One of my goals for 2016 was to start keeping a sketchbook, spending half an hour a day or so writing down ideas, capturing inspirational photos, brainstorming ideas for new work. The result has been a collection of half-formed ideas, scribbled-on photos, and terrible sketches of designs that don’t work at all. In other words, pure gold.
One thing I didn’t realize about a sketchbook is that it is not actually for developing project ideas. The main value to my sketchbook is capturing half-baked ideas so I can revisit them later. You know, the projects that you dream up in the shower and then forget about once you’re done shampooing your hair, because the design is fatally flawed or it isn’t interesting enough to develop further. I had been thinking of those ideas as failed experiments, when in fact they’re really gems in the rough. The design can be awful, but the idea behind the design is worth capturing. Putting the design in my sketchbook allows me to revisit those themes later. Similarly, capturing work that I like and including a few sentences of commentary gives me a better understanding of my preferences, which I can then take into finished work. So it is well worth the half-hour or so a day I’m spending on it.
I wish I could share more of my sketchbook pages, but since nearly all of them contain copyrighted images or photos of other artists’ work, there isn’t a whole lot I can post publicly. (Which is just as well, since they are full of half-baked ideas that really aren’t ready to be shown to anyone else.) But I thought I’d show you one or two pages, just so you can get a flavor of what my sketchbook looks like.
Here is a page with a project idea, a tiger cloak with the logos of various Internet giants on it:
For a variety of reasons, I don’t like this design much – it’s definitely half-baked and I would normally ball it up and throw the sketch away (if it even got that far). However, the idea behind the design is interesting even if the design itself is terrible. The point of this piece is that the savagery of the jungle around us hasn’t changed, even if the trappings have. And that today’s big corporations aren’t really any different from the tigers of the past, even though they’re a lot slicker. I threw in a primitive tribal mask and a necklace of fangs to show that society really hasn’t changed from the days of the wild shaman.
Interestingly enough, this design didn’t arise from the concept of savage corporations. It arose from a different idea in the sketchbook, where I listed out some technical experiments I wanted to try on the jacquard loom. In particular, I wanted to incorporate design elements that could only be done in cloth – thus answering the question, “Why weave it, when you could use more traditional art media like painting or sculpture?” So I made a list of things that could only be done in cloth. One was incorporating physical texture – in this case, creating the texture of fur by weaving with some silk eyelash yarn or brushed mohair that I had in my stash, and had been itching to try. So that brought to mind tiger fur…which made me think about tigers and their savagery. Groping around for ideas, I found the idea of the “corporate jungle”. And that was the genesis for this design.
That genesis also shows the value of the sketchbook. I can go back and take ideas that appear on previous pages, then combine them with a different concept to produce entirely new thoughts and designs. And I can look through the ideas for themes later. This particular tiger design has spawned a few more lines of thought. The next idea in the series was a tiger with circuit-board stripes, combining artificial structures with organic ones. That led to the idea that the analytic brain and the creative brain are not actually opposites, one to be suppressed for the other. Instead they work seamlessly together to support and nurture each other, and to enable marvelous things. So that led to a rainbow-colored circuit board, a yin-yang of creative vs. analytic, and a few other ideas.
And, looking a level deeper, these ideas are all about the ego vs. the id – the idea of combining the primitive and emotional with the slick modern analytical. Interesting!
Here’s another page with a set of ideas – no projects in sight, but you can see the track of the tiger, this time mixed with Greek mythology – the story of Arachne the weaver, who challenged the goddess Athena to a weaving contest and wound up as a spider.
I’m sorry I can’t share any of the pages with inspirational photos – there are a lot of those, especially from a visit to the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles a few days ago. For each interesting piece, I wrote down what I liked, both in the overall piece and the detail photos – treasure for later.
And here’s a sketchbook photo I can share: violets, harbingers of spring. There are no project ideas associated with them right now – I just happen to like violets – but who knows?
Holly Shaltz says
It sounds like you’re using an electronic “sketchbook” in that you’re putting in photos. What software are you using for that?
I have a note-taking program in my computer I use for ideas, however half-baked, but I can’t put photos or add drawings or any other forms of illustration. OTOH, it’s searchable, which makes it really easy to find whatever half-baked stuff I want to revisit 🙂
Tien Chiu says
It’s a pretty kluge-y solution, but I’m doing it in Photoshop and then saving each page as a separate .jpg. That allows me to insert photos, draw, etc. to my heart’s content and also lets me duplicate photos etc. between pages. I put each page in a separate group, the elements on the page become layers in that group. Then I group the page groups by days, if there are multiple pages in single day. New file every week or two to keep things a bit more tidy.
When naming the .jpg files, I start with the date, then the page number, then two or three words describing the theme of the page. That allows me to sort by date and then use Windows Photo manager to flip through the pages one by one, if i want to go that direction. I can also do some very crude searching.
Once I have enough pages that searchability becomes an issue, I’m planning to dump the .jpg files into Evernote, which will OCR the text in the .jpgs, rendering them searchable. That’s one of the reasons I tend to type rather than write in the sketchbook – of course, my handwriting is terrible and takes up more space, so I generally prefer typing anyway.
I’m really surprised there isn’t some kind of software that allows you to do everything. On the computer, OneNote will kinda do it, but the drawing tools are really primitive. On the iPad, Morpho Journal will sort of do it, but has some major drawbacks that make it a nonstarter for me. But they’re continuing to develop it, so I think it has much promise for the future.
Holly Shaltz says
Thanks for the response, Tien, and you’ve provided me with some food for thought. I’m on Linux, unfortunately not Ubuntu, and so software options are slim-to-none. But I have GIMP… if I knew how to use it effectively 🙂