Your First Content

In the last post, I outlined a simple layout with which to set up your sketchbook before you even begin drawing. This is a natural and easy inroad to beginning the journey of creating a book you love.

Though I have adapted this since first using it five years ago, the basic idea is sound: to set up your sketchbook as though a published book with title page, contents, introduction, section title pages etc.

The effort to begin, however humble, sets the tone for bothering some more. And the fact that a good swathe of paper has been used up already makes the first drawing not seem so 'first'.

The First Sketch!

But enough of all this prep work. It's time to actually draw.

Since the author of “Sketchbooking,” Barbara Stecher, suggests you create a travel sketchbook, she urges you to break the ice with a quick drawing of your preparations for the trip.

Frankly, that's the last time on earth that I have time to draw! I’m usually too busy trying to get out of the house. With six children. 

But I’ve managed it.

The simplest notes, the briefest lines, all in pencil. You can go back and redo them in pen. I recently showed a friend a book in progress and she was shocked at just how little I get down at first on a working page. Just enough to go by later. So don't look at the following pictures and wonder how I had time to do them. I didn't! Not the finished page as you see it.

You have to rethink the notion of lengthy, detailed sketches. Though there are times to enjoy that luxury, these are more like 'life notes' that happen to include drawings.

So here are examples from three books. All trips that began in a humble way.

Something Eye-Catching

Simple first sketch from a road trip to Vermont

I was returning to our parked family van and 'saw' the simple composition of open door, piles of bags and a glimpse of people inside. So I grabbed my 'just set up' book and took notes. I probably spent less than two minutes on the original pencil sketch. Notice the trademark homemade family hula hoops! Actually, notice that those were the only thing I colored as I went back and finished the page in ink, sometime during the trip. 

See? Anything is better than nothing.

An Unexpected Trip

This one's even simpler. It's a few pages into the first sketchbook I did after reading Barbara Stecher. Just when I thought we weren't traveling anywhere, I had the chance to take a trip by myself to visit friends over 300 miles away with six kids in tow. I was traveling so my husband could do extensive messy repair work on the main rooms of our house. An exhausting time.

Actually the joy of these quick sketches felt like a sanity-saver in the midst of the busyness. Just taking the time to pause while packing was a novel sensation ...

Our cat hates when we go away but she can't resist being in on the action

Even When You're Tired and Cold

I did the first sketch for this book during a snowy taxi ride to the train station one cold March morning. I was heading to New York City for a three day jaunt with my husband while he worked. I managed a 60-page book on that short trip. But it was mostly of mixed media (glued in things and some unusual stickers) and writing. My hands were too cold to sketch much.

New York City sketchbook title page of ready-to-go stickers, done on the train there!

Section title page: date in vintage-look stickers and pen

Originally a pencil sketch done in a Boston taxi, inked during trip

What's in your bag? A visual list evokes a time not to be repeated

Believe me, I didn’t feel like doing any of these. All three were busy, hectic times when I’d have been very justified in not bothering. But once you get over that initial resistance there's a forward motion that keeps you going. 

Ask Yourself   

As you prepare for a trip, ask yourself what you see around you. The act of packing, the lists you're making, the packed car: all visual fodder for the simple first sketch.

And once you've done the first sketch ... You're more likely to bother with the second.