No matter the art form, an artist would do well to keep a sketchbook.· Sculptors, photographers—many artists of many disciplines keep this trusty tool by them at all times.· An aquascaper is the same in this regard.· It is an incredibly valuable tool for visualizing pieces, tracking progress, and developing one’s ability overall.· Even if you have very little drawing experience, a sketchbook is incredibly valuable.
The Value of the Sketchbook
A sketchbook is not just a plaything to scribble around in.· Artists use them for a variety of tasks of the creative process.· A sketchbook is a visualization tool that helps every step of the way.· When you come up with ideas, you write them in.· When you can’t visualize something, you draw it in.· Even when you do visualize it, you draw it in so it will be there when you need it.
Especially with 3D arts such as sculpting and aquascaping, scribbles in the sketchbook are valuable for figuring out proportions, spacing and positioning that the actual piece will have when it is put together.· Sculptors like Michael Angelo have left many, many drawings—and many of stunning quality—that were never intended for the public eye.· These drawings though would be the foundation of the designs for the final sculptures of such artists.· From the vague form, to the specific proportions, to the tiniest details—drawings can develop in a sketchbook, and the total idea of the final piece will first be realized on paper.
This same process of visualization applies to aquascaping.· Taking the time to sketch, one will piece the composition together; but the sketches will continue to help with piecing together how colors should move, how textures should be placed, and how the entirety of the work will come together.· Or not.· The sketchbook does not have to be used in anyway an artist does not want to use it—no one sees it, no one judges it.· It is a place of refuge and freedom for the artist to do anything he wants.· Be crazy, stupid, put any line or any content.· The things one includes can be completely off topic or intensively focused.· The important thing is that the way we think and work has a place to develop that does not just disappear into the recesses of memory to be forgotten or left undeveloped or un-followed.
Speaking of following, the sketchbook is a great way to track one’s progress.· Whatever we do in it, the sketchbook reflects what we were doing/thinking/trying/following at the time where we worked in it.· Whether they resemble the finished pieces we make or not, the sketchbook shows the flow of our development.· This is valuable to an artist for a number of reasons.
First of all, confidence is important and it can be great when an artist can look back and see how he has improved.· In his development there will always be tough times, halts and slows where little will improve.· Looking back at the old times reflected in the sketchbooks can be a big help to remind us of how we have grown. But then again maybe not.
Sometimes we loose our way, and instead of looking back at old work to see how we have improved, we look back to see where we lost our way.· Though it is important to always keep moving forward, there are still many times when an artist says he wants to “go back to his roots.”·Sometimes we loose sight of the objectives that are important to us.· Sometimes we forget where it was we wanted to be, and what we wanted to achieve.· The sketchbook isn’t only drawings—its thoughts we thought, feelings we felt, and dreams we dreamt.· It ties us to our past, and can remind us of the places we still want to go.
Using a Sketchbook
How does one use one’s sketchbook towards his goals?· This depends from person to person, but for the sake of example I can describe my methods for sketchbook usage.
One of the sketchbook’s best uses is as a place to store ideas.· To artists, our ideas are the lifeblood of our work, so being sure to remember them when we have them is very important.· It does not have to be elaborate—just a scribe of words or drawings in the sketchbook you use a lot can be a big help in remembering ideas later on.· Once it is in the sketchbook, you will at least reference back to it, and so ideas in the sketchbook develop as well.· Once they are in there, an idea that was a mere scribbling on one page may find itself a full-scale intricate plan a few pages down the road.
Ideas in the sketchbook do not have to be fully formed.· The important thing is that you have them down.· Even if it’s just the basic framework of an idea, rough and sketchy—it does not matter.· Even if it is only a general idea and you have only words in your head with no images to go with it, write it down.· The idea will develop as it sits in your sketchbook.· Even if it does not, at least it is there.· You can always buy more sketchbooks, but you do not know when the next time you will remember the idea.· Even if you, the next time you remember an idea, it will be different from before because you will be a different artist than before.· Try to keep track of all the ideas you get.
When you are walking down the street and you see a very pretty tree, if the feeling of that scene makes you pause, remember to do something about it in your sketchbook.· Even a few words, even a bare sketch is good.· When you wake up from a beautiful dream, quickly flip open the book (sitting next to your nightstand) and sketch/write the general contents of it down before it fades.· When thinking about an old idea and a new add-on to it occurs to you, go to the sketchbook and revise the idea.· Recording ideas also forces you to put ideas into at least some form of expression, which will help develop your thinking, artistic intuition and insight as well.
A sketchbook is a place to record and develop who we are as artists, and so it is also a great place to keep things that influence us.· Bits of clippings of writings that inspire you, cuttings from magazines or print outs of work from other artists—these are things that one would do well to paste into the sketchbook.· I like to take print outs of landscape photos in particular and keep them in my sketchbook.
One may think that these types of materials are not our own development of our ideas, but in actuality they are.· No two people will ever see the same picture despite looking at the same photograph. Everyone interprets things different. Taking the barrage of images and ideas from the world, and reinterpreting· them to what is important to us makes each idea that we come up with very unique.
A great artist knows the moment he takes an idea from elsewhere, even if someone else used it, that idea is his own now.· He is certain to do it in his own way.· Being an artist is also being able to recognize inspiration outside him that will lead him forward.· These influences from· outside sources are important to remember as our artistic talent branches away from them, and our art becomes our own.
Don’t doodle, Draw!
A former art teacher of mine once complained to me that many of his students were too hesitant in their drawing.· If they draw a line wrong, and they new it was wrong, they would leave it anyway because “they did not want to ruin the drawing.”· Forget ruining drawings.· Who cares if a drawing is ruined?· It is far from the end of the world.
If there’s a line there, draw it in.· If the line is wrong draw it in again.· Draw over it!· Do not hesitate because you care about how neat or pretty your drawing or paper is.· Neat and pretty count for nothing, especially when it comes to drawing in the sketchbook.· Save that for the photography of the finished aquarium.· When playing with a layout idea, draw it in again and again in order to get right proportions and parts.·Draw on your paper until you get it right.
There’s a technique called “blocking in” that is similar to this flurry of sketching. When “blocking in,” the artist puts the most important information on the paper first, least important last.· Most important being locations of points, proportions, angles, and least important being contours.· When blocking in, don’t worry about “line drawing,” that is trying to draw the outline of whatever it is you are drawing.· Start with the location of points—the top of a rock, the far left side of the sand, the lowest point of the stem plants.
Instead of contours, draw in the important points first:· where they are, and how they are located compared to each other in space.· Draw straight lines between the important points to measure distance, angles and other important information.· Measure things on paper.·· What is the best-looking angle and width between a branch and the rock that supports it?· How is the curvature of the stem plants relative to that of the hardscape?· How wide is the branch proportionately?· Where should negative space be, and what shape should it have?· These types of questions should be your foremost concern when blocking in, and draw many lines, draw over lines, to find the ones you like most.· This is like “building a drawing,” as opposed to doodling.
Only when the important information is on the paper should you worry about making the actual outlines of things, or trying to make the drawings look pretty.· You could even save that for another page.· It is definitely less important than getting proportions and angles right.· This is especially true for aquascape planning when no one will ever see the drawing, and the important thing is the finished aquascape.· The sketchbook is the place for the initial set-up of idea work, and the drawings in the sketchbook should reflect this.· Of course getting an idea of what a finished tank could look like in one’s drawings is important too, but it is best to build into that.
Keep it with you, and never throw it away
All this is pointless if you do not carry your sketchbook with you and aim to use it.· Keep it by your bed when you sleep, on your desk if not on your person in other hours.· It is important that whenever you want to use it, you have it even for quick jottings.· The sketchbook will be most valuable if it is treated like a living thing that grows as its owner grows.· Keeping the sketchbook is important as well.· As one grows, one may want to look through old work.· Following one’s own development will help one to reach even greater improvements.· Instead of wandering about, the sketchbook helps one stand on one’s own shoulders, to improve on what he has already done.