I received a review copy of The Sketchbook Challenge by Sue Bleiweiss. I love it when I can wholeheartedly and unreservedly recommend a book – read on.
The subtitle of the book is “Techniques, Prompts, and Inspiration for Achieving Your Creative Goals.” That is quite a promise and Sue’s book provided specific information to do just that. But the best thing about the book is Sue’s editorial voice. How reassuring to hear, “Give it a try. This might work. Here is something other artists have tried.”
The book starts off with an eight-page overview of materials and tools. This is crucial and so many books skip this step. Better yet, Sue names names. I hate books that say use a specific tool, but won’t say which brand they prefer or what brands are even out there. For instance, a person new to sketchbooks can begin with confidence after reading that there are many ways to make marks, here are five types of mark makers to try, here are the subgroups within each type, and here is where they might be used.
The introduction then continues with ways to overcome the fears of beginning a new sketchbook by adding background color, how to develop and work with themes, how to explore a theme to develop ideas, and finally how to move off the page to create a new piece of artwork. The last step is crucial as I see many how-to books that consider sketchbook pages to be the desired end result. That may be true for some artists, but there is a lot less pressure when creating your own unique version of a sketchbook if you decide up front that its purpose is something other than a ready-to-be-framed piece on art on every page. That’s another thing that Sue stresses: Your sketchbook should be exactly what you want it to be, even if that is making lists instead of artwork.
The Sketchbook Challenge is filled with sketchbook pages from twenty-eight artists along with many artworks based on the sketchbook pages. This could be overwhelming, but it’s not because the remainder of the book is set up as a challenge to the reader. A theme is given and then two artists are spotlighted. Each artist writes candidly about their experience of working with the theme, generously share their sketchbook pages, and shares a photo and some details about a new artwork based on the sketchbook pages. I love this because you can see that everyone (including you and me) works differently. Some sketchbooks are beautiful works of art, but others give sketchbook newbies hope because you see the artist struggled with the theme, but carried on anyway. That’s a powerful message.
Embedded in each theme chapter is a tutorial for a mixed-media technique. Specifically: Screen printing, stenciling, digital printing, thread sketching, painted papers for collage, hand-carved stamps, hand-dyed fabrics, soy wax batik, image transfer, foiling, silk fusion, moldable foam stamps, and drawing techniques.
This is why I so heartily recommend this book. The basics are enough for you to see that there are many options and the directions are complete enough for you to really give a wide variety of techniques a try. I have made a lot of moldable foam stamps and I have to say that it never crossed my mind to use wooden skewers to make lines. Thanks, Sue!
There is a resource list, a small “Websites of Interest” list, and a brief bibliography at the back of the book.
This book packs a lot of information and a lot of inspiration is its 143 pages. The retail price of $21.99 is a good investment for a book that beginners will refer to often and more experienced sketchbook creators will find inspirational. The book is available at all the usual places, but Amazon has a pretty good price at the moment (No affiliation, of course.)
Of special note is that the book is based on an online Sketchbook Challenge that has been ongoing since 2010 with participants from around the world. Sue invites all artists to participate.