Paper, not Precious

I have a few YouTube vices, if “vice” is even the right word. Special interests? Obsessions? The gist of it is, I have a few niche things that I really like indulging in on YouTube, and one of them is sketchbook tours. I love me a good sketchbook tour.

The thing is, most of the sketchbooks tours remind me of… you know those “lifestyle” YouTubers, who do home tours, and everything is blindingly white and pristine, and every pillow is perfectly coordinated, and the entire home is in perfect thematic harmony — colors, patterns, even textiles carried over through every room in the house — and your first reactions are at war with each other: “Oh my God, who even actually lives like this?” and “Oh my God, why can’t I live like this?”

That’s me, but with sketchbook tours. Some of these sketchbooks are enviably beautiful, but are so detached from my reality that they leave me a little loopy; almost a little defensive. That, by the way, is a “me” problem; let’s be very clear. But surely a lot of you must know what I mean, at least in the realm of home tours or lifestyle vloggers — there’s a idyllic quality about everything they do, everything they show you, and some of you must be both envious of that perfection but also a little nonplussed; “how do you ‘live’ in a house that pristine?”

I feel that way about these sketchbook tours. And look, I can’t help that that’s my gut reaction, and I bear no ill-will to those people who curate such perfect sketchbooks, with fully colored, fully realized artwork on seemingly every page. They are beautiful. What you do clearly brings you joy. Some people just are, innately, very naturally able to curate neat, complete, well-organized spaces. That’s where they thrive, and they have absolutely every right to proudly show it off.

I think the problem is that this is the only side of it we generally see, and the “fault” in that lies with those of us not showing our chaotic messes of sketchbooks, not those who curate more elaborate, methodical ones. When I first got into watching arttubers, what stood out to me was how intimidatingly polished the work in some of their sketchbooks looked. Now, some of that is likely a result of practice — a practiced artist’s sketches are going to look more skillful than an amateur’s.

But it also occurred to me — way, way later than it should have — that some of that is also a result of knowing you intend your sketchbook as a piece for consumption. You are going to work in your sketchbook more and more carefully, if your sketchbook is something that you are planning on sharing for mass viewing. Which, again, is absolutely fine, and which is something that I obviously love seeing, given the ammount of time I spend watching sketchbook tours, lol. Seeing page after page of lovely doodles and art bring me a lot of joy.

But — it also almost made me stop sketching.

So I want to start us sharing our less-than-picture-perfect sketchbooks. The random, half-finished heads that have never heard of “perspective.” The random doodles done while on the phone. The scraps of totally unrelated notes that aren’t exactly art, but dammit, you needed paper and that’s what was available. The same flowers you doodled in your 7th grade algebra notebook and still haven’t managed to outgrow. The rough sketches — or sometimes even vague descriptions of sketches — for drawings you’re “going to do.” Hands — oh, sweet Jesus, the (barely recognizable as) hands. The pages you let your kids scribble on because you needed just five minutes of quiet.

All of it. Every single thing.

So let those picture-perfect sketchbooks be aspirational; it’s never a bad thing to strive to be more than you are. Let them inspire you, let them give you ideas for sprawling art spreads, and creative new ways to fill your pages.

But don’t let them shame you; I highly, highly doubt that was ever the creator’s intent. And don’t let them keep you from doing what you need to do to get moving, from using your sketchbook in whatever way best allows your ideas to grow and flow. Don’t let them allow you to convince yourself that your messy, half-formed, done-in-five-minutes-in-a-Zoom-waiting-room doodles aren’t “good enough” for your sketchbook. Your sketchbook might have personal meaning to you, but as a tool, it’s not something precious, guys. It’s paper. It’s only paper.

I hope you are finding time to continue to be creative, and that you take solace and joy in your creativity.

Stay safe, stay sane, stay creative.

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