Sweatin’ some small stuff.

There’s a Blick art supply store right next door to the residence hall at MIAD, and right there in the window are racks and stands filled with sketchbooks. One that caught my eye was a sketchbook produced by Crescent, it’s claim being that the pages are bleed-proof. I was intrigued because I sketch on both sides of the page in my sketchbooks, and here, right in front of me, was a book designed to do exactly that. So I bought a small one to try out.

It’s a convenient size to carry around – not very thick at 60 or so pages, and easy to fit into a hip pocket at 3.5 x 5.5 inches. But despite their claim that the pages lay “flat,” it’s simply not the case. My usual commercial sketchbook, the Canson 180 is designed to lay flat, and does. The Crescent book loses real estate at the gutter, so useable width is actually more like 3.25 inches.

And the size, while convenient to carry, is a bit inconvenient to actually use. Drawing in a book that is only appreciably larger than a credit card requires a lot of awkward gyrations. Frankly, this smaller size makes me work too hard to work out a sketch. Thus, I’d recommend the next size up, which is in that middle ground of around 5 x 7-ish inches. I like that size for sketching. It is still small enough to fit onto a sidewalk café table or lap. I can tuck it into my waistband at my back. And I feel more comfortable working in the slightly larger size.

On the positive side, the small proportions forced me to work simpler, to focus on shapes and use of space, and to regard color as a graphic element – something I appreciate in the work of others, but don’t always do myself.

It’s not bad to work in, but watercolor absorbs into the paper very quickly and you must work fast if you wish to move it around on the sheet. Pause for a second and it’s already begun to dry, and your painted surface develops very obvious streaks. If that’s what you’re going for, it’s a great sheet. Me, I found that at first I felt safer keeping color to small spots.

As I began to treat the page and the color more graphically, I found simplifying the color and treating it as one of the primary graphic elements to be a satisfying strategy.

That approach also tended to change the composition pretty dramatically. I began to look for ways to leave a negative spaces that could be filled with color, and which would serve to focus a viewer’s attention.

When I was sketching the image of the woman and her dog (above), the emphasis was much broader than it is with color used to create a clear focal point. While still in black and white, the background was more of a tapestry of detail. Now it’s a unifying element.

Here’s another example of an image where the simplicity of black and white clearly works. But the addition of color (below) changes the complexity entirely.

When all is said and done, this is an interesting experiment as well as an intriguing experience. But I don’t anticipate forgoing my preferred sketchbook, sketching pamphlets, and – especially! – sketchbook size.

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