The EmptySketchbook

I have several beautiful sketchbooks, which I admire so much that my day-bag is rarely without one. My current favorite has a slubbed linen cover in a muted shade of cerulean. Ceruleans are the blues that attract me most of all, and this is the loveliest sketchbook I've yet found. Like most of the others, it is empty.

The sketchbook is an artist's creative wellspring; so why do I sit and stare at the pretty closed cover, instead of busily scribbling visual ideas inside?

Why indeed?

Well, the sketch might not be perfect, and someone might see ...

The sketchbook only has twenty pages, and it's watercolor paper, and I don't want to waste any ...

Gadzooks! I'm in a public place. What if somebody sees me drawing?!

Reminds me of when I practiced piano after class every day in an elementary school's music room. One of the teachers routinely snuck up behind me and yelled, "Don't make a mistake!"

Do you have empty sketchbooks? Do you, too, sit, incapable of action, once the time and the sketchbook - or canvas - are finally both at hand? Is Miss P----- watching eagle-eyed, ready to yell from behind you?

Those are reasons, but I think that more serious factors are often the real issue. Here's a thought trap I often fall into:

1) Time not spent making art is worthless.

2) Thus, if I am not using my time to make art, I am worthless as an artist.

3) Therefore, any art I might make is also worthless, so I might as well not make any.

That line of thought can damage an artist's morale, spirit, and ability to create. It is guaranteed to leave me staring at the beautiful blank page. Wrong premises lead to wrong conclusions. I am trying to learn that time spent away from art is important, even restorative. Time spent doing nothing - just sitting quietly, gazing and listening. Time spent soaking up sensory delights: a delicious meal; a vibrant farm market; the sun on one's face; the warmth of good company. God spent the evenings in Paradise simply walking in His garden.

Oddly enough, I have one sketchbook that does get used. It's not so pretty that I fall into thinking it's for show. Instead, it's unobtrusive. I always have it with me, and I never leave it around where anyone can look inside. It's private and it's mine. I paste things in it - clippings, images. I write in it - ideas for paintings, random thoughts, and possible titles (recently I gleaned a list of nearly two dozen from the Song of Solomon). And sometimes I sketch in it. Most of the sketches aren't terribly presentable. But I do go back to them, over and over, as the raw material for paintings. Even the most rudimentary sketch or written note brings back the visual memory, the day and the moment. This sketchbook is deliberately un-organized, and that makes it all the more useful to me. In fact, I have three decades' worth of these private sketchbooks. Funny how easy it is to open one of them and go right to something remembered from years ago.

Do you suppose God has a sketchbook? I rather doubt it, myself. But I can imagine Him looking over my shoulder, saying "Hmmm," at mine.

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