I am a new convert to sketching as part of my art practice. And a very reluctant convert at that. I think it was the idea that other people might see my scribblings that I found so daunting, or perhaps it was a throw-back to fears of "not doing it right", learned in some long-ago classroom, or maybe it was seeing all those books about "artful sketchbooks" You know the kind - filled with so many beautiful paintings that they are a piece of art in themselves. Whatever the roots of my reluctance were, I've thrown them over. I've dabbled with sketching before, but I think I can safely say that I now see it as an essential part of my art practice.
It began with an invitation to look at lines - all different sorts of lines. I drew 30 little squares on my sketchbook page and quickly filled them in, beginning with the simplest of lines and eventually including any sort of line that appealed to me. And I learned something from that simple exercise that I didn't know before. I could see which lines appealed to me, which called my name, and therefore what sort of lines I might want to consider including in my own work. Fancy that.
I began, somewhat trepidatiously, to use my sketchbook for other things. After all, it's MY sketchbook - right? So I can make up my own rules (or not) about what I can include. I limited myself to two rules only - the first is that I must sketch something every day, and the second is that I must use a black pen. One day I was thinking about different symbols that might be included in an embroidered piece I am considering making. So I drew them in my sketchbook.
Another day I went on a walk specifically to spend time looking at the roof and window lines of nearby houses, and then I tried my hand at sketching them too.
On yet another day I was thinking about some of my favourite work by Paul Klee, and what symbols he used, and then thinking about how to include them in my own pieces, and learned that working designs to fit a curve appeals enormously to me. Only I didn't just think about it - I sketched these thoughts, so now I have a record I can return to at any time I want. And then out of nowhere came these strange almost-people like shapes. I have no idea what they're about, but I don't need to know right now. I just need to keep sketching and see what else turns up.
Sketches of leaves and ferns are not new to me, and felt like a safe bet after those weird people turned up on my page.
And then another day, it was almost time for bed and I still hadn't sketched that day. I looked around the room and my eyes fell on this little suitcase - a little leather suitcase I'd found on Cuba Street in Wellington and which told me it wanted to come home with me. So I sketched that.
This day's sketching was an extension of the idea I'd sketched earlier, of constructing shapes to fit a curve. And because I've sketched that idea twice now, I'm thinking it might be something I wast to explore further.
This was an idea for an installation piece which began with me picking up a long driftwood branch on the beach. What if I were to use this as a hanging rod for African fabrics - strips of them arranged around a photo or appliqué of the Bitengye ladies? The sketch, in this case, became a place to record an idea before it danced off into the land of forgotten thoughts. I don't know if I will ever make it, but that doesn't matter right now. It's the sketching of the idea that's important.
On another day I had my sketchbook down at Grassy Point on Hornby Island, and recorded how it felt to be there, as well as making a rough sketch of where I was and describing it all with words.
And on it goes. And it's wonderful. And I can't imagine now why I was so reluctant to make sketching part of my art practice, just like the journalling that I've done for so very many years. It makes me pay more attention, and it helps me remember what it is I've seen and what I've thought. It feels a little like leaving markers on a trail - perhaps red ribbons tied to low-hanging branches - that show that I'm on the right path, heading in the right direction. I can't see where it's all going, and I don't need to, but I can see the next red ribbon, and that's enough to keep me moving forward on this journey.