Hey y’all! This post was really fun to write as I thought back on the past seven or so months I’ve spent collaborating on a couple of sketchbooks with Kristen, or as I met her, @storkybooks, on Instagram.
I don’t remember where the idea came from but I was trying to come up with some ways of inspiring myself to work in my sketchbook more as well as connect with other artists on Instagram. Kristen and I had already become ‘like’ and ‘comment’ friends on IG and I loved her style. Especially her watercolor paintings of visually interesting medical issues like gangrene and pink eye.
So I contacted her and we got started! The plan was that we would both buy mixed media sketchbooks that weren’t too large to ship for a reasonable price and trade them every two weeks. That way we’re both always working in a book, except the couple days we’re waiting for the other one to arrive.
It was always the most exciting package to get in the mail. A book always changing, always being added to by someone else?? Yes, please.
We started on October 1, 2016 and finished them up at the beginning of May 2017. Seven months of drawing, painting and dreaming in a shared sketchbook.
Here are some of the major benefits I’ve gotten from this fun little collab:
I was accountable to keeping a regular, rotating schedule of putting stuff down on some pages and shipping it off. That made it impossible to neglect making art. Even when I wasn’t feeling it, which is more often than you’d think, I knew Kristen was expecting something. Not something great or special or brilliant, just something. So I had to do something. And I ended up making a lot more art than I would have otherwise.
Inspired to try new things
This sounds predictable, but seriously. It was so much fun to paint in that book knowing that someone specific was receiving it and she was going to be surprised by what was in it. Well, kind of surprised, since we posted a lot on Instagram as we went. I was inspired to try things I don’t normally paint or start branching out because I didn’t want Kristen to be bored with the same old comfortable stuff I was always painting. Not that she’d ever tell me she was bored but I didn’t want her to have that reaction. So I varied up what I put in there as much as I could and it ended up stretching me in the process. Painting for a specific person helped me personalize and think about what I was putting down more. I wanted to share more of myself knowing that a real person was going to get value from it.
In addition to trying new things, I got a ton of new ideas straight from another artist’s sketchbook. I held her work in my hands and got to touch it. So much better than a screen between me and the art. I got a front row seat to another artist’s process and I never lacked for ideas. It helped that Kristen tends to draw/paint stuff that I’m intimidated to make. Watching her do it helped me to also try.
Make a new friend
Do you have any idea how very personal and strangely intimate sharing a sketchbook is? Like that’s where I put all my weird ideas and mess-ups. And she puts her weird ideas and maybe some mess-ups (I wouldn’t know which ones were mess-ups for her haha). And then we get to see into each other’s souls because art is just so very revealing. It’s terrifying and amazing. You get to know each other in a completely different way. The art did the talking for us.
So I asked Kristen about some of the things she got out of the process as well. Here are her answers to a few questions from me:
1. What are some of the benefits you’ve experienced from this project? How has it affected your art-making?
Exposure on a personal level; being aware that my rough pieces and thought processes will be a tactile and unfiltered object for another person’s pondering and response. And conversely so, seeing someone’s creations in a raw and uncensored format is powerful. Sketchbooks are personal. Screw ups, brainstorms, successes – in an unedited format for your browsing and interpretation – to me it has felt like an honor to be part of that. I have become more personally aware. I have slowed down and thought a little bit more. I have also let go and trusted myself to go forward in the way that I need to.
Also – as another note, I want to acknowledge the impact that the process of brainstorming, exploration, figuring things out has on the creative spirit. I love working through different ideas – what will work, what won’t.
2. What are some things you’ve learned about yourself in working out of a sketchbook collab? Any interesting or surprising emotions come up?
I have thought more about the purpose and point that I’m striving for before putting pen (or paint, or pencil, etc) to paper. Intent and purpose. When I am just screwing around on scrap paper that will likely never leave my desk, I tend to not think much about what exactly I’m doing. That is fine if you’re trying to ‘let loose’ but I am more in need of trying to hone in and find something specific in myself. I am always wandering.
3. How would you improve on what we did if we chose to move forward filling another book? Would you incorporate themes?
Themes are always a good idea. I like themes. However, if I think too much ahead of time about something, I seem to generate my own hellish creative block. I need to have a plan, but I can’t map something out too far or else I paradoxically box myself in. It is hard to explain but it is something I have noticed rather recently about myself. Too much planning and I feel creatively claustrophobic.
4. How would you describe me just from what you know about my art?
On a path towards zen. Your art is light, emotional, pure. You are to the point. No clutter – it speaks plainly and with clarity. I must admit, I wonder how you would answer this question about me!
Me cutting in here: What I would say about Kristen based on her art is that she is very curious. I love that she is inspired by what society might deem ‘unattractive’, specifically curvy women and medical maladies. Of course having a cut over your eye isn’t a good thing but she is still inspired to paint the blood. I believe that that speaks to her ability to see the beauty in what other people typically despise. This is an important and rare gift for an artist. I’m inspired by that. To not only paint what everyone else sees as beautiful–there’s nothing wrong with that–but to also paint the real and the unpopular. It’s what made me want to work with her on this in the first place. I knew that whatever she painted in our sketchbooks would not be predictable or cliché.
5. Any other thoughts or comments about this project? Would you recommend other people try it?
I think it is a wonderful, sobering experience. It is stripped bare and at the end of the day, there is no filter, no social media backing, no enhancements – it is what you made and parts of you linger there. You learn about yourself based on what you contribute. It is a practice in vulnerability.
We ended the books with the last page being a portrait of each other that we drew. That was probably the page I enjoyed making the most out of the whole thing!
So there it is! Our first completed sketchbook collaboration, though I’m hoping there will be many more. I have a few ideas up my sleeve.
Let me know if this interests you or if you’ve done anything like this before! I’d love to hear how it went and what you did differently than Kristen and me. If commenting on this post doesn’t feel right, feel free to reach out via email or on Instagram:
You can also find Kristen and her beautiful work on Instagram @storkybooks. Check her out and give her a follow!!
Thanks for reading!