"Draw everywhere and all the time. An artist is a sketchbook with a person attached," artist Irwin Greenberg said.
OK, but what if you're not an artist? Or, at least, not yet. Can you still gain something from incorporating a sketchbook into your everyday life? The answer is yes, yes, a million times yes. And here's why.
Exercising your creative mind is just as important as exercising your body. Studies have shown that just seeing, never mind creating art can lower levels of cytokine interleukin 6 -- a marker of inflammation that can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and even Alzheimer's. And while coloring books have recently become the trendy artistic outlet of choice, I'd like to make a case for their humble grandfather, the sketchbook.
Coloring books are great for unwinding after a long day, but they're not the easiest to transport and whip out on the go. A sketchbook and a pencil, however, can (and should!) easily become part of your everyday routine. Slip it in your purse or backpack or back pocket and just like that, you can make art anytime, anywhere. Your pencil and paper become your secret weapons, or secret friends, depending on how you look at it.
"I draw like other people bite their nails," Pablo Picasso famously declared. If you want to begin your own personal journey towards Picasso levels of mastery, you best start biting your nails now. If you commit to living the sketchbook life, prepare to witness some beautiful changes. Here's what can happen:
1. You'll have no excuses.
Paint is expensive. Canvases too. You'll probably make a mess.
There are plenty of legit reasons why art making often falls by the wayside for those of us who are trying to squeeze a little creative experimentation into a busy schedule. But if you have your pencil and paper on you, the only thing stopping you is yourself. As 14th century Italian artist Cennino Cennini put it: "Do not fail, as you go on, to draw something every day, for no matter how little it is, it will be well worth while, and it will do you a world of good."
A portrait, a tree, a sun, a little cartoon expressing how hungover you are. Just make sure you draw something.
2. The world will look richer.
How often do you pay attention to the squiggly line formed by the city's tallest buildings? Or the slouched posture of a stranger on your Subway car? The agile physique of your neighborhood cat? The pile of junk in your garbage can?
Drawing isn't just a way to depict the world around you, but to discover the world around you. With your pencil poised to paper, you suddenly become a creative hunter, eyes darting to locate the most visually enticing subject matter in your periphery. You may soon find that the familiar people, places and things in your life look fresh from new angles, in new lights, and utterly alien as they begin to break down into shapes, lines and shadows.
3. You'll stop worrying about perfection.
No judgment about having too much judgment. I know the feeling all too well of spending under five minutes "in the zone" only to pull back and, in a moment of horror and embarrassment, rip the work in progress into shreds. Of course, no artist starts out being perfect, or even great, and the true sign of an artist is someone who keeps going.
If you accept the fact that your work will not be perfect (and no beginner's, or person's really, is) you'll save yourself a lot of grief. Learn to accept your flaws, learn from them, and even appreciate them. Do you tend to draw eyes too big? Have trouble capturing a person's face in profile? Have a shaky hand you wish had more grace? Some of these things can be worked on and eventually changed and others just may become your artistic signature. You never know.
4. You'll spend less time on your phone.
Consider this an added bonus. Now, when you're waiting for the bus, letting your face mask sit, killing time on your lunch break, etc., you won't have to find yourself in a dark social media spiral refreshing your high school nemesis' Instagram to see if she uploaded more wedding pics yet.
You can now use brief spans of downtime -- even five minutes will do -- to create something beautiful. Trust me, this will make you feel better about yourself than you will scouring the top Facebook trending topics to discover Beyoncé went out to dinner.
5. You'll copy everything. And this can be great inspiration.
How many moments are there in a day when you pass an image -- on a T-shirt, a mural, an Instagram post -- and you think not just "I could do that" but "I want to do that." You'll be surprised how good it feels to actively incorporate the images that inspire you into your work.
Pablo Picasso allegedly lived by the motto, "good artists copy, great artists steal." So, go ahead, copy, steal, what are you waiting for?
6. You'll physically observe your own personal style develop.
It's hard to know your style or aesthetic from a single image, especially one that feels unnatural or new. But over time, you'll begin to see the quirks that define your work reveal themselves. The way you cross-hatch to make shadows, or need to fill up an entire page to feel finished, or love to draw every individual strand of hair.
You'll watch your style adapt and react -- maybe after watching an hour of cartoons you'll change a little, and after visiting the MoMA you'll change again. You'll begin to notice which parts of your work are malleable and which are a part of your artistic DNA. The little habits and peculiarities will start to operate as a second signature.
7. You won't just illustrate, you'll create.
After all the copying and stealing and seeking inspiration from the world around you, something will click. Instead of paying attention to whether the flower on your page resembles the one outside your window, you may let the drawing do the talking. How do the lines speak to you? What do the marks on the page suggest?
In short: you'll let go, find your happy place, respond to what's in front of you, and simply connect the dots.
8. You'll have a visual diary of your life.
If you love the feeling of leafing through an old scrapbook or journal and seeing the different versions of yourself that make appearances along the way, you will love getting a personal sketchbook collection. It juggles the places you've been and the people you've seen with images of your hopes, fears and interior imaginings. You can look back not only on how you used to draw feet like golf clubs, but also on the places you've visited and abstract images you've conjured in your mind.
9. You'll zen out.
Drawing demands presence. It calls for attention. It requests you be in the world around you, aware of your internal and external environment. Drawing needs an active pause.
A funny side effect of drawing is, without even realizing it, you start to meditate. Connected to the world around you but free to stretch the boundaries of your own mind, drawing is a wonderful alternative form of meditating for those of us who can't seem to stay still and breathe. You may notice a feeling of calmness washing over you, a visceral sense of being in the zone, the comforting awareness you're right where you need to be.
Basically, put a little notebook in your pocket and your life could be altered forever. Whether you hope to become the next Picasso or just a little less stressed at work, it's worth a shot.
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