Double sketchbook life

Recently I started leading a double life — a double-sketchbook life. In one book, I’m a neat, detail, and reference-obsessed architecture illustrator, but when the evening comes and my family sleeps, I open my leather-bound book on which pages all kinds of monstrous and wonderful art can happen.

For the past few years, I have continued to suffer from art-making stage fright. Unless I had a picture thoroughly planned, it was stomach-clinchingly difficult to draw anything. It still is, sometimes. The idea of a free assignment as done in school — just paint anything you fancy — is my vision of creative hell. What if the thing I created was not very good? Even worse, what if I later had to show this picture publicly? Excruciating shame and self-loathing would follow.

This self-imposed strictness is something I’m fighting with to make art creation more pleasurable for myself again. And thus, my double sketchbook life began:

I do all my formal work in my main sketchbook (MD PAPER F4 cotton paper book). When I start on a new illustration, for example, the next store in my series or a commission, I pick up my perfectly sharpened pencils, and precision electric eraser, open up my reference photos and books, and start designing. I’m donning my architect-like posture. I plan and measure and check. Start with a very rough thumbnail sketch and refine the idea. I reach for references extensively to verify if the things I’m drawing are correct and gather useable textures and details.

This type of work usually progresses slowly. Sometimes I fill ten or more pages with over-detailed pencil drawings to figure out the look of just one of my stores.
For illustrations that I will later paint with watercolors, I go even further and do color tests in the sketchbook itself or digitally.

Yes, the process is very arduous, but it’s tried and sure. I feel secure and can do meaningful work even when I don’t feel particularly creative. I know that if I put in the time, I will have something to show for my effort at the end of the day and that the results will at least be up to my usual standards.

This work sketchbook is well-polished and presentable. You will probably see it in a future YouTube stream or on my Patreon.

But working like this all the time can feel dull and oppressive, so when the night comes, when the creative energies don’t want to be suffocated by rules and what is presentable or “well-drawn,” I reach for my leather-bound book.

I have a second sketchbook (MD Paper A5 notebook – hardback size) which, inserted into a sturdy leather cover, lives in my bag and is always close, ready to be used. The leather cover also has a pen loop which usually holds a ballpoint pen. In this book, I allow myself not to care about anything, to draw and sketch whatever I want without any consequences — no one will ever see the contents (well, maybe my accomplice and wife Kana when I’m asking for advice). I might even throw the whole thing away when I’m done with it. Drawing in this sketchbook is like a breath of fresh air. I’m reminded of when I just enjoyed drawing for the sake of it when it was just fun to make marks on paper, and this sketchbook is helping me get this feeling back a little.

At the same time, because I’m free to make mistakes, draw things that break and burn, are not finished, or I can’t show (like studies of things I don’t have permission to use, copying stuff from movies, etc.), I can learn a lot in this space. I can explore aspects of art I do not dare to venture into usually because the possibility of failure mortifies me.

Using a sketchbook like this is not a simple matter of just having fun. It requires a surprising amount of commitment and will to decide that I want to put so much of my precious work time into something that does not produce any immediate, tangible gains. Nothing to “upload” at the end of a sketching session. The current fast-paced age tries to convince us that doodling in a notebook and not doing anything with the contents is a wild extravagance. Still, after doing this for a while, I’m starting to think such free art space, released from any judgment, may be one of the places where valuable and original art is born.

7 thoughts on “Double sketchbook life”

  1. Really know what you mean, im just a hobbiest artist but sometimes i really get self pressured to do something good and pretty while drawing
    Anyway, im happy to see a professinal artist that i admire writing about that


  2. Whatever you sketch or explore is always feeding into the ‘public’ art you makes. It would be lovely to be able to wave a magic wand to free people from their crippling anxiety about sharing their work about it not being good enough. A few days ago Lynda Barry (aka @thenearsightedmonkey) posted a short statement a few days ago.
    “Drawing to have an experience, rather than make a thing that is good or bad.”
    That what we should all be aiming for in our art practice no matter what level of skill we have.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In some online spheres where creatives might feel pressured to share every single detail of their work, or feel that they must post frequently (often at the expense of compromising personal growth and passions), having a dedicated space to not only play, but explore, challenge, and deliberately try new things sounds like an important thing to have. What a great way to keep the act of creation fresh, and create in a way one might normally not be able to if one were only to continuously create polished work for the public eye.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post and one I can relate to far to easily. A shocking and wonderful change that happened for me was an about a year and a half ago, I bought an iPencil and thought maybe I’d give sketching on the iPad a go. I was skeptical… and then the doors blew wide open. Suddenly I was a kid again. Drawing is play and a favourite thing to do again. I always felt that going to college to study art, oddly, killed the joy. Art became about identity and everything I did was about getting it right, and not failing to do so. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

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