I utilize a camera a lot to record my views. (I
often allow or even encourage local people to be a part of my
photographs as they add a much-needed human reference for the
scale of nearby structures. Likewise, cars and other vehicles
add life and local flavor to finished work.) For years, I have
preferred to use slide film, as the ability to project the image
in my studio gives me yet another chance to edit my view and carefully
review details that I may have missed on the site. The ability
to change the size of the projected image, by using the enlarging
feature in the projector frequently has turned an "okay"
view into a great small-scale work or an extensive panoramic piece.
This advantage over regular prints is now being equaled by digital
cameras and their accompanying technology.
Whether I've shot slides or digital photographs - or perhaps
even found some other visual reference such as a newspaper cutting
- these, too, get attached or pasted into my sketchbook, preferably
on or near the corresponding sketches. In this way, I have all
my references together in one handy location.
Adding on to the book
I've also developed a few other habits that, again, may look a
bit crude but provide me with vital information when doing my
studio work. Right on top of my pen-and-wash sketches, I usually
take down brief notes regarding colors, textures, details and
the like. Thanks to my background in art history, some of my cryptic
notes are probably unintelligible to others. For example, a classic
sash-window in my sketchbook will simply show "3/3 over 3/3/3"
to denote 3 wide by 5 deep with a sash-divider 2 panes from the
top. All artists, however, can develop their own type of shorthand
based on their personal experience and take whatever notes they
I sometimes carry with me sheets of tracing paper cut to the
size of the sketchbook. Taped over existing sketches, these transparent
"overlays" allow me to quickly explore alterations to
the composition without destroying the sketch. I leave the best
of my ideas taped into the sketchbook.
And finally, as I enjoy creating horizontal, panoramic sketches,
I often extend the format of my sketchbook by taping on a third
piece of watercolor paper cut to the same size as the book's pages.
It doesn't matter if the papers don't match exactly. The important
thing is to record my composition and the necessary details.
Putting sketchbooks in their place
To me, sketchbooks are the workhorse of the painting process.
They are where the hard work, thinking and creativity take place,
where concepts and essential information get recorded for future
use. Thus, sketchbooks don't need to be pristine or neat, just
functional and chock-full of great ideas waiting to come to life.
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