[UPDATED: added additional scans on Sunday 4/1]
A heartfelt thanks to everyone who left a comment on my post about sketchbooks. Here's some more on the topic, and I apologize in advance for covering some of the same ground again in my second installment. Even though this post is specifically about carrying a sketchbook, I can't help but meander into other territory about the struggles of being an artist.
Reason number two people hate carrying a sketchbook: drawing from life is hard and frustrating, because people and animals are always moving.
True. When I went on those CalArts zoo trips I mentioned before, some students would end up spending most of their time in front of the elephants and the rhinos, because those animals moved the least. They were relatively easy to draw because they stood in one place so you could look back and forth between your subject and your paper and do a nice slow sketch while the subject held the same pose. There wasn't much variety in the movements of those animals either so you couldn't mess it up too badly: they were big heavy shapes with four parallel legs holding them up.
I always sought out the ones that moved around a bit more. I remember running into a particularly good artist in front of the monkey cages. He had pages filled with great drawings of little Capuchin Monkeys swinging around and playing. I was very impressed. His knowledge of animal anatomy and movement enabled him to watch a monkey in action and capture the pose on his paper while it was still fresh in his mind and fill in the parts that he couldn't remember with his knowledge. His grasp of anatomy and confidence enabled him to draw very quickly and capture the poses with a certainty that made them great.
You'll never get to that level if you stay in front of the rhinos or elephants all day, doing nice rendered drawings of the immobile mammals. There's no crime in drawing them, of course, but don't focus on them exclusively. When you go to the Zoo catch a little bit of everything.
People are the same way. Most of the time you'll be trying to catch them as they go about their lives and they rarely stand still in a pose for you. Life Drawing Class is for drawing someone while they sit still for you. Your sketchbook is all about catching real people in real actions, so you'll just have to get used to knowing what you're doing well enough to capture them on paper as they move. The only way to get good at it is to try and try and try. The more you work at it the closer you'll get. It's frustrating, but as I said before, take the pressure off of yourself to do perfect drawings and it'll get easier the more you work at it. Many times a sketch won't be perfect but part of it will succeed nicely: the head has a nice tilt to it, or the legs work perfectly even though the rest of it might not be as great. That's something to feel good about and build on. Ask yourself why the part that works works and the other part doesn't work - you'll learn a lot.
Reason number three that people don't carry a sketchbook: sketchbooks are a pain in the neck to carry around all the time.
This is true. For years I tried to find a good sketchbook that could fit in my pocket, because it was just too much trouble to carry one around. All of the ones that I found that were small enough had terrible paper, and the ones that had good quality paper were always too big. For a while I even made my own with scratch paper, rubberbands and cardboard, but it was a lot of work. What changed all this for me was when I discovered Moleskine makes small sketchbooks that you can carry in your pocket (the 9 x 14 cm version). They fit easily into a front or back jeans pocket or, if you're so inclined, in a purse (I assume so anyway, I don't actually carry a purse). So I got in the habit of carrying one of these and a pen around for whenever I had five spare minutes to sketch. This is a great habit to get into. The good news about the small size is that they are so small nobody can peek over your shoulder while you draw. The bad news is that the small drawing space can start to feel constricting so I started carrying around the bigger Molskine (5 x 8 1/2 inches). I love these babies. I don't mind carrying around one with me all the time now.
Searching for "Moleskine" on Amazon.com brings up many different results. The ones I use have a purple wrapper. They can be found here and here.
Moleskines are a bit more expensive than your average sketchbook. Sometimes I draw on both sides of the paper to make them last longer. There are many other cheaper versions available, so there's no excuse not to have SOME kind of sketchbook.
Reason number four: I've seen a lot of sketchbook scans on other web pages and I'll never be that good.
There are many other blogs where people scan their sketchbooks and sometimes it's like looking at something that should be hanging in a museum. Don't get me wrong, I love to see that stuff and I'm really glad that those people share their sketchbooks with us. Those people blow me away. But let's face it: it can be intimidating. If you look at those you might think "Oh, that's what a sketchbook is supposed to look like" and think that you are doing it wrong.
As I said before, some people are better at doing a great sketch on the first try. When I am storyboarding, I never use the first sketch I do. I always go over it at least once to improve it, sometimes I go over it five times and sometimes I go over it fifty times.
So when I do a drawing in my sketchbook, I get one pass at it. So why would I expect it to be as good as a drawing I produce at work? It's not my strength to do a great drawing on the first shot. Some people are better than this at others. Whenever I draw in a room at work with other people they invariably seem to be better than me at doing a great drawing on the first try. Everybody has a different skill set. The point is that in a sketchbook you only get one chance to capture your first impression. Look at it as a positive thing: in a sketchbook you're freed of the burden of re-doing each sketch. No matter how bad your drawing is once you're done with it you're done.
If you want you can always go back and draw over your sketches and make them better. I did this of a woman clipping her fingernails in public...not something you see every day! I'm pleased that you can tell what she's doing but I would love to go over it and tweak the angles on her wrists and put some bend into that finger she's clipping. But I have a good basis to build on if I want to go over it and improve it, and it would turn out fresher than something I made up entirely out of my head.
Back to the point: it's easy to be intimidated as an artist. Frankly there will always be someone better than you, if you look hard enough (will any of us ever equal Michaelangelo?) and our lives as artists can be so frustrating that we actually look for reasons to give it up, I think. If you'll never be the best, why try, right? It's always a relief to give up a difficult task and, yes, it's easier to give up on your artistic ambitions and play it safe. Just sit on the sofa and watch TV instead.
But if your goal is to be the best artist that ever lived than you're focusing on the wrong thing anyway. Focus on that and you'll be miserable as hell until you get there, and you won't get there until you've at least spent most of your life working on your abilities, so you're going to be miserable for about fifty years. Sounds good, right?
Instead, focus on improving as much as you can as fast as you can. If you can look back and say that you are better now than a year ago then that is a glorious thing. As frustrating as it is to struggle in the here and now, it always puts it in perspective to see where you used to be. It reminds you that the struggle was worth it. It reminds you that you struggle a little less every day. And it reminds you that there will never be an end to the struggle: the better you get, the more you try to achieve. So the best way to approach it is to embrace the struggle, allow yourself to feel frustrated but don't get down on yourself and don't give up. Most artists don't talk about the struggle much but, trust me, everyone flounders. You're not the only one.
No one has spent more time beating themselves up for not being better than myself. Too many times I have focused on the struggle and not seen it as a necessary part of learning and growing. All those hours I spent being down on myself for sucking so horribly were a real waste of time. Don't make the same mistake. If you want to be a better artist, there are only two ways to go about it; first, study and draw, and second, live your life. Living your life is an important part of being an artist - just as important as studying and drawing. Your art is meaningless unless it has life's experiences behind it. Great art captures the truth, joy, absurdity, sadness and fear of everyday life. You can't put this into your art unless you've seen it firsthand. So find a balance of both parts and you will be the best artist you can be in the here and now. Never ever spend your time being intimidated by other artists or worrying about your abilities because these are fruitless endeavors. Worried that you're not a better artist? Grab a sketchbook and head out the door. Watch a movie and get inspired. Look at a book of great paintings and learn something. Take action, don't get down on yourself.
It doesn't help that there are so many published "sketchbooks" these days. Every great artist has a "sketchbook" you can buy, full of perfect drawings no different than their finished work. They should find some other term - those things aren't "sketchbooks" any more than eating a "Happy Meal" will make you happy. I wish they would call them something else. A real sketchbook is a place for learning, where you can experiment and, yes....even do (gasp) bad drawings! Nobody sits down and does a perfect cover-to-cover book of drawings unless they're psychotic or they've filled a lot of books with bad drawings first. And we all know that those "sketchbooks" you can buy are full of sketches chosen from many, many different pieces of paper and the result of many different efforts with the weaker efforts weeded out.
Looking at artwork by fellow artists can be very inspiring but also intimidating. You can get an overwhelming sense of just how much you still have to learn by looking at the work of some great artistic genius. And working in an environment with other artists can be even worse. When you're working alongside someone who seems much better than you you can get really get down on yourself.
In any corporation or business, there will always be a few who go out of their way to intimidate others and make others feel inferior. This is certainly true of every studio I've ever worked at. Nothing takes the joy out of a creative job like dealing with these people. Don't reward this type of behavior by being intimidated. Just do your best and work to improve as much as you can. That's all you can do - there's no secret formula to getting better overnight so don't dwell on that. And if those people really are all that much better than you then look at their stuff and analyze what they're doing well. Learn something from them. Ha! That'll teach them to put good stuff out there!
Don't get intimidated by these people: athletes try to get into each other's heads to get an advantage over each other and artists can be the same way. it's a cheap trick and we should feel sorry for people who do that rather than be afraid of them. They are so insecure in their position and abilities that they are putting a lot of energy into defending their "turf". That's pretty pathetic.
Anyway, to beat a dead horse (and get back on topic), don't feel bad about your abilities, it's a waste of time. All you can do is keep working to get better, and a sketchbook is a great way to do this.
Okay, seriously, that's enough words for one post.
Sketchbooks are a great way to develop observations about how to draw people. I discovered while sketching that a skinny neck makes a person look young. A thick neck makes people look older.
Just like those CalArtians, I find it easier to draw people in repose than in motion. Try to get a good balance of both. When you draw adults in public they are usually walking or standing still - they don't so a lot of extreme poses or interesting variations (like clipping your nails in public - I can't get over that one) but there's a lot to catch about the way people twist and tilt while they are standing still (although some of these are a little too straight up-and-down and symmetrical for my tastes...look out for that. Find twists and tilts).
Kids move around more and that means a trip to the park once in a while to draw kids playing is always a good thing. It's much harder to draw people while they're in motion but it sure teaches you a lot.
Sketching from life is essential because it increases your "shape library" - your mental catalog of shapes that you use to construct when you draw from memory.
It's always fascinating to see how people's bodies distribute their extra weight. Men and women put them in different places and even within that, each person ends up proportioned differently. I have searched long and hard for a book that specifies how men and women differ in where they put their weight but I haven't seen much on it. The general effect is pretty obvious to anyone who looks at people. Sketching is a good way to figure stuff like that out.
More faces. Again, this is easier than drawing people in motion, so I find myself doing this more than I should, but faces are fascinating.