Today, I’ve decided to look at a subject which has confused me, and many of my peers, and so I’m sure it is one which has confused many other people. At art institutes, one is faced with a plethora of new skills, techniques, people, and, probably the most infuriating for me: Terminology. A sketchbook is no longer a sketchbook; it is a reflective visual journal. Personally, this just aggravates me. I don’t know why, but the pretentiousness of the name doesn’t sit well with me. After all, practitioners’ sketchbooks should be as varied as the personalities of their owners. And this comfortably brings me onto the main subject: That of Ideation and Communication.
For me, a sketchbook is everything: A representation of my thought processes, an escape from the monotony of train journeys, a haven in which to practise and hone my skills, and much more. This leads me to a daunting possibility. Should one sketchbook be enough for all of this? Ideation is, I’ve been lead to believe, a first personal activity: It’s a 20 second sketch, a sentence, a clipping from a magazine. It is the process of visually interpreting a facet of an idea, to allow for development, experimentation and hopefully leading onto the actualization of the idea as a whole. In recent times, a shift has occurred, where artists – a loose use of the term, consider it henceforth a collective noun for those of a visually creative persuasion, regardless of skill – would rather see the sketchbooks of another practitioner, almost to the extent that their interest in the ideation outweigh the execution of the finished piece. I must say I’m guilty of such a thing, and love to flick through others sketchbooks, just to look at the small elements and to see how the artist then works with them.
|Sketchbook of Ideation|
The most interesting sketchbooks I’ve found are those which are almost chaotic. As though the artist’s brain has a leaking faucet draining directly into the pages, and, reacting to this; I strive to make my sketchbooks, not messy, but a release. Somewhere I can (usually) without judgement cover the pages in thumbnails, gestural sketches and small notes to myself for future expansion. I’m sure many others like to do this, probably very differently, but that’s the joy of a sketchbook!
|Pages from my book of Ideation|
Communicating these ideas then is a very different game. Once again I have only the mad ravings of a tutor to go on, but I’ve worked on the basis that communication is the actualization of ideation. Basically: Critique your own work, decide which thumbnail/sketch/etc, has the best visual properties – your judgment as an artist comes in here; this is what you should be able to do naturally – then work this up into a small (no bigger than A5 in my opinion) Marquette. The key difference is audience; employers/commissioners/tutors will want to see something, do not show them ideation! The most likely outcome is they won’t understand your sketches and won’t take to the idea. To communicate you must strike a balance between a gestural piece with room for alteration, and a piece that people can understand and use as a base for potential improvements.
|My (expensive) book of Communication|
It sounds hard. And it is! I feel that I can do it with my personal work, but that’s because all of my sketches are as loose as possible until the latest possible time, where I add time consuming detail. At university, I’m berated for it, I don’t show any intermediate steps, any communication, between my ideation and my drafting of the final piece. One of the key parts of developing is input from others, and to receive this you must craft images which communicate the key parts of your ideation, so, regardless of how much of a pain in the arse it is, you must do it. A conceptualist’s bread and butter is mastering the phase of communication; it’s a key element to a whole project, and, like composition, without successful communication, a piece will suffer.
|Internal pages of my book of Communication|
To wrap this up swiftly and in under 1000 words, to conclude my initial question; is a sketchbook the ideal medium for communication? Ideation: Yes, most definitely, but, communication? Should a sketchbook be punctuated every few pages with a full page (or half page, whatever…) draft, a piece of communication? It would make understanding the sketchbook easier, but that’s a moot point; they don’t need to be understandable, they need to be a mirror of the artist. I try to keep them separate: Have a very cheap sketchbook I take everywhere and use for ideation, and a more expensive Moleskine to draft up the pieces, leaving me with a book of ideation, and a book of communication. Now, I like this process, it suits my O.C.D. temperament and allows a sense of organization, but, at the end of it, looking through both sketchbooks, the cheap ideation one is more exciting. Paradoxical, no?
Above is a page from Street Sketchbook. A book devoted to the sketchbooks of less well known artists. And it explores perfectly the philosophies of some artists, their approaches and displays just how varied an approach people have. I'd call these pieces of Ideation, as I see them as preliminary pieces, chaotic in their composition as the owner tries to sculpt their ideas into a correct visual representation, to be ready to communicate it to the public.
I leave this with an enquiring question: What does everybody else do? Does anybody have a 3 stage process of Ideation, Communication and Actualization? If so, how does it work out for you?
Next time, I have a bash at Art History.