the process of figuring out how I want all these books to work together. Presently, in addition to my sketchbook, I also have a book of the same size that I’m using to plan exhibits of my artwork.
Most of the time, I use a few large rubber bands to hold these books closed and together. Especially when I take them outside of the apartment. Making some sort of folio-type cover, perhaps with some elastic bands inside of the folio, is something that I’ve been wanting to make. It seems a little more professional than the wad of rubber bands alone!
The design for this imagined folio isn’t anything extremely fancy either. A cover that will protect the enclosed books. As well as something that allows me to easily swap in and out different books is what I want. Because I like using as many recycled and up-cycled art materials, I’ve been looking around at the second hand stores I frequent. Hopefully I will find something before long.
So, now what?
It’s important to have a place to put your thoughts and ideas. The older that I’ve gotten, the more I believe this to be true. Being able to write and draw and be alone with your own thoughts is important. Writing and drawing allows an individual to reflect, as well as react to the events occurring in their lives. It’s can be quite therapeutic, as well as possibly a lot of fun. The drawing part I mean!
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday!
Being a part of an art show or showing my work in a gallery setting is something I enjoy a great deal. But seem to do it only rarely. There are two elements regarding the exhibition of my finished artwork that have either eluded me or I have not been able to wrap my head around. Whether by eluding me or confusing me, they have become increasingly annoying obstacles for me as important components of being a (successful) working artist.
An art show in my future:
Recently, I screwed-up my courage and asked to have my work considered for display in a local gallery space here in Jyväskylä. The sage advice of my friend Dubravka was in the back of my head saying, “What’s the worst they can say, no?” This simply question works well within my tendency to try and prepare for all possible contingencies. While my natural tendency can prove to be mentally and emotionally debilitating when allowed to run amok, it works with this simple question. I mean, seriously, what could be worse than ‘No.’?
“No. You’re work is stupid and ugly and everyone hates you too.”
“No. You’re artwork is pure, unadulterated crap and you should be ashamed of it and of yourself for creating it.”
“No. Make a bonfire of your work, NOW. Here’s a match.”
Believe me, I have more loaded-up and ready, but I think you get the general drift of where I can go regarding my need to prepare for all possible contingencies. In fact, I have a harder time believing it when people say, “Yes! We would love to show your artwork!”
Long story longer, I’ll be showing my work in a small gallery space in January 2021. It’s official and on the calendar.
Art show parameters:
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I create my artwork first and foremost for myself. To put it bluntly, creating artwork is my therapy. A healthy Katie is a an art-creating Katie. The idea of taking my deeply personal artwork and altering it to fit within a concept or theme that is completely unconnected to me or my artwork feels odd. Then there is the idea of changing my artwork to fit a physical space. This has never quite computed for me.
When researching art shows to possibly enter, I get mentally stuck on individual art show thematic parameters. One art show may have a theme concerning water life, or oceanic environments. Another art show may have a parameter that dictates that the art work be of a certain size, or a specific art medium. My artwork isn’t easily categorized in these ways. Nor is it made with themes that I don’t wish to work within our around.
Who is it for?
I’m fiercely protective of the hows and whys of my own art creation. It doesn’t seem natural for me to create artwork that is made solely for an entry into an art show. Doing so would make me feel as though I were creating art for others first and myself second. That’s not how I create art.
So it feels as though I am presented with the choice of making artwork the way I want to make it, or to create artwork specifically for someone or something else. All in the hopes that someone will pay attention to me and my artwork. Then perhaps buy a piece of my work. This made me the entire art show/gallery concept seem deceptive to me. I’m rotten at lying too.
Shipping artwork to art shows:
When I’m looking at different art show call for entries, I also have to consider the shipping costs of my artwork. This can be quite costly. And there is no guarantee that my work will sell or win a prize either. So, I may just be out 200€ in shipping (and return shipping) and have nothing to show for it, except an addition to an Exhibition Page on my website.
I do know that the exposure from various art shows can help to build a following of people who like my artwork. These people might buy my artwork from me personally, or through my website. In showing my artwork along side other artists, those artists then see my work and come to know who I am and what I do creatively. There are some definitely great benefits to showing my artwork in art shows. At present through, the shipping of my work, coupled with some of the complexity of my pieces (so, many, moving, parts) is proving cost prohibitive for me.
Around, through or over:
It seems as though I’ve really hobbled myself in regard to showing of my artwork to the public in a gallery type setting. I totally agree with this assessment. And it bugs me big-time. This inability to just shut-up and create artwork to enter into art shows keeps my artwork here with me in my workspace. Or showing my artwork on digital platforms such as my website, shop, and Instagram. These are important places to have a presence, but it shouldn’t be the totality of my exposure to the public. Showing my artwork would give me an opportunity to connect with more creative and artistic people. Being part of a larger community would be great.
The gallery space in which I will be showing my artwork has no space available to display three-dimensional artwork. All of the work is displayed on the walls. On the surface, this would seem like the last type of gallery space in which I would seek to show my artwork. I’ll admit, I wasn’t quite sure about it myself. Initially, I started thinking about ways in which to just hang my three-dimensional work from wires. But that seemed lazy. When I let my mind wander, it began playing around with different methods of displaying my artwork. This was surprising, but it shouldn’t have been.
Creative problem solving:
I sat down and started doing a little list-making. There are pieces of artwork that I have that I’ve not shown previously that I thought could be displayed on a wall. My mind kind of just started working away at the challenge of showing my three-dimensional work in a two-dimensional setting. In short order, I had five separate ideas for display that I like a great deal. Each of these ideas utilizes tools, materials and supplies that I have on hand, or that can be gathered at no or low-cost.
It’s what happens to you when you’re not paying attention:
What I found surprising, especially given the fact that I’m not a person to create art for a space or theme not of my own design, is that my mind began pulling in different un-trodden paths regarding my larger, paper mâché pieces. Not exactly un-trodden. My mind was pulling me back to sets of sketches done for pieces that I have not created yet. The more I looked through these sketches, the more I found that they fit within personal themes I’ve been working on. While at the same time, solve some of the ‘walls only’ display parameters.
Living in Finland has changed the way in which I create my artwork. The physical environment of the city I live in began making its presence known in some of the sketches that I had set aside. Realizing that my immediate environment was coming through in my artwork and sketches for new artwork didn’t seem all that important. Most of my artwork is wrapped up in my personal memories. The thing is, my personal memories are increasingly tied to the people and places in Finland. The sets of sketches that I mentioned are all, in one way or another, pulled from my immediate environment.
In the end:
None of what I’m experiencing with regards to art shows is particularly earth-shatteringly or unique. Everyone, not just creatives and artists go through similar types of personal challenges. And I know that regarding some of my personal problems, I’ve taken the longer, more difficult road. To a great extent, entirely on purpose. But it’s nice to be in a place now where I feel as though I’m figuring out things so that I can be who I want to be, how I want to be and where I want to be.
Thank you for reading, and I will see you again soon,
Beneath Between & Behind:
Rush: Beneath Between & Behind, Fly By Night (1975). I’ve always liked the cymbal work on this particular song. It’s tight when it needs to be, and crashy-splashy when it needs to be. This is also the first album in which Neil Peart was the drummer and lyricist. This song was also the first in which Peart wrote the lyrics and Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson wrote the music. Fly By Night was an important album for Rush. The way in which they worked creatively lyrically and musically changed for them as a group, propelling them in a bit of a different direction than they had been previously. While writing this post, this particular song kept running through my head.
In My Time of Dying:
Led Zeppelin: In My Time of Dying, Physical Graffiti (1975). This is my favorite Zeppelin song. It’s not really a Zeppelin song though. Remember, Led Zeppelin stole from black rhythm and blues musicians with both hands! It’s a traditional gospel song. Here’s a version by Blind Willie Johnson, under the title, ‘Jesus Make Up My Dyin’ Bed‘. Bob Dylan also did a version of the song as well. Josh White’s version is particularly lovely. ANYWAY. John Bonham’s cymbal work on this song was and is amazing to me. I love how jangly it gets, it’s almost like the entire song is crashing out of a drawer in the kitchen with all the music seeming to hit randomly all over the floor, but it’s just tight as hell!
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
The Police: Every Little Thing She Does is Magic. Okay. I know. This song is a little too ‘pop’, but hear me out. Stewart Copeland has this amazing finesse to his cymbal work that I have always found insanely fascinating. He’s not a basher and a crasher when it comes to his cymbals. He plays his instruments with a level of dexterity and musical sensitivity that some drummers will never achieve. Each part of the cymbal is represented in his work. Copeland can transform each of his cymbals into distinct voices within the musical composition. It’s never too much, it’s never too little.
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.
I’m a visual artist living in central Finland. I create surrealistic dolls utilizing a variety of materials and techniques.