Sunday, January 8, 2012

Special Guest Particpant Profile: Sarah Campbell

Meet sketchbook challenge participant Sarah Campbell...

I’m about sketching, about just keeping a sketchbook, or several, from the inside out; about a constant inquiry as to what kind of book–shape, paper, size–suits me best; about what I want to put into them and how I want them to challenge me. Questions, to keep me on my toes. I want my sketchbooks to grow more out of who I am and less from how I want them to look. I’m hoping that entries here will spur creativity and point to new avenues of exploration between those pages.

Why do you keep a sketchbook and how often do you work in it?
I am an inveterate journal keeper, since the 1980's, and I'm in love with the combination of words and images. For a while, a few years ago, I tried to design journal pages with words, collage, and images, but I found that frustrating. When I went back to the pages later, as I love to do, they didn't tell me anything. And I was extremely intimidated by the blank page to start with. Then I began to keep a sketchbook, first of my dreams in comic strip form, and then branching out to doing sketches around town. I took up watercolor and a serious dedication to sketching this past spring, planning to do some travel sketches while on a trip in June. I wanted to get in some watercolor practice before I went on the trip, and I joined the Sketchbook Challenge to help that practice. Since that trip (and those sketches), I have enjoyed sketching both inside and outside. This past summer I began to be frustrated by trying to capture all of the greens, the lushness of summer, in a style that I could call my own. That's when I began to add notes to my sketchbook, writing out my frustrations and trying out different solutions. I had to make a leap then, from wanting a (way too precious) book of pretty pictures to recording myself, my art self, in the book, making it a working book, filled with just where I am at a particular time--an art journal, as it were. I find that going back to all of those words and images--5 different ink-and-watercolor sketches of the same bridge in a local park while practicing painting all the greens, for one example--is good reading as well as helping me find my way to a style that I like and consider authentically mine. I had to give myself permission to be MESSY--but I realized that a lot of the sketchbooks of artists that I admire most are messy workbooks. And I had to formulate an answer to the question I was asked several times on my trip, when people saw me sketching: "Are you an artist?"  "No," I wanted to say, "I just love to record my life in sketches." Then I read a quote from Irwin Greenberg on a blog: "Draw everywhere and all the time. An artist is a sketchbook with a person attached." "Yes," I thought, "that's me." So now I don't have to stop and have a debate with myself when someone asks that question. I can just say, "Yes, I am."

I have had several interruptions to my sketching this past fall, mostly due to some health issues, but I am now ready to commit to a sketch of some sort every day. Sometimes I have found it easier to ease into the WhatToDo dilemma by just putting down in washes some colors I love at the moment or a palette I want to work with. Sloshing them onto the page somehow flows into sketching.

Do you work in just one at a time or do you have several going at once?
Oh, I have so many going--both journals and sketchbooks--of all sizes and shapes and kinds of paper. (Have you guessed by now that I am basically a messy person, completely comfortable with open-endedness?)

What's your preferred format (sketchbook size, type of paper, single sheet,spiral bound etc?) and preferred medium for using in your sketchbook? watercolor, pen, pencil, crayon, collage etc?
I love making sketchbooks, and some of the easiest to make and carry are simply large sheets of whatever paper I like, folded into a sort of accordion book, the size of a pamphlet. But I haven't found a "perfect" sketchbook. I prefer hardcover books with a bound spine rather than a spiral binding; sometimes I like to work across the gutter. I love an 8 x 10 inch book, but I haven't found one with both the binding and the paper I like. For my trip this past summer, I hand bound a book with all sorts of paper for journaling, but it was too hefty (thick) to use as a sketchbook, so I took several little pamphlet-sized books, some folded, some stitched, made from watercolor paper. They were easier to carry in a pocket and now they fit loosely into my handmade journal from the trip.

I love watercolor and pencil, watercolor and ink, and watercolor pencils, such as Derwent Inktense. I am constantly trying to get looser and more colorful in my sketches, which doesn't sound much like a messy artist, does it? I'll have to agree with Walt Whitman here: I contain multitudes. Actually, my background is in graphic design in advertising (back in the 1970's) and my designs were minimal and clean. So looseness, splashy color, and messiness are things I have to will. I want to get to a place where they come naturally, where they become a valid expression of the messy person that I really am. I love my messiest pages the most, as I look back over them.


What advice do you have for someone who wants to keep a sketchbook but doesn't know how to begin?
Well, one thing that I do when I don't know how to proceed in some direction is to read, find out what others are doing. The Sketchbook Challenge and Flickr are both marvelous resources for seeing the sketches of others, seeing what might appeal as to size, technique, or medium. My suggestion is to look and look, but also to do and do. All one needs for a sketch is a pencil and a piece of paper. If that is less intimidating than a blank page in a sketchbook, do the sketch on the paper and paste it later into a sketchbook. Pick a size, maybe 4 x 6 or 6 x 9, and cut some "cards" out of different kinds of paper; pick one a day and start sketching. Sketch anything. Do a blind contour of the things on your desk. Or your kitchen counter. You can pitch the sketch if you hate it, or paste it in if you love it. I suggest that you hide the sketch you think you hate for a few days--or, even better, weeks--then "find" it again. Chances are it will be far more interesting and more to your liking than you thought it was on the day that you did it, when your Judge was banging the gavel and delivering the sentence.

Anything else you'd like to add?
I have been a shy person, a wallflower, a mouse, all of my life. But something inside me is urging me now, in my elderhood, to speak, to have a voice, to be present and make my presence known. Not for anyone else's gain, but purely for my own esteem; I've been hiding too long. So, when I started sketching again, I pondered very seriously the step of putting my sketches out there for others to see. The conclusion that I came to was that I so appreciated everyone's sketches and postings of their work, no matter the style or level of expertise, that the community that they fostered and the connection was way more important than my need for my offerings to be perfect. And we are that community and it is important.

Visit Sarah's flickr page here to see more of her work


  1. This is so caring and sharing and wonderful! Your words are from your heart, and your watercolors are inspiring art...thank you for this. Kathy

  2. Sarah!This WAS a perfect offering to our community! I have seen Sarah's sketchbooks and they are much more beautiful in real life. Get your sketch on!

  3. What a wonderful surprise to see you as a guest on SBC. I've been an admirer for some time. Your accordion books are so full of life. Thanks for sharing with us.
    (denise in WNC)

  4. I love the idea of creating a pamphlet with a large sheet of paper. Sometimes I get stuck on the idea that I MUST have a proper book to work in. One of the extra perks of having a daughter in Kindergarten is the tiny little folded books she has brought home. The clever design is something that I would like to make use of with a heavier paper. As soon as I read that you make your own they popped into my head.

  5. I was very touched by this post. Thank you so much for opening up your heart to us. Your paintings are very inpiring. I, for one, am glad you are shining your light now!

  6. What an amazing interview... Thanks! Sarah, your work is lovely, and I can SO identify with your desire to "be messy" and work with less control. I worked as a graphic designer, too, so perhaps that is part of why we have issues with this.

    I also understand your desire to make your work more a reflection of the true you. I have observed this happening with many women as they mature... it is one of the wonderful things about getting older; you stop caring so much about what other people say or think, and become more like your true essence.

    It was very nice to meet you, Sarah!

  7. I've seen and appreciated Sarah's sketches on Flickr for some time now and it was great to learn more about the artist behind the work! Her loosely painted washes and bright colors are a true joy. Thanks Sarah for sharing your personal journey as an artist. I look forward to seeing more of your amazing work!

  8. I am a neophyte when it comes to sketching, keeping a journal, and just doodling, but your words and the encouragement of this site has inspired me to at least try. I'm a quilter, but want to spread my wings beyond traditional to "artsy" and i believe this will help.


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