Bookshelf

A fully un-comprehensive list of books about different reasons to sketch…

Sketches from a Nameless Land : The Art of The Arrival

by Shaun Tan

Sketches from a nameless land by Shaun Tan

Sketches from a nameless land by Shaun Tan

The companion to his wonderful wordless story book The Arrival, this one is the how and why. I don’t think any artist could be unmoved or uninspired by Shaun’s work which is usually, rightly or wrongly, to be found in the children’s section of the bookstore. His stories really do cross all generations, tackling tough ideas that read on many levels. If you haven’t seen The Arrival, you should. And if you’re an artist you probably need Sketches from a Nameless Land, with his working notes and drawings, to go with it. After that you might just enjoy a lifetime collecting and following Shaun’s work: you won’t regret it. (Another work of his is The Lost Thing, a book which became an Academy Award winning animated film. )

An Illustrated Life

by Danny Gregory

An Illustrated Life by Danny Gregory

An Illustrated Life by Danny Gregory

Fifty artists not only open their sketchbooks for us but also explain how and why they keep them. One artist per chapter, these are easy to read essays interspersed with pictures. It’s the kind of book that can be picked up and put down, savoured over time, rather than sitting to read cover to cover as one might a biography or text book. A wide range of styles, again drives home the idea that sketching is for everyone rather than some precious few who are already expert. My favourite quote is from Everett Peck:

“I believe keeping a sketchbook is the single most important thing you can do as an artist, not only for developing drawing skills but also for developing a point of view.”

The Creative License

by Danny Gregory

The Creative Licence by Danny Gregory

The Creative Licence by Danny Gregory

As much a memoir as an ode to sketching and a slightly bossy order to begin at once. There’s plenty of how-to – but also why – which makes it feel different to a normal how-to-draw book. The thing that’s made clear is that everyone can already draw and everyone gets better with practice. You just have to forget the fear and get on with it. It’s also not just sketching but journaling, or diary-keeping, with pictures. The thing I took to heart was Danny’s description of years of pouring angst into written journals before realising that it wasn’t making him feel any better. What he needed was a journal that “could become a place of contemplation rather than catharsis”. And there’s no contemplation quite so thorough as that of drawing. To draw something you have to look. And see. Really see. I think he’s right – I too have a decade of Morning Pages and not much positive to show for it.  Journalling with pictures “makes you less self-absorbed, more connected to things that fill your life”. And you get better at drawing which improves your self-esteem!

Artists Journal Workshop

by Cathy Johnson

Johnson Artist's Journal Workshop

I have a shelf full of visual diaries – probably about 50 of them – kept over the last decade. Full of ramblings, research, doodles and the occasional drawing. I planned projects and paintings in them. They not journals. They not really personal. They chart an artistic journey rather than a personal one. It seems odd, looking back, to think that I might have used them so much better if I hadn’t had to open them for the assorted art teachers who insisted they be kept… After art school I continued to amass them because the habit was ingrained, but it took the wake up from this book and Danny’s Gregory’s Creative License to suggest that maybe I was missing the point. This book is a how-to with lots of inspiring examples from other artists’ journals – many of the pages look like the pages I have made but with a dash of personal reflection. They’re artist’s journals not visual diaries.  There’s a difference.

To be continued…