Letting my mind, and eyes, wander while looking at random textures or patterns is something I really enjoy doing. Growing up, my bedroom had both textured walls and ceiling so I had all sorts of creatures and scenes to look at.

James Gurney did a great post on this in 2008 titled Pareidolia and Apophenia:

According to
1. the imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist, as in considering the moon to have human features"

I enjoy finding things in old concrete, wood panels, anything with some sort of texture, or strange shaped vegetables long lost in the potato drawer.

I've tried making random scribbles and then making something from them but for some reason I find that particularly challenging and it seems to work better for me if someone else makes the scribble. Just closing my eyes while scribbling helps a some but not much if I'm holding the pencil in a regular writing or drawing grip.

I've been experimenting with ways to lessen my control of the scribble and mentally detach from it more. Holding the pencil loosely by the end, then closing my eyes and scribbling with a fully extended arm helps some. So does using my non-dominant hand with closing my eyes. Lately I've been experimenting with another way. I drop or drag thin threads on a piece of plexiglass spritzed with water. The water catches the string at random points so helps create a less controlled scribble.

Here's the latest one. What do you see?

thin thread or string dragged over a wet piece of plexiglass

pencil doodle drawn from random string

page from artist sketchbook by christine mitzuk with notes from stephan orsak
Here's a page from my sketchbook during the workshop. Stephan made some notes in different colored inks (one of the tools he uses in his own journals) to show iterations.

Keeping an artist journal or sketchbook can be tricky sometimes. Or maybe it feels like a difficult, lengthy chore. Stephan Orsak shared some insights into the artist journal and making it a fun part of the creative process in a recent workshop.

I'm not a consistent scribbler. I'd like to incorporate it into my process and I realized I had some obstacles in my way. Stephan Orsak offered a workshop in January titled "The Artist’s Journal: The Quiet Link Between Idea and Masterpiece" through The Atelier so I gave it a shot. It was worth the time and money and I hope he runs it again so more people can take it.

Some of the things he showed us were examples of sketchbooks from the likes of John Singer Sargent, Pablo Picasso, and Constable

Sargent doodles (you can browse the Harvard Art Museums collection, search for Sargent Sketchbook):

Pablo Picasso:
I can't seem to link to a specific image so go here and search for sketchbook, sketch, or journal

John Constable:
Stephan pointed out this one for how Constable treated the people; they're just dots.

Some Takeaways from the Workshop

I have a lot of unwritten rules that I've accumulated about what an artist journal ought to be. A lot of them are getting in my way and can be trashed. Now I need to figure out how to trash them or overwrite them.

Artist sketchbooks don't need to have "finished", "beautiful", "perfect" works. They can be messy. They can be clean. They can be more of an incubator for ideas, a workshop to experiment, a place to put quick observations or little bits of ideas. (I like the idea of it being an incubator and a place to note random thoughts or observations).

Artist sketchbooks can be anything and contain anything that is useful or of importance to each individual artist.

It is O.K. to play, explore, ask "what if?", or "if this then what?". Trying out different options. Instead of drawing what is, maybe ask "what could it be?"

A drawing doesn't have to be OF something, it could be an experiment with mark making, just scribbles.

Stephan suggested asking (and I'm paraphrasing) "what's important to you about the thing you're seeing? What about it makes an impression on you?" and then "does it seem like a line would translate the idea or tone or a combination of the two".

Putting something down on the paper doesn't need to take an hour. It can take 5 minutes or less.

An artist sketchbook doesn't have to be shared.

Thank you Stephan. I hope you do the workshop in the future so more folks can benefit from your findings and explorations.

I went out with a local sketch group this last weekend and took the kit I mentioned in my last post with me.

Plein Air Watermedia Setup

Not bad. I ended up putting the little kit in my backpack stool. I decided to take the backpack so I could bring a water bottle, some sun screen, and a jug to carry my dirty water, plus a 12" ruler to measure off my working area. Sorry but the dirty water jug is in the backpack. It's an accordion storage bottle I bought ages ago from a photography supply shop. I take the dirty water home with me.

The pack is still pretty simple. Very nearly something I can just grab and go sketch. I'll need to use it a bit more to decide if there's anything I'd like to change.

gouachestudy_mitzukHere's my little painting: 5"x7", gouache on Jack Richeson Finest Studio Watercolor Paper. Roz Stendahl has a thorough review of the paper on her blog. It's a recycled paper made of 100% post-consumer waste, Cold Press and acid free.

Next I have my eye on a very small tin of mints that has been lying around our house. It's about the 1.5"x2"x.375". I figure I could put a dollop of a brown or sepia gouache in it. Paired with my Niji Waterbrush in my little sketch kit I'd be off and sketching.

Anybody else have a favorite combination of tools?

I like sketching. In my explorations to keep it fun and simple, there are a few technical issues I'm trying to resolve. Part of the "issues" have to do with personal preference for comfort, ease of use, and immediacy of art making. Plus exploring different options and combinations of tools is fun for me.

  • I want to be able to grab my sketch kit and just go. All the stuff in one place, ready to go. Not a lot of prep time to get out the door and sketch.
  • I want to have the option of making mini paintings or just playing around. If I like how they turn out I can sell them. If I don't like how they turn out I can just flip over the paper and take another crack at it. Personal preference: I don't like the idea of cutting a sheet out of a sketchbook.
  • Pages not laying flat in a bound journal. I could solve that by using a spiral bound journal, but for me the spiral interrupts the page too much.
  • Not having a sketchbook/journal that can handle gouache. There are some nice ones out there now, but I'm not quite willing to shell out $15-$20 just yet.

Several things came together for my current sketch kit to solve some of these "issues". I rediscovered this blue pack I had laying around. It's from the North Light Book Club (got it years ago). The paper pack a friend gave me fits perfectly in it (thanks Roz!). I just needed a surface to put the paper on. I did some brainstorming and kept my eyes open when I was out and about in case I came across something that might be a solution.

Here's where a trip to a local second hand shop came in handy. I was so excited! I found a coated, cardboard clipboard for just $0.79. The clip part is a flat design so it fits in the pack. Since it's cardboard I was easily able to trim it down with my utility knife to a size that would accommodate the paper and fit in the pack. Excellent.

My Sketch Pack as of June 2015

  1. Whiskey Painters Standard Palette filled with M. Graham and Schmincke gouache (bought the palette from Wet Paint in St. Paul, MN). Colors left to right, top to bottom: Quinacridone Violet; Naphthol Red; Gamboge; Hansa Yellow;  Sap Green; Cerulean Blue; Ultramarine Blue; Dark Blue Indigo PB60 (Schmincke); Burnt Sienna (Schmincke); Quinacridone Rose; empty space; Titanium White.
  2. Viva paper towels or something equally sturdy and absorbent
  3. Plastic water cup with screw on lid
  4. 2 oz. tube of M. Graham Titanium White Gouache
  5. Niji Waterbrush (flat and medium round)
  6. Pencil and sharpener
  7. Flat synthetic brushes (1/4", 1/2", 1")
  8. Round Utrecht Traveler Brushes (size 1, 5, 8). The brushes are in 2 parts. To store them, the brushes and handles separate and then you tuck the bristle end inside the handle.
  9. Pack of paper just a bit larger than 5"x7". I've been liking the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper. I'm also trying out the Richeson Recycled paper with gouache.
  10. Cardboard clipboard trimmed down

So far I like the set-up. I'll give it another try this weekend at the MetroSketchers meetup at Coldwater Spring.

Out and about at the local zoo. Penguins, giraffes, and kudo. The wolves were even out.

Here's a page from my sketchbook. I drew with some old colored pencils in a Paperblanks brand notebook (Very thin but smooth paper. I like how the pencils feel on it but not the slight transparent nature of the paper).

Now I'm looking for ways to incorporate this critter into a dragon. Part stately creature, part comedian. It sat very still and regal looking and then waggled its tongue at us out the side of its mouth.

kudu sketch by christine mitzuk
Kudu Sketch


April was International Fake Journal Month (brain child of Roz Stendahl, a Twin Cities based artist and graphic designer). As I understand it the idea is to do something different. If you draw dogs all the time, draw cats. The project could also be as elaborate as a visual journal written and drawn from a character's point of view.

For my Fake Journal, I took a few weeks to decide what I was going to do. I usually gravitate toward organic things. I've always liked spacescapes but never really attempted any. I have been amazed and delighted at what people come up with for space craft. As for media, I wanted to get better at handling gouache and I wanted to experiment with some Golden brand acrylic mediums. Other ideas were tempting but eventually I picked one.

gouach spiral galaxy sketch created by Christine Mitzuk for international fake journal month
This is page one and 2 of my 2014 Fake Journal. I started with "home". Note the little "You are here..." in the upper left near the date.

My plan became spacescapes, inventing spacecraft (machinery which is opposite of my organic leanings), monkeying with some mediums, and painting in gouache. A nice mix of something somewhat familiar, gouache, plus three other elements that were unfamiliar. Make that four. To make pictures unlike my usual gouache mark making, I bought some flat brushes.

Blue Spacescape
Blue themed spacescape sketch painted with gouache.

Why do all this? My inner critic needed to be taken down a few notches. I wanted to train my inner critic. I wanted to quiet it down and let it pitch in ideas instead of drive the bus.

Originally the idea was to make the inner critic shut up. After reading Chris Oatley's blog post about Karaoke and Your Inner Critic I changed direction a little from tamping the critic down to working with it. With four unfamiliar elements, spacescapes and spaceships being unfamiliar territory, the inner critic wasn't a know-it-all. It didn't try to tell me how things "should" be drawn. Instead the inner critic was allowed to give some aesthetic opinions (composition, values, colors, and it piped up a little when I was designing space craft). It also tried to tell me that the nebulae were "wrong" but I decided to ignore that input. My goal wasn't to reproduce NASA photos star for star. My goal was to invent, explore, and just plain see what happened. Plus because it was unfamiliar territory, there weren't many rules I felt I had to follow. The journal became my playground.

I also tried to set expectations before I began work (per Roz's advice). I worked in my journal 15-30 minutes a day, giving myself time off on weekends. Or using weekends to catch up if I missed a week day. I also gave myself permission to work on a page a second session if the page was getting detailed or turned into a 2-page picture.

Purple and green themed spacescape sketch painted with gouache.

The one thing that threw me off at the end was the number of pages I actually used. I thought I would fill most of the book but I didn't (I didn't count all the pages and days ahead of time and I made several 2-page spreads). Next time I will define the number of pages I will be able to cover and whether they will be 2-page spreads or single pages. Now that I've done it once, I'll be better able to gauge how much time I will need.

The inner critic is still a bit noisy for certain projects but less than it was before. I highly recommend taking on a Fake Journal project for anyone with a loud, and pushy, inner critic.

More information on International Fake Journal Month can be found on the official blog

Note: I have not included images of my Golden Acrylic Medium page experiments. I didn't want to scuff my scanner glass.

The sketchbook I used was a hard cover 5.5"x8.5" Delta Series Extra Heavy Weight Paper book from Stillman & Birn. I chose it to withstand my predicted heavy use of gouache and the various acrylic mediums I wanted to play with. The paper and book have stood up to the heavy use beautifully, although it's a little difficult to close now that I've thickened some of the pages with various medium.

I wanted practice drawing people. What better way than to combine learning with fan art of Doctor Who?

drawing in pencil and gouache or doctor who wearing a fez and bow tie
Doctor Who with bow tie AND fez. Done with pencil and gouache.

In the past when I've kept a sketch book the pencil would rub off on the adjacent page. This has always frustrated me. Capturing a likeness can be frustrating, why compound frustration with materials issues? I wanted this to be FUN.

I used my little watercolor Moleskine notebook because I liked the thickness of the paper and I could do washes if I wanted. Next I needed something to reduce or stop the smear. My first thought was tracing paper because it's cheap, but it has some tooth so I thought it might pick up some of the graphite. Plus it isn't acid free or pH neutral or "archival". Glassine was my answer. It's smooth and pH netural so it won't contribute much to the deterioration of my notebook paper (the Moleskine paper is acid free, according to their Website).

To keep the little sheets of glassine from slipping out of the notebook I decided to glue them in. I have some pH nuetral glue (used in book binding) lying around so I used that to glue the edge of the glassine into the gutter of my book. I did this between every drawing. Pretty easy.

Moleskine with glassine between pages
I glued the edge of a piece of glassine (cut slightly smaller than the Moleskine) in the gutter of the pages.

Yeah it's kind of an involved solution compared to just spraying the drawings with something, but it solves several things for me.

1. Reduction of pages rubbing together.
The book style binding is tighter than a ring bound book so there's less shifting and rubbing of pages.

2. Keep adjacent drawings from rubbing off on each other. The glassine picks up a little of the graphite but nowhere near the amount of regular paper. What graphite does get picked up doesn't seem to smear the drawing.

3.  It's not a stinky solution. Yes I could have used spray fix, or hair spray (not "archival"), but I hate the smell of both.

4. It makes for a less frustrated Christine who can enjoy drawing more!

doctor who character sketch in watercolor moleskine
This is where I left off. I'm waiting for the new season with bated breath!

P.S. Doctor Who is © BBC