The Third Something

053 / Fill Sketchbooks!

My plan for 2020 is to fill as many sketchbooks as I can, starting with filling pages of collage. Plus some advice on keeping a sketchbook.

Hello and welcome to a new year of The Third Something.

This feels like an appropriate time to remind you of what this is! The Third Something is a letter by me, Adam Westbrook, dispatched every Sunday.

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Either way, it’s exciting to be writing to you for another year!

If I have one solid goal for 2020 it is this: fill sketchbooks.

It’s a thread I can see slowly emerge into consciousness through last year’s letters, beginning with #017, #022, and #032 building through #043, #045 and #046.

Pull the thread and it tells a story about the importance of daily practice, doing things for pleasure as opposed to outcome and building systems that support this.

I realised sometime in November that if I do want to find my creative groove again I need to be constantly filling pages, accumulating a pile of used sketchbooks and notebooks.

The sketchbook is a sort of creative engine: with every page I fill the pistons make another revolution; like any engine, it works best when used often; it is hungry for fuel, meaning I have to be better at seeing and recording the world around me; the art, whatever that is, will be the by-product, the exhaust fumes of this creative combustion.

OK, enough metaphors.

A page of collage from Adam Westbrook’s sketchbook

Starting the engine from cold, I have been filling my sketchbook with collage.

I have started my days going through newspapers, magazines and any other printed material I can get ahold of, and clipping out anything that catches my eye.

Then I have moved it around on the page until it starts to looks pleasing to me, before gluing it all down - doing my best not to think about it too hard.

A page of collage from Adam Westbrook’s sketchbook

Collage is the quickest way to fill sketchbook pages and so it’s a powerful way to build momentum when you’re just beginning, or you need to get unstuck.

Firstly, it is scrappy - you can’t get too precious about the page. The job is to make a mess!

Secondly, it requires very little intellectual engagement, so it’s perfect for times when you have nothing to say, when your thoughts and dreams are foggy, you are tired, hungover or sick - or life is generally trying hard to stop you feeling creative.

Thirdly, in place of the intellectual, it is an excellent way to connect with the emotional: moving paper around until it ‘feels’ right - without having to justify why.

A page of collage from Adam Westbrook’s sketchbook

I’m very late to understand this, but the day-to-day job of the artist is not ‘making art’, it is filling sketchbooks. “Filling my sketchbook” is a perfectly legitimate answer to the question “what are you working on right now?”

“Fill sketchbooks” is about quantity over quality.

I will measure my success at the end of the year, not in whether I’ve made anything good, but in how big the pile of used sketchbooks is

A page of collage from Adam Westbrook’s sketchbook

I am extremely curious to know if any Third Something readers are avid sketchbook fillers. If so, do you have a system or process that works for you?

Hit reply and I’ll share your wisdom!

Until another Sunday soon,

Adam's signature