looking across the river.

Breaking in a new sketchbook is a daunting moment. It’s not as if they are outrageously expensive, but after investing thirty bucks into a new Moleskine watercolour folio, peeling the plastic cover off, and quietly considering how great it was going to look full of lovely urban sketches, I couldn’t help but hesitate to put a first mark on the page.

I bought a new sketchbook because we’re going on a plane in about three weeks. We’ll be wandering around Manhattan for the better part of five days and I plan to sit and sketch for at least one picture per day. I’ve been falling into the habit with the last few sketchbooks I’ve bought to “theme” them. I have a book of little watercolours of objects. I have a notebook that is exclusively for sequential journaling. I have a sketchbook for people. I have another for pen drawings of scenes. I have yet another that is reserved for full watercolour layouts.

I did not have a book for urban sketches.

I figured New York would be a great place to have exactly that.

But then the idea of taking a completely blank canvas on a big vacation and finding myself sitting in some square in the heart of the Big Apple, overthinking that first mark on that first page… it was not just a daunting moment, but a paralysing one.

loose lines

Filling a sketch with life and vibrancy is a collection of a million little choices, but never in my wildest imaginations did I come to realize that half of that million choices would occur not just in the seconds of my sketches but in the microseconds. The choice to do more than translate the scene onto the paper comes from feeling the very soul of a space and an object and the various subjects of your work. Life is not made up of perfect lines and regurgitating the symmetry of a world that doesn't really exist means that we are too often drawing symbols of how we want the world to be than letting the world flow into our pens at every micro-moment of ink on paper contact. There is a looseness of letting the universe jitter and jiggle through our fingers, as if the quantum uncertainty at the edges of everything and all matter is amplified to expression on the page, and the result when done right in inescapable momentum towards art and away from mere documentation.

My solution for overcoming two kinds of new sketchbook daunting…um… ness was simple.

First, just draw. Now. Find an on-theme picture or scene, and just mess up at least one page. I mean, now that I’ve messed up one I may as well mess up a couple more before we leave, but that fresh, newly-unwrapped watercolour folio is now good and broken in with at least one lovely painting. With at least one drawing in that book, and possibly three or four if I get my act together, when I pull that sketchbook out onto my lap in Central Park next month, THAT drawing will just be another drawing in just another notebook. Not daunting at all.

Second, and a tip I picked up randomly from YouTube, never start on page one. I opened that new folio right to near exactly the middle and drew on that page. Sure, I labelled and dated it, but sequentially chronology is for meeting minutes from my office job, not my art… right. Page one is so significant and weighty, so why add to the pressure of not only drawing A page, but drawing THE page… the FIRST page. So, I didn’t. I drew page forty seven or something unremarkable. Page forty seven is not daunting.

Drawing in a bound notebook, in public to boot, is supposed to be fun and relaxing. What ways do you find to reduce the stress, even just a little, so that you can focus on the moment and not the silly details that shouldn’t be filling you with extra stress?