Well, my computer had a meltdown two days ago and is currently out of commission. Life always has interesting ways of giving us perspective, and right now, absolutely everything feels small in comparison to the much more dire global situation we are all finding ourselves in… Today, I share some sketchbook pages. I am humbled, being reminded by the circumstances that I have the privilege to use my phone here to post this, and here we are. It’s interesting because what I decided to share here are some images of a few sketchbook pages with short, understated phrases that have helped remind me to keep going even when I might have felt like I was not quite up to the task. The phrases were formed from words I linked or “discovered” within the paragraphs that already existed on the pages, and they weren’t necessarily planned but rather they emerged or revealed themselves. At least, that’s the way I find best describes it, and they end up being timely and timeless affirmations for me. With these sketchbooks, my subconscious gets a chance to give my conscious a break, and it helps to shift my perspective on things I had stored up and were cluttering my brain. A lot of those subconscious riffs find their chance to rise up when I allow myself to experiment and use things I might not be using when working on a commission or other project, and the words play a big part in invoking the image and marks. I have a few of these found phrase affirmation sketchbooks now, and I am absolutely motivated and inspired to continue on with them, when I get the chance to steal away and work into them for a bit.
“Heed the call to create. The art will remain unshaken”
I share this one and really all of these as a reminder of the strength our art has. It has the power to help our souls, to help ourselves and others through things, to navigate unknown territories, whether it be in the process alone, the outcome, or both. And it’s not only about the art, but its connection to the processing of all else (just.. life) as well.
Right now, I’m working on a couple paintings that aren’t ready to share just yet, but I continue to work on these sketchbook pieces because they’re a big help to me in many ways, with everything else going on too. They’re sometimes graphite only, but usually mixed media (graphite, watercolor, acrylic) on gessoed book pages with selected words from the page underneath showing through.
“It is worth the courage”
This one was from a late night sketching session. As in all of these here in this post, the words are from the book page underneath the gesso. A quick note here to say that the words are not cut out and pasted down, but are in the same place they appear in the text on the book page, and I paint over the rest of the page with gesso. That’s why I call them “found phrases”.
In this one, the face was painted in acrylic. I had fun creating the feel of shinier ‘spot varnished’ areas with gloss medium and carving out with spatulas and combs. A lot of times, these serve the purpose of stepping back from the commission painting I’m working on and throwing some paint at the sketchbook for a while.
“A voyager will persevere”
This image shows the page after being gessoed and before I start the sketch. A freshly gessoed book page. This is just painted on with a brush, using two or three coats. Some of the tools I use to add the sketch later are: pencil, brush, eraser, blending stump, just to name a few. I also use paint, ink, spatulas, exacto blades, found objects, leaves.. the list is long and not always the same.. I use all sorts of stuff! Because we can do that if we feel like it! A sketchbook is a place to do whatever we feel like doing – drawing, painting, writing, and using any tools and materials. Because it’s a sketchbook and a place to sketch however, wherever, and whatever we want in it.
I love working in these found phrase sketchbooks a little bit here and there each day between working on other paintings because it really keeps me balanced, and it gives me ideas for things to try in my other work too.
Here is the sketch that I ended up filling that blank page with:
“A voyager will persevere”
It’s an abstract graphite sketch. With this one, I was thinking of this in an abstract sense/conceptually, how the marks would represent what’s on the periphery along the way of a journey into the unknown. With mysterious things ahead of us and beside us all along the way, we navigate through, find our way, and discover new things. Speaking on behalf of art-making and life in general.
A technical side note: Drawing on unsanded gesso allows for some neat variety and effects. The texture is on a really small scale here, but fun nonetheless.
“undivided, adrift, We lift up and expand together”
This one is graphite only, and again, the words inspired me to illustrate this phrase in an abstract sense.
“I found purpose”
This one is mixed media – graphite and acrylic using a silicone comb to make those rake marks.
“I found from a strong intense period of expansion I had the power to look ahead”
This book has turned into quite a powerful little safe space for me. I’m so happy to be working in it. I’ve also got a few other sketchbooks I work in interchangeably and it’s been very interesting to find them being synchronous in message. They’re different, but overall, basically, they are good for my soul.
After reading through this post, I encourage you to go back and read the words on the sketchbook pages only. I even suggest reading them aloud. I’ve found that they’re great little mantras to keep close at heart, especially in times like these.
I hope you’re all hanging in there. Stay safe and much love.
And just in case, don’t forget:
borrow the strength when in despair. A friendly hand is there.
Vanessa Lemen is a painter and educator based in Carlsbad, CA, and her work has shown in galleries and exhibitions nationwide. She has an extensive background in both online and in-studio instruction teaching drawing, painting, illustration and design in traditional and digital media. She and her husband, Ron, together run an online program instructing art and mentoring artists, as well as instructing at workshops in various locations in Southern CA and across the country, including The Fantastic Workshop with 1FW, and yearly week-long intensive creative excursions with Legendeer.Vanessa's work is in private collections internationally, has exhibited in the Main Show at IX Arts for the past several years, and can also be found at the online gallery EveryDayOriginal.com and IXgallery.com. Published in such art books as Spectrum, Women of Wonder, and Infected By Art, she has also been featured in articles in magazines such as Painter and ImagineFX, writes monthly columns for the Muddy Colors blog, and has been interviewed by the One Fantastic Week webcast. Her recent work has earned her the Grand Prize Award in the IBA Annual, a 6-person show at Rehs Contemporary Galleries, an Honorable Mention and Gallery Award with the ARC Salon, and participation in the International ARC Salon Exhibition.Described through metaphorical imagery, it's excerpts from her personal journey and reflection that she credits most as the inspiration for her work, and rolling with the unexpected as the very nature of her process. Each piece she creates seems to come from a chaos, and in it, she is able to create a place of reflection and curiosity, a balance of the deep-seated and the unknown, with areas of rest and of movement that intertwine to form a calm amid the chaos.