Didn’t Finish / Finished

Part One:

Generally, when I start a page in my sketchbook, I finish it – at least in some form. There are a couple through the years that I have walked away from – one in particular was homework for France Belleville-Van Stone Sketchbook Skool lesson in which we were supposed to deliberately draw cars which might drive away mid-sketch. There’s another page of studies of eyes that I’m adding to bit by bit as the urge to draw an eye strikes me (a less regular occurrence than I expected). But two weeks ago, I started a sketch and ran into such, well, MASSIVE issues that I couldn’t bring myself to continue much less finish it. It was bothering me so badly, I avoided drawing at all. I didn’t even touch my sketchbook for a week because I was so challenged by the mess I’d made.

Here’s a snapshot to give you an idea of the massive problem:


It just kept getting bigger

Mhmm. That’s a six page spread. Everything started out alright with a drawing of the negative spaces of the roofline of one of Tbilisi’s iconic buildings, but as usual, I didn’t really plan out the composition of the page and I let the size of my drawing get totally out of hand. It was so bad that I hadn’t even reached the really interesting part of the roofline before I ran off the page. I ran across the street to an art store and bought a block of drawing paper, matched up a sheet and kept going, figuring I’d tape it in as a fold-out page later. And then the same thing happened. And happened again. And again. And really, even again but at that point I threw in the towel. I went home, washi-taped everything up, tucked the pages in my sketchbook and began the whole avoidance process.

Part Two:

I’ve sort of been dreading this week’s Sketchbook Skool lesson with Juliana Coles. No offense – she seemed like a lovely person and talented artist but I’ve seen work like this before and I’ve even read a bunch of books on creating art journals like hers but I just didn’t get it. It seemed so forced and kind of woo-woo and reaaaaaally personal to me. Nope. Not my thing. I figured I’d watch the videos and give the homework a skip. I’ve got enough to do with making new sketches, why would I ever go back and alter the old ones? And yeesh! I worked hard on those sketches and I don’t want to mess them all up painting over them and sticking stuff on top. Nope. Not for me.

Part Three:

Somewhere in the middle of her demonstration it occurred to me that I did in fact have a sketch that I really hated. A sketch that I was so frustrated by that it was haunting me and keeping me from even touching the book it was in. The wheels started to turn and the ideas of what to I could do and what materials I could use started coming before I could even get to the end of the lesson. I persevered, watched Koosje’s homework video too and then grabbed my book and went off to my desk. (But I still wasn’t going to do that journalling thing. That’s just embarrassing).

Part Four:

I dug out a bunch of rarely-used materials, spread out the pages and thought, Oh what the heck? and grabbed a grey watercolor pencil and started writing. It turns out Juliana’s method of choosing a short prompt and playing with it really can start a flood of thoughts that definitely help to direct the rest of the exercise- which was a good thing considering I had six pages to fill.



Tiny snip of the embarrassing writing

Then it was time for paints. I used some really bright acrylics that have been lying around for years and added some gesso to tone things down or highlight as the mood struck.I made a huge mess; I had a grand time.


It took all day to get the paint off my hands

Like Koosje, I really am a Throw-Outer. I’m known among my friends and colleagues for my special throw-outing superpowers. But I do love to save National Geographic magazines and cut them up to add end papers to my sketchbooks. I grabbed a stack knowing I needed some words (I don’t have any stamps of any kind) but not knowing what else I was looking for. I found a bunch of words that seemed to go along with what I’d been writing and one piece of a photo that I just liked for no particular reason. I collaged them in, feeling that I’d add some weight with black ink afterwards. Some paint got on my brayer and I really liked that accidental effect. I like to use my Parallel pens to Twingle things and I thought adding some messy arrows and circles would work but before I knew it, I was adding ink scratchings everywhere.

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Done except for being washi-taped to my sketchbook

Part Five:

And just like that, it was done and it answered a question that I’ve had for decades when looking at art like this: “How do you know when it is done?” In this case it seems that you just know, but I’ll let you know because it turns out that this lesson that I wanted nothing to do with was probably my favorite of this session and I’m sure I’ll be trying this technique again very soon.







A quick flip through my old sketchbooks shows that often quite some time passes between me being exposed to a new idea or technique before I start using it. Some excuses reasons include:

1. Real life. I have a full time job that doesn’t like to remain constrained between 9am and 6pm. While I may try to keep in the art habit by doodling something during a meeting or while mulling over a challenge at my desk, it’s unlikely that I’m never going to whip out a sketchbook and a bunch of materials and get creating during the day.


Did I accidentally doodle Rhianna?!


2. Running. Drawing is one thing that makes me happy, but I also love running half marathons. That mileage takes a good chunk of free time to prepare for and nope, you just can’t run and draw. It’s not really lost time though, and I believe both hobbies feed off of one another. Drawing makes me more observant; running gives me time to think and dream. I like to think those daydreams inspire new approaches in later drawings.


Nope, didn’t draw even one thing in all those miles!

3. Reading. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about good novel. I read all sorts of non-fiction practically all day long, and that’s important to me too, but there has to be a novel in there somewhere or I just get grumpy. I’m not precisely sure why, but I think it is the way reading lets you fall into another world and another mind and gain a new perspective on the world, while also shutting out the noise of this world for a while. Regardless of the reason, I’m sure you agree that drawing and reading cannot happen at the same time.

4. Perfectionism. I don’t think of myself as that big of a perfectionist. I’ve never been that great with the details and I’m a big believer in That’s Close Enough. And yet, it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that I’d better not start something new or challenging until I have enough time to dedicate to it. This line of thinking is a big surprise because I tend to be so open-ended about projects that other people create. In fact I used to drive my fellow librarians crazy with my kids’ craft programs: “How will they know what their *alien mask / pig / space ship / diorama* is supposed to look like if you don’t show them how to make it?!” “They’ll know because it will be like what they had in their own heads.” I have no idea why I struggle to apply this philosophy to my own work.



4. Not-ready-yet. This is my favorite reason. The objective of SBS is not to be a formal drawing course – IT IS NOT! Instead, it uses other artists techniques to give you a jolt out of any ruts you might be in. For a complete novice, this is invaluable because it is very easy to get caught up in trying to precisely recreate what you see. I agree there is a value in that level of technical skill, but it is discouraging and, frankly, boring for me. Nevertheless, most lessons use a technique that seems so unfamiliar that I can’t figure out how I’d ever incorporate into my drawing – it is so much simpler to just carry on with the familiar. However, across the past two years of SBS courses, I’ve noticed that eventually there will come a day when inspiration strikes and I’ll be consumed by needing to try something I learned about months ago. I do believe that learning takes time and true learning requires assimilation into what is already second nature. Maybe more importantly, though, I think the time that passes decreases the sense that I need to recreate the exact lesson. Instead the technique becomes more an organic part of what I was already doing.

Here are some new techniques that I’ve noticed popping up in my sketchbook recently:

1. Cars 

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Thank you, France Belleville-Van Stone!


2. Tintin 

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Thank you, Jean Christophe Defline!

3. Infographics 

4. Captioned portraits 

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Thank you, Jonathan Twingley and Sabine Wisman!

5. And still my favorite – Big Heads

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Thank you, Lapin!

Never Saw That Coming

It all started because my parents are visiting Tbilisi. My father is a painter and I respect his artistic opinion and always want his feedback on my sketchbooks. Unfortunately, I can never spare the weight in my luggage when I go home to visit, so I could not wait to show the lot of them as soon as my parents arrived. I’ve gotten much less shy about sharing my work, and I’ve flipped through my sketchbooks so many times that I thought I’d gotten very familiar with the pages that worked and the pages that didn’t. I was surprised when my mother most loved the ones that I thought were failures and pleased when she asked to visit the places where I had drawn so she could see what I had seen.

And so this afternoon we ended up at Prospero’s Bookstore (because of this drawing):

We settled in with our tea and our carrot muffins at a table next to a gentleman who was busy working away on his laptop. Being American, we had many things to talk about and none of it quietly. I pulled out my sketchbook – it’s so hard to find time on the days that I have to work, I can’t miss an opportunity on a day of leave – and began sketching the adorable little plant on the table. Mr. Laptop kept glancing our way, I could only think peevishly since we were the only patrons talking while everyone else was being industrious. Eventually, we started to make moves toward leaving. My dad stopped to check out a book about Gustav Klimt and called my mother over. Just then Mr. Laptop got up as if he were heading to the coffee bar, but instead he stopped by my table, nodded to the sketchbook I was just closing and asked, “Is that a travelogue?”

I did a quick flip through the pages and said, “Well, no. I live in Tbilisi so I am not travelling. But this is my fourth sketchbook of the year and each one has many sketches of the places I’ve visited this year.”

He responded, “I wish I had your talent.”


Let’s parse that statement, shall we?

First of all, I was sure he was annoyed with us, but really he was just sneaking peaks at my sketchbook.

Secondly,this is what I drew:

What I see is a loss of perspective on the planter, the fact that I can NEVER remember to not draw the entire planter before drawing the plant, and a shadow that I’m having a hard time connecting to the object. What he saw was something he recognized.

“But it’s not talent,” I insisted. “A year and a half ago, I could not do this.”

“But how can you now?” he asked.

“I read this book that made the case that everyone starts off knowing how to draw, but many of us lose confidence as we get older. The author (that’s you, Danny Gregory) said we just need to keep practicing and we can all be artists again.”

He wasn’t having it. He said he couldn’t draw that picture of the gear shift of our rental car:

“But neither could I, 18 months ago!”I swore. “I just started and kept trying. And it changed everything. It makes me see everything differently. It makes me so observational – I notice the color of the leaves, the shadows on the ground, the skyline, the way someone is sitting, a pile of oranges in a basket on a counter.”

He looked intrigued by that but he also “couldn’t draw that portrait”:

“Well, that is my favorite sketch I’ve ever drawn, but it took me a while to learn how. My first sketches are embarrassing, but I got better with practice. You just need to get a piece of paper and a pen”.


“No, really.  You just need to start simply – paper and pen. You’ll hate it, but then you’ll try again and you’ll get better. It’s not talent, really.”

“But I only have time when I come here.”

“Then you’d better come here more often!”

He looked like maybe he would.