A shelf displaying a very tiny percentage of a collection of sketchbooks made over the years.
“There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom.” — Robert Henri
Art is all about observation, imagination or some combination of both. Sometimes, if you’re lucky the universe throws you a gift — a brief exaltation of brilliance or insight. Without recording the evidence of such experience, there is no hope of unique education, expression or contribution. An artist should never be without his sketchbook. Yet, I still witness artists (even students!) not carry a sketchbook or notepad of any kind. In this day and age, it’s pretty much unacceptable.
During my Disney training, former supervising animator, Ron Husband, shared with us pages and pages of these marvelous progression thumbnail drawings he did in his sketchbook — all done from his imagination and memory. To see more of the artist’s work, visit here.)
My own home is littered with sketchbooks, notepads, loose paper, post-its, and whatever else I can record a drawing, a note or tape something into. I make very sure that there’s a surface and a pen everywhere — the studio, living room, kitchen, bedroom, and even the glove compartment of the car. I have stickies or taped notes on our walls, bedside tables and even bathroom mirrors! (My understanding wife has yet to mind — she knows the price of living with a crazy artist!) When I travel, I carry not only my pen-ready smartphone, but at least one empty sketchbook, which sometimes gets filled by the time I return from my trip. And I absolutely love airports — they’re a treasure trove of ideas, personalities and cultural diversity.
The prolific Woody Allen, seen here with his pile of notes collected in his bedside table drawer. From Robert B. Weide’s marvelous 2012 documentary on the iconic American director.
Why be so obsessive? The reason is simple; your best ideas don’t come to you when you want them to. It’s the dreaded, cruel truth of being a creative and there’s nothing worse than having a revelation or a novel idea and you not being ready to receive it and record it. You can and will forget. I guarantee it.
Draw everywhere, on anything. On the left, a tiny digital sketch made on the smartphone. On the right, a doodle on a dry-erase white board.
It’s not uncommon for me to wake up from a dream, frantically searching for my pen and paper. Sometimes it’s so fleeting I can barely record anything or make them legible enough for deciphering later. But at least I tried. At least I was ready. Yes, it’s true that half those “magical” ideas are more hair-brained than hot. But the point is, you don’t want to be ungrateful (and unready), when you’re being gifted something important or, even possibly, amazing.
The tragically forgetful Lenny, played by Guy Pearce, in Christopher Nolan’s breakout movie, Memento.
In the words of Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club:
“Who knows where inspiration comes from. Perhaps it arises from desperation. Perhaps it comes from the flukes of the universe, the kindness of the muses.”
So have your sketch book/notepad/smartphone handy. Because you never know.