Sketching on Any Old Paper You Have At Hand

April 15, 2022

Sometimes we can get into our heads. We can spend time telling ourselves all the reasons we can’t take time right now and paint. 

As a teacher for over 30 years I think I’ve heard every excuse there is: no space to set up, don’t have the materials I want to work with; I don’t have any paper; I am tired; I have to clean (pay taxes, ferry the elderly here and there, help the kids with algebra, make a birthday cake for Ruthie, walk Jasper, etc.)

For longer than I care to think right now we have been in the midst of downsizing. I have been going through over 40 years of work documents and projects, and even more years of correspondence (but I’ll write about that another day).

Some of it has been fun and satisfying, to see that I’ve produced so much work; sometimes the effort is just exhausting.

One of the best days was going through my old bookbinding samples. Boxes and boxes. I even did some quick walk through videos that were up on Facebook for a short time. I was just so excited to see all the structures I’d made and taught. The possibilities were endless and I wanted to encourage others to bind without teaching more structures.

I had a box of pamphlets of all types—they went off to a friend who has embraced the pamphlet as a journal structure for every day. (She likes the portability and I suspect the ease with which you could move on to other papers quickly, if you wanted to.)

Several landscape structures went off to a landscape artist friend.

A couple structures were retired from “class samples.” Since last September when I sorted them, I have filled them as part of my regular string of daily visual journals.

It doesn’t happen often, but some of the books have been dismantled by me, and I’m repurposing the paper.

That’s what happened to the book from which I got the paper for this painting.

It was a Japanese Stab binding. I don’t like Japanese Stab bindings because they don’t open flat. They are best used for albums. Many people like them because they are fun to embellish with decoration, and of course the lovely stitches that hold the spine together and make a pattern on the front and back of the book.

Detail of the painting so you can see the brush pen sketch lines (see top of the ear on the left and also the back line, under only a thin coat of paint) and the thickness of the watercolor I was using in an opaque manner.

It was a popular class for me to teach for all of those reasons. And in the 1990s there weren’t a lot of people that I was aware of, who were keeping a visual journal like mine. People didn’t ask to learn how to make in a book with sewn signatures for visual journaling. People in my classes then were making books to be used as albums or to be given as gifts to friends to use as albums. Thinking about how to fill a book with sketches wasn’t remotely on their agenda.

If you look at the top of the today’s image you can see the sewing holes used to sew the book together.

I cut the threads on the book and saved the paper for sketching. It’s a lovely smooth paper I bought in the 1990s for making albums. It’s a commercial printing paper. I couldn’t find the notes on it (which had been separated from the book; after about 1998 I started writing paper source notes inside the back of all my teaching samples to avoid this problem).

The paper is cardstock and smooth, with a lovely fiber fleck and a great overall beige color.

After I took the book apart I left the pages on my drawing board and would pick them up for warm-ups and doodles, pen and ink sketches, and, as in this case watercolor.

I’m just happy to be using this paper, and to have one less class sample to think about using or storing. Things are moving forward, some days literally one piece of paper at a time.

I want to remind you that regardless of the turmoil you have in your life, or the errands, or daily tasks, it’s important that you stop and make a sketch, even if you only spend 10 minutes on it. That connection to your creativity will bring you back each day to your creativity. It will help you stay limber for those days when you might actually squeeze in an hour (gasp!)

I look at this sketch and I don’t mind that the nose and mouth are out of alignment. (I spent too little time checking my drawing before going in with details.) Instead, I see how this sketch brought a breath of air into my life on a day I really needed it. And on a day when I also needed to have the fun of pushing some paint around.

This painting reminds me that I will get through all the daily tasks at hand, eventually. But in the meantime it reminds me that I have to keep exercising my drawing muscles.

The fact that I made time in my day to make a quick painting is more comforting and soul soothing to me than spending even 20 seconds thinking of any reason I shouldn’t sit down and paint.

So if you’re hearing a voice that says you mustn’t take a drawing break—ignore it. Start with 5 minutes to just doodle. Take 10 minutes the next day. Look at your schedule to find when during the third day you can take 30 minutes. Build on that momentum. 

A daily drawing habit will help you hold on to your perspective. It will help you realign thoughts of overwhelm and allow you to focus on all the tasks you face.

For now it may only be 10 minutes, but you’re still in touch with your creative side and more will come.

Today you may only have time for a quick pen sketch, but after a week of pen sketches you will find yourself ready to paint, even if you have to set up a small tray table to hold your supplies.

I always told my students: In the time it takes you to cycle through the excuses of why you can’t draw today, you would already have finished your drawing. 

Stop bargaining with your internal critic. The moment you even hear him clear his throat to tell you why you can’t, simply sit down and sketch.

Pick any old paper you happen to have. The materials you use aren’t as important as actually doing the sketching.

And who knows, in the process you might discover a paper you never bought for sketching but which turns out perfect for your art practice.

  1. Reply

    The paper looks like Fox River fleck in kraft or whatever they called their tan version of their fibery card and paper. It would have been popular in the 90s. I had purchased several reams of it for making books just after the discontinued the line and I think were purchased by one of the larger paper companies.

    1. Reply

      Thanks for writing about Fox River Leslie. I know I have used Fox River paper before, in fact we used a Fox River paper for the inside of the Minnesota Journal Project 2000 journals.

      I don’t know if it is this paper. I often get things from Speckletone. I see that Someone is selling Royal Fiber and the swatches are too small for me to see but that might be the paper.

      Poking around I also found Royal Sundance Fiber paper and that swatch enlarged. It’s not the same paper, but it is a lovely paper. It comes in a number of colors that might be interesting to explore Royal Sundance Fiber Driftwood looks very interesting too.

      For readers reading this interchange who don’t know what Leslie and I are talking about, these are papers from paper companies made for printing on, and they can of course be purchased and used for other activities like rubberstamping (which is what I used most of them for).

      I can only speculate about the above papers I have mentioned since I have no notes on the paper I used in this book.

      But if you want to try a paper like the paper shown in this post I can recommend Speckletone Kraft Cardstock from the French Paper Company. It has a nice smooth surface. I routinely rubberstamp on it, use color pencil on it, and even paint on it with gouache (using very little water as it isn’t a wet media paper mind you!).

      I used Speckletone paper for my 2017 International Fake Journal Month Journal. You can see it here

      I was using watercolor, opaquely with little water, but you could use gouache just as easily. Anyway, it’s fun paper. And available in a lot of places and online, because it’s a popular paper for card making. I like to get it at Anchor Paper locally. (Though I haven’t been over there in so long I don’t know if their shop is still open.)

    • Susan
    • April 15, 2022

    Fabulous advice as always, Roz!

    1. Reply

      I’m so glad it was helpful Susan. Thanks for stopping by. Have a great weekend, and get some sketching in!

  2. Reply

    Thank you for this post as I really needed it. You are right… take 5 minutes and just do it! Thank you from the bottom of my heart… as you have filled it.

    1. Reply

      Jane, I’m so glad it was helpful to read this and I hope that in this past week you have been finding the five minutes everyday to just do it. I’m cheering you forward!

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