When setting out on a journey, first things first, which direction to go in? Because I usually have more than one project started, which direction becomes a daily question. The things I do, painting, writing, sewing, and gardening, are solitary pursuits, and unless I have company, am involved in a collaborative work, or facing a deadline, the choice of direction can sometimes be hard to make. To save time I like to plan the next day’s schedule before I go to bed, figure out the priorities, so that when I get started, I can run on automatic, at least for a short time, while waiting for my brain to wake up and catch up. That is the theory anyway. But sometimes there is just too much going on in my head to settle down and follow the previous night’s plan, too many “must” things demanding attention, too many “fun” things wanting to be done. So how do I decide? This is where my sketchbook comes in handy.
As far back as I can remember, growing up, pencil and paper were my ‘go to’ items, they helped me remember good times, offered escape in bad times, and afforded me a place in my mind that was quiet enough to let me focus and sort out whatever needed to be mulled over. Through the years, doodles, sketches, and creative marks, all helped to funnel the mental mayhem into something more manageable. But eventually my sketchbook went from every day use to only when ‘needed’, such as working out a problem composition, or as an emergency stand-in for a missing journal.
Recently, I have gone back to my old friend the sketchbook on a daily basis, the first thing in the morning and sometimes the last thing at night. It is not easy to rebuild an old habit, but it is very beneficial. To help the process, and keep it simple, I set aside time every morning and choose a subject matter per month. Nothing too complex but something of interest, for example, last month my subject was trees.
So every morning, while waiting for my tea or coffee to brew or with cup already in hand, I drew trees in pen and ink, uncomplicated, 30 minutes, and usually with enough time left on the clock to add some color if desired. After time is up I usually find that the exercise has helped to quiet the morning mayhem, to put my mind into a sort of meditative state making it easier to sort things out and settle on a direction for the day whether previously planned or not. Because the sketching is only for me, concern over presentation becomes a non-issue, and there is enough flexibility built in so that when life sometimes throws a monkey wrench, there is no stress if I miss a morning or two. Later when I make the time to ‘catch-up’ on any missing days, which is purely optional, my inner voice of accountability feels satisfied and whatever stresses I have collected from the day are dissolved in my 30 minutes, (up to an hour), of sketchbook meditation. More importantly though, the built in forgiveness allows this exercise to remain enjoyable and it does not take on the mantle of chore. A month’s worth of simple sketches in addition to those done outside the morning exercise adds up to a nice feeling of personal satisfaction and accomplishment.
An additional benefit to the morning sketching, I have noticed, is the emergence of themes, without conscious effort or design. By month’s end of just drawing trees, I had found inspiration for a new series of paintings which I am eager to get started on. Just more places I can explore on my creative travels.