Sunday, December 30, 2018

Making a mess

A couple of weeks ago I picked up The Artist magazine, and loved reading this article by James Hobbs. It spoke to me a lot, as sketchbooks are something I've struggled with for a long time now which I've briefly touched on before.

In the days before the internet, an artist's sketchbook was more likely to have been retained as reference... But social media has revolutionised the way we share our sketchbook work, particularly Instagram and Facebook, but also Pinterest and Twitter, have meant we can, within minutes, share our images with a worldwide audience and get the dopamine hit that a wave of likes and comments can bring... Gradually, perhaps unwittingly, we can find ourselves trying to make work that will be the most liked, loved and wowed, and not what will help us find the way of working that's right for us as individuals.

I can distinctly remember when the self conciousness over my sketchbooks first began to creep in - I began carrying one with me everywhere I went as a late teen in order to practise, but it quickly drew comments of “can I see your sketchbook?” I was always happy to oblige as I enjoyed the “oohs” and “ahhs” that accompanied it, but it began me on the track of thinking of my sketchbook as something that had an audience and that I had to make look perfect, which often paralysed me from actually creating.

This was only made worse by the rise of social media. I never had issues with sites such as deviantART and blogs as it promoted only showing your best work and finalised pieces. It was YouTube where the toxicity began to creep in. I've long enjoyed watching art YouTubers and their perfectly curated sketchbook tours in awe, but it resulted in me seeing my own sketchbook as messy and incomplete in comparison, and wanting to make my sketchbook as perfect as theirs. I didn’t realise that sketchbooks aren’t supposed to be perfect and curated, they’re supposed to be messy and incomplete and personal.

It’s taken me a long time to come to this realisation, to know that I don’t have to create a sketchbook for anyone but myself. I finally have a sketchbook now that I'm happy with - it's messy, it's full of ideas and experimentation, thumbnails, to do lists, and ticket stubs, things that have no relevence to anyone but myself and that's ok because it's mine. I don’t owe anyone my sketchbook, and if someone asks to see it I’m well within my rights to decline and offer them finished pieces instead. After all, you wouldn’t give someone access to your journal and what’s the difference? I've finally stopped starting new sketchbook after new sketchbook, always leaving them incomplete as I couldn’t keep up with the idea of perfection I’d set up for it. Stopped creating each page with the idea of offering complete strangers online a flip through of the final thing one day when I’d finally completed one and it was perfect. I'm no longer intimidated by a blank page because it doesn't have to be put up for public opinion and consumption. After years my art block has gone, evidenced by how much work I've been uploading to this blog recently, and it's all because I've re-learnt how to create like no one is watching.

Of course this isn't to say that all social media is bad - watching YouTube channels like thegothicalice and drawingwiffwaffles have been incredibly inspiring for me and have played a huge part in helping to remind me of what a sketchbook should be. Many artists and illustrators have managed to build their entire careers through their accounts, and I myself enjoy sharing my processes and final pieces with anyone who'll listen. But social media is definately able to give a constant self awareness that isn't always healthy, and I think it's time to recognise that. Not everything has to be shared to be valid or worth creating, sometimes the only audience you need is you.
© a soot sprite. Design by FCD.