For a long time, I’ve had a hang-up with sketchbooks, notebooks & journals.
Don’t misunderstand me. I love them. I walk through the notebook/journal section almost every time I’m at a store that carries them. I look for ones with beautiful bindings, filled with inviting papers. And I’ve certainly bought enough of them.
But, what I’ve accumulated is a collection of journals and sketchbooks that have two or three pages filled, a few pages torn out, and then the balance of the pages are blank. So I’ll stroll through the notebook section, get wooed into buying another one, and do the very same thing to that one.
I finally had to draw a line. Stop buying notebooks until you fill the ones you have. Don’t fill them in a spirit of angst and criticism, but with joy and passion.
Why does that seem so hard?
It’s hard because I approach those blank pages with the expectation that everything will be worthy of selling, printing, sharing, posting. I don’t want them to be filled with mistakes and stupid mundane things and incomplete thoughts and poorly rendered sketches and amateur watercolors and misspelled words. I want every page and word to be brilliant and, when I’m long gone from this earth, people can look at my notebooks and journals and see the best things I created contained there.
That is a very unrealistic and completely ridiculous way to approach a journal or sketchbook.
Right now, what people will find when my belongings end up in an estate sale, is a bunch of empty notebooks. A woman who had a notebook-collecting issue and a fear of filling them.
I’m thinking about when we cleaned out my Oma’s attic. She was a major collector, so there was a lot to sift through. I remember sitting on my knees in the dusty, dark attic, pouring over letters and mundane scribblings in scrapbooks with edges nibbled away by silverfish. Those scribblings were precious and I wish she had written more.
By not filling these notebooks, I’m robbing myself of the opportunity to use them as a part of the creative process. They should be a place of free expression, trial and error, discovery, and yes, failures. But, it’s all valuable. And maybe it will all be interesting to someone some day. Maybe not, but maybe.
Lately, the movie Ratatouille has been on my mind. I absolutely love the quote at the end, by the food critique. He says…
“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”
I think that’s true even of self-criticism. It can be a valuable tool to prod us to improve, but it can also stifle and prevent us from creating anything at all.
As I was scratching away in one of my sketchbooks yesterday, this was on my heart.
I wrote out some of these very thoughts and finished the page with the not-at-all eloquent, but honest, “Better to create crap than to not create at all.”
I know I don’t always believe that, but I’m going to try to create more in the freedom that sentiment bestows. It’s permission to create simply for the joy of creating and not for the end result. It’s an invitation to fill those pages as often as I want and none of it has to be profound or remarkable or even good.
But it’s all done in the hopes that some of it will be good and what’s not good will get better from the practice. And, with each blank piece of paper filled, imperceptible growth will be occurring that one day will show up on the canvas or the printed page.
(This was my sketchbook entry today – a study of a sketch by Jon deMartin found in the book Drawing Atelier – The Figure.)