I have a whole bunch of bulbs growing, and I try to document their progress. But on some days, a proper portrait is made - like this one:

Layers in my sketchbooks: Part 3 - Materials

This is a continuation of my attempt to summarize the ideas behind using layers in my sketchbooks.  Part 1 is about the reasons for adding all the layers to my sketchbooks and
Part 2 is about the evolution of it.

To attach "flaps" to my sketchbook pages I use washi tape and regular cello tape of various sizes (3/4 "Scotch Magic Tape is used the most). The trick is to apply the tape on both sides of the paper - then the connection is stronger and more suitable for working with it (opening and closing). 

Washi tape sometimes is used to create a frame for a sketch. And post-it tape is used to hold some pages that keep falling out of order (it is much less sticky than washi tape and can be re-applied).

I use UHU glue sticks, PVA glue (often Elmer's), and Matte Acrylic Medium (by Utrecht) to glue things to the pages of my sketchbooks if I just lay them on. 

Page protectors are mostly any transparent paper that I can get my hands on. I used glassine paper (harder to draw on because of the coating), I used tracing paper of all sorts, right now I used mostly vellum paper.

I use scissors and exacto knives to make interesting shapes and folds out of the sketches - t makes for an interesting flow when I am combining a lot of different things on the same page. And I also enjoy sketching with scissors - those sketches often are a reason to add more layers to my sketchbook too. 

Here is a video with some examples:


I went to draw people outside!

I miss the pleasure and rhythm of drawing people in mundane situations. I still draw friends and family members from life and videos, but all the usual cases of "sketching while waiting" are now eliminated from my life. I am much more efficient with my time - there is no idle waiting in my pandemic world! I no longer wait for the hairdresser (who needs a haircut these days anyway?),  I don't go to sport and school events, or classes. Even a rare trip to a cafe is void of waiting: I order my drink on my phone and get a text when it is ready to be picked up. 

Last week I decided to try and remedy this hole in my practice and I went to sketch at the tennis courts with a friend whose enthusiasm for sketching people is legendary - Suhita. And we had a blast!

At first I jumped to the fastest, most active game but quickly realized that I am way out of practice. So I switched to older players and someone with a ball machine. Even some people walking dogs or walking by. When I felt that my capacity to sketch is almost depleted I switched tools and pulled my favorite modified pilot parallel pen which gives such an expressive line that it alone can save a sketch in my eyes. It gave me a lift but very soon I crashed with even more fatigue. 

I stopped drawing when I realized that my interest in a distant eucalyptus tree is higher than in any human body especially if that body is moving. 

Here is what I learned:

  • Sketching people is a skill and I am out of practice: speed, stamina and patience were all needed. 
  • I miss sketching faces too - especially noses and lips.
  • Pickleball is not as exciting sport to draw as tennis but it might be a good way to warm up. 

Layers in my sketchbooks: Part 2 - Page protectors that became more.

This is a continuation of my attempt to summarize the ideas behind using layers in my sketchbooks. Part 1 is here.

I carry my sketchbooks with me everywhere. In a pre-pandemic life they would get more beating than now - but even today the average time I work in one sketchbook is about two months and in that time I am bound to drop it, carry it in the same bag with a bunch of plants, and rocks and will probably step on it a time or two. The result is infuriating: gouaches are smudged and partially transferred onto the facing pages. I tried using only one side of the paper but it just does not work for me. An empty page is just not something I can stand - I always add something to it. 

To save the sketches themselves and the opposite pages too I started taping random pieces of paper as page protectors. But sketchbooks very quickly gained so much weight that I had a hard time closing them and had to tear some pages out towards the end to compensate for all the extras. To counter this effect I started using the thinnest paper I could find - translucent tracing paper. 

At first writing on it was hard for me - but I kept trying  and this endeavor opened up a whole new world of exploration for me. Semi-transparent paper allowed me to take a second look at my sketches, gave some distance, introduced a physical separation between "creating" time and "analyzing" time. In short, it revealed a way for a longer-form communication with my sketchbook. Sometimes I make notes, sometimes I redraw things, correct compositions, make frames. And now I can go back several times. 


Layers in my sketchbooks: Part 1 - How it Started and Why

I started adding layers in my sketchbooks a few years ago when I realized two things:

One is that I like my sketchbooks to be an honest reflection of my life (which means ordinary repetitive, unavoidably messy, and often embarrassing, filled with all sorts of fleeting thoughts, things, and styles). And two - that I like my books to be chronological. 

Before that, I siloed different parts of my life and kept several sketchbooks going - drawings from life, sketches for illustrations, plans, projects, designs, layouts, etc. I still do that sometimes if the project is too big, too private, proprietary or if I have a need to compartmentalize. But because life is impossibly interconnected everything ends up reflected in my main sketchbooks in one form or another - even if it is just a tiny note on the side of a sketch about something completely different, reflection on materials that I am using for a project or thumbnails that I hashed out while reading or learning about something.

The resolution to honor both of my requirements gave me permission and the obligation to come up with systems to make it happen. It took some time and is still evolving but now I feel like everything has a home. I have the freedom to use whatever paper I happened to crave for just this one drawing or to stick tiny notes, doodles, and sketches drawn on napkins, envelopes, receipts, etc., and if I forgot to add a sketch and found it a week later - now I know where to put it so that I can find it again: just flip back to the day it was made and make it work somehow.

Here are three sketches: from Sketchbooks 55, 88 and 99 (from 2011 to 2016) - I started with just sticking a corner of an envelope on a page with sketches while traveling, then began adding some sketches as flaps and the rightmost page from 2016 has some custom cut sketches glued in and a bunch of things on a sketchbook spread and added a two sided flap. And here is a video with a tiny flip-through some of the pages from the most recent book - #138. 


Layers upon layers, mistakes and approaches.

I've tried to write about my practice of layering things in my sketchbook several times now. Every time the number of images and words gets to a point when I throw everything away to start over. 

So this image and this post are opening a new page in my search for a solution: after this, I will write one thing at a time - so there will be a bunch of separate posts, and then perhaps I will be able to put them into comprehensive version.

How I choose which sketchbook to start

I like good paper in a sketchbook. The problem is that on different days my definition of a good paper is different :) Sometimes I want real high-quality watercolor paper with texture and character, other days I want a smooth surface, and sometimes all I want is something that is slightly coated and will let my pen glide. 
Often my favorite paper is the one that is within reach when I have a chance to draw. It is impossible to have everything in one book so I solve this by taping, gluing, or sticking all sorts of papers in my main sketchbook. Very often it is Stillman & Birn Alpha or Strathmore 500 mixed media journals

My sketchbooks are filled with experiments. And that is a reason why I think it is important to not know what kinds of things will be happening in a sketchbook before I pick one. But sometimes it is fun to try and list my plans - even if only to later see them burn :) I just finished Strathmore sketchbook - and this is the back cover where I tried to puzzle out what kinds of things I will be making in Sketchbook #139. 

Teapot as a sign that the year has started.

The year does not start for me at 12.01 on January first. This switch is an accumulation of little steps that turn the ring of seasons in my head to some sort of beginning. We put away decorations. We put up new calendars. Festive food plans give place to more healthy and pragmatic choices. Books are no longer littering every surface but are put in stacks in the order they will be read. Piles of "backburner", hopes and musts are reworked into a heap of fresh new year plans and goals. And I go back to my routines. One of which is drinking lots of tea and drawing my teapot. So this is an official portrait of my current teapot and a sign that this year is officially in progress! 

Sketching holiday decorations.

We just took down all the decorations - from all the winter holidays. Even though I know and support the reason for doing it and am very grateful for the space and order that now emerged, I miss the lights in the evening and all the little things we pull out and pile during the season. I combined some sketches of the tree lights that I did - and now I see that I did not sketch even half of the decorations!

Some lights might come back - after all the winter dark is still here and this year I am feeling it a little more than usual.

Here is a video of the process of this sketch (pardon my inky fingers!):

Planning for 2022

The planning process is always an exploration and I am often lost in thought. I search for words when trying to navigate, express, and tie together all my aspirations, responsibilities, and opportunities into something that has at least some relationship to reality. As a result, I have lots of inadvertent self-portraits on the margins :)

On My Table: Last days of 2021

These are things that were on my table at the end of 2021, and they will tell you a story about what I enjoyed at this table during the end of the year holidays: 

  • drawing and growing plants from bulbs;
  • lights and a tree filled with memories;
  • making holiday cards and gifts;
  • sending and receiving real mail;
  • painting with gouache and a different kind of gouache;
  • playing with new inks;
  • cleaning and refilling my pens;
  • making more crazy brushes. 
Today I am organizing the surface, putting away, throwing away, repurposing all this to make space for new projects.

End of 2021

2021. It was a long year. Filled with worry and attempts to make sense of things and find ways to help family, friends, and the world in general. To live without plans or expectations - because I could not change them fast enough. And it went as I envisioned - mostly exploratory and unplanned.  I tried to catch things as they flew by. At the end of the year, I got a reasonable number. 

I sketched a lot with people online. And this year I was able to go back to some in-person connection with people (after vaccination - which was a separate highlight of the year for me!). Some online classes and events. Portraits - of people, pets, and houses. Illustrated some recipes of the family signature meals. I took a whole bunch of experiments with printmaking in a new direction, had fun with the Inktober project. I put up a little art show of my gouache works in the local community center. Did lots of projects for my freelance clients. Sold some prints of my artworks. Went on a tiny exclusively-sketching trip with friends. Saw my parents in Ukraine between two spikes in the epidemic - YAY! Other trips were local and short - but wonderfully refreshing! Uploaded a bunch of videos of the sketching process online. 

I filled over 6.5 sketchbooks - that was a constant, and I am making videos of flipping through them to share too. 

Here is to a brighter 2022!