“Draw everywhere and all the time. An artist is a sketchbook with a person attached,” artist Irwin Greenberg said.
OK, but what if you’re not an artist? Or, at least, not yet. Can you still gain something from incorporating a sketchbook into your everyday life? The answer is yes, yes, a million times yes. And here’s why.
Exercising your creative mind is just as important as exercising your body. Studies have shown that just seeing, never mind creating art can lower levels of cytokine interleukin 6 — a marker of inflammation that can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s. And while coloring books have recently become the trendy artistic outlet of choice, I’d like to make a case for their humble grandfather, the sketchbook.
Coloring books are great for unwinding after a long day, but they’re not the easiest to transport and whip out on the go. A sketchbook and a pencil, however, can (and should!) easily become part of your everyday routine. Slip it in your purse or backpack or back pocket and just like that, you can make art anytime, anywhere. Your pencil and paper become your secret weapons, or secret friends, depending on how you look at it.
“I draw like other people bite their nails,” Pablo Picasso famously declared. If you want to begin your own personal journey towards Picasso levels of mastery, you best start biting your nails now. If you commit to living the sketchbook life, prepare to witness some beautiful changes. Here’s what can happen:
1. You’ll have no excuses.
Paint is expensive. Canvases too. You’ll probably make a mess.
There are plenty of legit reasons why art making often falls by the wayside for those of us who are trying to squeeze a little creative experimentation into a busy schedule. But if you have your pencil and paper on you, the only thing stopping you is yourself. As 14th century Italian artist Cennino Cennini put it: “Do not fail, as you go on, to draw something every day, for no matter how little it is, it will be well worth while, and it will do you a world of good.”
A portrait, a tree, a sun, a little cartoon expressing how hungover you are. Just make sure you draw something.
2. The world will look richer.
How often do you pay attention to the squiggly line formed by the city’s tallest buildings? Or the slouched posture of a stranger on your Subway car? The agile physique of your neighborhood cat? The pile of junk in your garbage can?
Drawing isn’t just a way to depict the world around you, but to discover the world around you. With your pencil poised to paper, you suddenly become a creative hunter, eyes darting to locate the most visually enticing subject matter in your periphery. You may soon find that the familiar people, places and things in your life look fresh from new angles, in new lights, and utterly alien as they begin to break down into shapes, lines and shadows.
3. You’ll stop worrying about perfection.
No judgment about having too much judgment. I know the feeling all too well of spending under five minutes “in the zone” only to pull back and, in a moment of horror and embarrassment, rip the work in progress into shreds. Of course, no artist starts out being perfect, or even great, and the true sign of an artist is someone who keeps going.
If you accept the fact that your work will not be perfect (and no beginner’s, or person’s really, is) you’ll save yourself a lot of grief. Learn to accept your flaws, learn from them, and even appreciate them. Do you tend to draw eyes too big? Have trouble capturing a person’s face in profile? Have a shaky hand you wish had more grace? Some of these things can be worked on and eventually changed and others just may become your artistic signature. You never know.
4. You’ll spend less time on your phone.
Consider this an added bonus. Now, when you’re waiting for the bus, letting your face mask sit, killing time on your lunch break, etc., you won’t have to find yourself in a dark social media spiral refreshing your high school nemesis’ Instagram to see if she uploaded more wedding pics yet.
You can now use brief spans of downtime — even five minutes will do — to create something beautiful. Trust me, this will make you feel better about yourself than you will scouring the top Facebook trending topics to discover Beyoncé went out to dinner.
5. You’ll copy everything. And this can be great inspiration.
How many moments are there in a day when you pass an image — on a T-shirt, a mural, an Instagram post — and you think not just “I could do that” but “I want to do that.” You’ll be surprised how good it feels to actively incorporate the images that inspire you into your work.
Pablo Picasso allegedly lived by the motto, “good artists copy, great artists steal.” So, go ahead, copy, steal, what are you waiting for?