A sketchbook can be much more than just a notebook for drawing. “It can be thought of as a closet, an attic, a basement or a file folder, where unedited thoughts are stored in a jumble,” explains Olivia Petrides, a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “A sketchbook is a way to process raw information.”
For Petrides and countless other artists, sketchbooks are places to express oneself privately, experiment with ideas, and document the world that surrounds us. Plus, you can easily share them with trusted friends, without the feelings of self-consciousness that creep up while unveiling a “finished” artwork. And when used on a daily basis, sketchbooks can help us not only transform how we see the world, but how we process it, as well.
So for artists looking to tune-up their sketchbooks, or for novices looking to delve into the world of sketchbooking for the first time, we’ve compiled some key tips for starting––and sticking with––a daily sketchbook practice.
1. Give yourself tools you love
When you’re picking out a sketchbook, remember to consider how and when you’ll be using it. One of the easiest ways to make sure you use your sketchbook every day is to have it on you at all times; that way, when an idea or image strikes, you’ll be able to put it down on paper immediately. Thus, a bulky or heavy sketchbook might not be the best option.
In addition to the right sketchbook, you’ll want to develop a collection of materials you look forward to using. “The tendency is to use a pencil or a pen,” Petrides notes, but don’t be afraid to experiment with new media, too. “Use watercolor, collage, inks, indirect transfer,” she suggests. “Whisper, but also shout. It’s your book, your stage, your world.”
2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
One of the most difficult challenges to overcome when keeping a daily sketchbook is pushing aside the expectations that every page should be perfectly executed or resemble a complete work of art.
“There’s a lot of books out there that are published sketchbooks of this artist or another––and they’re really highly curated,” explains Fred Lynch, a long-time professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. “They give [artists] the impression that when you do a sketchbook, you’re supposed to go from start to end without a single mistake or misguided start.”
As Lynch suggests, approaching a sketchbook this way may intensify the daunting nature of a blank page, and can leave you feeling less dedicated and inspired to keep up the practice. Instead, he advises that sketchbookers take a lax, playful approach. “Don’t think of the sketchbook as an act of performance,” he says. “Rather, think of it as a place to play, to experiment, and to work things out.”
If you find yourself especially frustrated by a particular sketch, get rid of it. Remember that sketchbooks come with no given rules; you can tear that sheet out, collage it onto another page, paint over it, or fold it in half.
3. Use observation and imagination
Artists typically use a sketchbook in one of two ways: They’ll use it to document their observations of the physical world around them, or they’ll use it to put an idea from their mind to paper. Lynch suggests that artists employ a combination of the two—using both observation and imagination. “Both are really good skills, but it’s when both of those skills are combined that the magic happens,” he explains.
For example, if you’re an artist who usually sketches people, you might want to try blindcontour drawing––a technique where you draw a subject from observation without looking down at the page, and never lifting your drawing tool, until the image is complete. The exercise can help you break out of your usual routine and produce unexpected imagery; the resulting drawings tend to be loose, illogical, and a bit messy.
If you’re an artist who frequently draws interior scenes from your imagination, try drawing the same space twice, but from a new angle. This exercise will encourage you to consider the three-dimensionality of your subject, instead of the flat image you visualize in your head.
Perhaps you find yourself growing bored while drawing. In that case, try approaching the page with new subject matter. “Gather imagery from diverse sources, intuitively selecting elements that appeal to you,” Petrides suggests. Then, paint, draw, or collage that imagery into your sketchbook. “After these possibly disparate elements are collected onto a page, rework the imagery to create a new space in which all these elements can coexist,” she continues. “Hopefully, something unexpected will have occurred.”
4. Use your sketchbook instead of a camera
At The Sketchbook Project––a crowd-sourced Brooklyn library of over 41,000 sketchbooks––visitors are able to search through the stacks by looking up keywords and tags. The space’s co-founder, Steven Peterman, notes that one of the most-searched terms is always “travel.” Flipping through a sketchbook that someone filled up while traveling offers an intimate view of that person’s life and experience. And for the traveler, a sketchbook can dramatically enhance one’s awareness of their surroundings.
“It’s day and night better than a camera,” Petrides emphasizes. “It takes time to draw or paint what is in front of you. It is the difference between being in a place or scanning it with your phone and moving on.” When you take the time to visualize a subject with a pen or pencil in hand, you begin to notice details you might miss otherwise. (Also, drawing can help you better remember your trip.)
In one sketchbook from the project’s digital library of over 21,000 artist books, a traveler documented their journey to various countries with pen drawings of buildings, landscapes, and restaurant interiors, while another sketchbook enthusiast visualized their journey from New York to Siena with pages of colorful paintings and chalky text. Both illustrate how the artists took time to record their unique experiences and observations.
5. Consider your sketchbook as a trusted companion
Along with travel-logs, memorials are also popular at The Sketchbook Project. These are often tributes to the deceased, loved ones, or someone who the artist lost touch with. “We have a lot of people who use [sketchbooks] when they’re going through something tough and they need it as a place to put their feelings and thoughts,” Peterman notes.
Channeling one’s thoughts and emotions into a sketchbook can be therapeutic, like confiding in a friend. Because they can remain private, sketchbooks can also be a safe space for personal expression. They can even be a helpful coping mechanism in stressful situations, such as public commutes, awkward social events, or telephone calls; Lynch even allows his introverted students to use them during critiques––as long as they’re still actively engaging in the discussion.
“Our sketchbooks can document our lives like a diary,” Lynch says. “They can also be faithful companions.”
The artist says he is taking the company to court as a last resort.
Ai Weiwei is taking Volkswagen to court in Denmark for copyright infringement after a Volkswagen advertisement published in 2017 used an installation of his work as a backdrop.
The ad, which features an orange car, is set in front of his work Soleil Levant (2017), an installation of 3,500 discarded, bright orange life jackets used by migrants who fled persecution and landed in Lesvos, Greece. The work was created for World Refugee Day and was presented on the facade of the Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen.
“I was not credited as the artist, and my artwork image was… cropped without permission,” Ai wrote on Instagram in March. “The infringing material was circulated to over 200,000 people, giving the false impression that I had authorized Volkswagen to use my artwork in its ad.” He added: “I was astonished by Volkswagen’s brazen violations of my intellectual property and moral rights.”
As the Chinese artist prepared to head to Copenhagen for the trial, which is scheduled to begin Wednesday, he posted a selfie giving the middle finger to Volkswagen on Instagram.
The artist claimed to have resorted to the lawsuit after more than a year of “fruitless negotiation,” during which the company “only engaged in arrogant gestures to trivialize their guilt and dismiss the matter.”
Ai is also criticizing Volkwagen for what he sees as hypocrisy as it looks to increase its market share in China, while allegedly turning a blind eye toward the nation’s human rights abuses.
The artist cited a story in the Hong Kong Free Press, which said that “the German carmaker is so deeply invested in China that two reliable sources confirm that prominent figures associated with Volkswagen informally lobbied the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, not to bring up China’s program of mass internment of Muslims and other ideological enemies in Xinjiang when he visited his counterpart Wang Yi in Nov. 2018.”
“Should the public not be informed about these facts at the same time when VW forcibly co-opts refugees’ life jackets—the most poignant symbols of human suffering and hope—as color-compliant props in its newest VW Polo ad?” Ai asked on Instagram.
A representative of the company told Danish news agency Ritzau that the use of Ai’s artwork was just a “coincidence” after a day spent photographing the car in “beautiful locations” around Copenhagen.
Ai isn’t buying it. “Such corporate bullying plunders the fruit of others’ labor, intimidates individuals attempting to enforce their rights, and shows contempt for humanitarian and ethical behavior,” he wrote.
As of press time, representatives for Volkswagen had not responded to artnet News’s request for comment.
A private British collector bought the work at a French auction house in 1989
A leading Italian art scholar has attributed a drawing from ca. 1487 to Michelangelo—and says it’s the earliest known work by the artist to date, done when the Renaissance master was just 12 years old.
The pen and brown ink drawing, which measures just over four by eight inches, depicts a robed man sitting on a throne with a scepter in one hand. Although the Seated Man is “a piece of juvenilia,” the scholar, Sir Timothy Clifford, told the Daily Mail that its particularities point to Michelangelo’s style: “with rounded chins and a very hard line under the nose … No other Ghirlandaio pupil draws like that,” Clifford said of the artist’s teacher, Domenico Ghirlandaio.
In 1989, an unnamed British collector purchased the then-unidentified work from a French auction house. When the art historian Miles Chappell told him it looked like a Michelangelo, the collector contacted Clifford, who was formerly director of the National Galleries of Scotland.
Clifford examined the drawing and although it bears resemblance to the work of other Florentine draughtsmen of the era, “there’s something about it that just gives the game away,” Clifford told the Daily Mail. “It’s a fascinating object.”
The fact that the drawing survived Michelangelo’s lifetime is remarkable in itself. In the 16th century, Giorgio Vasari wrote that the artist was prone to burning works that he deemed imperfect and didn’t want to display the obstacles he faced when he “tested his genius” over the years.
The drawing is currently on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, as part of the show “Triumph of the Body,” through June 30.
The curator of the show, Zoltán Kárpáti, told the Mail: “Bearing in mind that study drawings by apprentices were only rarely preserved, coupled with Michelangelo’s lifelong obsession with destroying any drawings he no longer had a use for, the sketch deserves a prominent place in the master’s oeuvre.”
It appears the artist was in town for the Venice Biennale.
Last week, as the Venice Biennale opened to the public, the art media was sent into a tizzy when reports surfaced that Banksy may have made his way to the city, leaving behind a mural of a young migrant child in a life jacket.
But it looks like we all missed the forest for the trees.
This morning, the surreptitious street artist posted a video on Instagram of an unidentified gentleman getting booted out of the city’s St. Mark’s Square, where it looked like he was trying to sell art without a permit. The post was accompanied by a typically Banskyian comment: “Setting out my stall at the Venice Biennale. Despite being the largest and most prestigious event in the world, for some reason I’ve never been invited.”
The video opens with a pastiche of traditional accordion music and shows the man setting up easels and canvases in the heart of Venice. The canvases, when placed side-by-side, fit together like a puzzle, revealing a larger image of a white cruise ship loitering in Venetian canals, all of it advertised by a cheeky little sign that says, “Venice in oil.”
Most of the people in the clip seem genuinely interested in the work—except for the Italian police who tell the man he needs to leave unless he has a permit. He packs up, and the video fades to black with the sound of fog horns coming from a giant ship in the distance.
The winner of Australia's oldest and best-known prize for portraiture was announced at the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) this afternoon.
Costa was a finalist in 2015, 2017 and 2018, but this year he collected the $100,000.
Speaking at the gallery as he accepted the prize, Costa made a list of the people he wanted to thank. He finished with his mother.
"And finally, my mother, who said 'follow your heart', which was the best advice I ever got," he said.
In an earlier interview, Costa spoke of his subject, Lindy Lee, who is a leading contemporary artist and practicing Buddhist.
"I listened to an interview Lindy gave at the AGNSW and found myself agreeing with many of her ideas. I was attracted to her wisdom, humility, courage, humour and, above all, her deep focus regarding her art practice," Costa said.
"I approach each painting with an empty head, beginning every portrait with charcoal drawings as I collect sensations and information.
"The challenge for me is to trap the energy of my sitter — the emotional feeling over and above the physical reality.
"In my portrait of Lindy, I have kept the colour minimal to avoid any visual noise. Ultimately the invention and the unity of the work is what matters most."
Only two men in ties
This year's Archibald Prize exhibition is distinctive in its diversity.
Figures of authority have been almost wholly overlooked, images of women outnumber men, there are no politicians or wealthy philanthropists on display and two artists chose to portray themselves in the last blush of pregnancy, with naked, bulging bellies.
The exhibition includes just two men in ties, artist Samuel Condon's modest self-portrait and Yundimurra professor Michael McDaniel, whose blue suit is draped in animal skins.
McDaniel is one of eight Indigenous Australians, his image hangs alongside those of playwright Nakkiah Lui and recently retired Rabbitohs player Greg Inglis.
Among the 51 finalists there are nine pictures of Australians of Asian descent. Three-time Paralympic gold medallist Dylan Alcott is powerfully portrayed in his wheelchair by the artist Kirpy.
ABC personalities are also well represented this year: besides Lui (ABC's Black Comedy and Kiki and Kitty), TV hosts and journalists (and best friends) Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales have portraits in this year's exhibition, as well as Benjamin Law and Alcott.
Male artists still outnumber women but the gap is closing.
There are 23 female finalists to 28 males, whereas just a decade ago men outnumbered women three to one.
Last year, the selfie ruled. There was a record 20 self-portraits and 14 painters chose to depict another artist, but this year the trend has been reversed with portraits of 17 artists hanging in the final exhibition and 11 self-portraits.
Record number of entries in 2019
The Archibald Prize is now in its 98th year, having been held annually since 1921.
There were 919 entries this year, culled into the final exhibition by the Art Gallery of NSW Board of Trustees, led by chairman and banker, David Gonski, deputy Gretel Packer and including artists Ben Quilty and Khadim Ali.
The winning artist receives $100,000, from a total pool of $200,000 shared with the winners of the consecutively held Wynne sculpture and landscape prize, and the curated Sulman art prize.
There is nothing like the sum of these prizes anywhere else in Australia. From an open call-out, AGNSW staff sort more than 2,000 entries into a cogent exhibition of just more than 100 works.
Over time the prizes provide a snapshot of Australian art and, in the case of the Archibald, a snapshot of Australian life, thanks to the rule that requires the sitters be notable in a field such as sport, the arts, media or politics.
This combination of portraiture and fame ensures the Archibald Prize is consistently the AGNSW's most popular annual exhibition.
Last year's show attracted more than 130,000 visitors who paid up to $20 for entry.
This financial windfall of approximately $2 million, in addition to the $50 entry fee paid by artists, ensures the exhibition is also profitable, despite the significant task of sorting through so many entries.
Finalists are exhibited at the AGNSW before embarking on a year-long regional tour.