The Hang-Man's noose and why everyone needs a sketchbook.

By Riley Tenove

You need a sketchbook; here is the best way I know how to explain why.

I take my sketch book everywhere.

It borders on the point of annoyance. I end up stuffing it in backpacks, coat pockets, armpits and when that doesn't work I basically don't have a hand free, like ever.  For art I never want to miss a a valuable thought or idea I could forget. Sometimes I just need it as an excuse to focus on something or ignore people.  In essence a sketch book is a "Safe Place" for the mind. Maybe not always healthy but de-stressing when used right.

 Some eventually inquire, "what is this book? A bible?" Someone actually asked that once.  I used to be cagey about it's contents because that stuff can feel pretty personal.  Or maybe it just makes one nervous when others see all the mistakes and odd thoughts you work through. But in the first place, what is with this odd desire to pretend we don't make mistakes all the time? Or that many great creations were a series of mistakes? Admitting this fact has allowed me to share my sketchbook more willingly.

So what is a sketchbook? And what "should" you put in it?  Some have remarked how much writing is in mine. They ask if its like a Diary and though some contents are like that I have never seen it that way. I enjoy hand drawn word, what words suggest and the efficiency of summarizing an idea I might try later. Focused writers might have other opinions.

 I've heard some explain how sketch books should only be used for drawing.  Maybe thats true for some but whats being forgotten there is that, in its essence, a sketchbook is simply Free Space. It is room for the mind and a playground for expansion and recombination. A sketchbook is afterall just blank pages and therefore becomes anything you put in it. 

Chris Riddell, my favourite doodler does many sketch like drawings for fantasy books and children's books.  

 The first book I ever read with his illustrations.  There is much more inside too!

The first book I ever read with his illustrations.  There is much more inside too!

They were an inspiration when I was young and even now. Currently, the man even tries to foster creativity at schools by convincing every child they can draw.  He proposes that your creative life all starts in a sketchbook or some place of play and expression. If you want to be a proficient writer you simply need to continue writing; if an artist you just need to regularly draw.  If you can put a line down and then another, you are capable of all this endless imagination.

This concept is often taught out of most people and surprisingly most still don't understand what the simplicity of this can really mean. Creation is not what you do or or even how but simply that you make something. It may become something of value to someone else later, or it may not but it can always be of value to you. This is not a play to subjective experience but an acknowledgement that every line made leads to somewhere. That everything worthwhile starts somewhere and it is the overflowing cauldron of a sketch book (or something like it) that gets your creative life and ideas into being. What you do make is often not entirely what you intended but merely fortuitous discovery from the cream of this crop.

By allowing there to be somewhere you're not censoring yourself (such as a sketchbook) you can constantly be creating and eventually you will learn something from it. This could be anything and it can always change but you won't know what that is till you do it. All of a sudden  songs, poems or pictures come spilling out of you but the groundwork comes by somehow physically expressing whatever is in your head enough times till you can make something solid. Things one makes months ago pay off later in unexpected ways.  The whole process is simple trial and error. The point Chris Ridell makes is you have to have faith and constantly create no-matter what in order to make use of the creative you already are.

This creative build up, whether it is "useful" or not, is the somewhat un-acknowledged role of sketchbooks to the artistic practice. After sharing my sketchbook enough times I've noticed those who admire it's utter mess the most are often those who had given up on the idea that they were creative or capable long ago.  How this travesty happens is something else but one of the biggest deterrents to them starting again comes when they tell me "I'm just not creative" or " I was never talented enough".  Essentially there is a fundamental belief somewhere that " I cannot create anything worthwhile".

 The saddest part comes from a fear that they will find nothing valuable inside their creative urges if they actually try. I, like everyone feel this fear too. However, creativity is not a quantifiable concept like that nor does it diminish because it is used in different or non-art ways. Using creativity fully can take practice and comes in every form imaginable but you get none of that with out active "useless" meandering.  

Understandably, there are so many emotions in-between creativity and sketching that make it hard to approach.  For instance, there can be difficulty in acknowledging that, at one time, you had given up on fostering something in yourself. This is not about blame, everyones struggle is unique but what I've noticed is the insane amount of mental barriers and self deprecation that has to be in place in order for someone to feel they are incapable of expressing in a sketchbook. A form of expression in which you are conceptually incapable of fucking up.

The only obstacle in sketching is ones self. It is often conflicting because this activity is asking you to be friends with your creative mind, to try and understand it. If you hate yourself then how would you ever get along with your creativity?  What is great about a sketchbook is it teaches you the value of your own thoughts no matter what they are and therefore slowly but surely, yourself.    It is free, uncensored space and no one thought or drawing has more value than another because even the shittiest ones lead you to something that can potentially be great later. Sketching teaches you to notice thoughts and images every where in the every day because you have a reason and a place to record them now.  It adds value to everything you perceive because it now possesses the potential to become something. You also learn you can almost always figure things out as long as you start.

I've attached this old hang-man's knot sketch today because I get the most odd remarks or expressions over it.

I guess the sketch would worry some. It is pretty macabre but also really benign. The day I drew it I simply thought the noose was such an aesthetically pleasing knot.  It could of been used for many things but since it hung people the image alone has so much power. Writing out the instructions is fascinating to me because it is access to the option of death.  However cruel or sad, when seeing it you are confronted with a knowledge that gives you access to death and even all that people associate with suicide.  

No one is really hurt by making this odd sketch but I would still of censored myself in my average situation if there was no safe place to put it. I doubt it would even exist as a fleeting thought because I did it while trying to think of things to put down.  In this way sketching and expressing without constraints or expectations creates endless opportunities.  Maybe this sketch will be something someday, maybe it wont but I still find it interesting.  For now it inspired this ramble because it reminds me of what we do to ourselves to stifle creativity.  We grow up with compelling reasons to hamper it but ultimately expression is our choice to engage in or to smother.  If you currently can not see the potential that every thought possesses then a sketchbook probably feels like hanging your self with your own sense of inadequacy. However, if you simply try to fill it with anything that comes to mind then even a simple picture can become an endless pool of inspiration.  All the  while you begin to notice so much more of the world around you.  

So get a sketchbook if you don't have one.

Hope this at least makes you feel like doodling in the margins a bit more.

Cheers