I accidentally bought myself an early Christmas present the other day. It arrived yesterday and I made myself wait until bedtime to open it. A book, of course: Danny Gregory’s ‘An illustrated life’. It had been lurking on the wishlist for some time, and I decided that I needed a treat. And what a visual treat it is. There are hundreds of pages from artists’ and designers’ sketchbooks, together with their commentaries on the why, how and what of producing journals. For anyone remotely interested in the creative process, there’s a lot to be learned.
The one lesson that stands out for me from reading into the wee small hours last night, is the message that came across loud and clear that the artists learn most from the mistakes and “ugly pages”. The vast majority of artists choose to leave those ugly pages in, rather than rip them out, because what they are charting is a learning process, rather than the artwork itself. For them, this visual diary is a map of where they started and where they finished up, working day by day, page by page. What they also comment on is that recording something by drawing is a way of capturing a moment and slowing time down. Looking back at sketchbooks from years ago, many say they remember exactly where they were, what they were feeling, wearing, seeing, smelling and every little detail about that precise moment. I think of it as an exercise in mindfulness, or ‘flow’ where the focus is entirely on the task in hand.
Like a diary, a sketchbook is intensely personal – literally putting yourself on the page. So I’m very grateful that the artists featured in Gregory’s book collaborated in his inspiring project. For that reason, I’m including a page of mine inspired by a Walt Whitman poem I came across (see an earlier post called ‘Dive in, the water’s lovely’). It’s certainly not perfect, there are things I would do differently, but I learnt a lot by doing.
I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions: why not now? So I will be buying another pre-Christmas present today. A Moleskine sketchbook to be a daily visual journal. Join me?