Creativity through affordable paper

I love getting new sketchbooks, over the years I have amassed quite a few.

Large, small, hard bound, soft bound,  moderately expensive to quite expensive, and mostly with glued or bound paper pages.They are all on my shelves in perfect condition – unused.

My current tussle is with a Moleskine sketchbook I treated myself to recently, it’s smooth creamy pages are still pristine, I’ve been eyeing it up for over two months now, but no luck.

The problem I think is fear – the fear of ruining this already beautiful object with a second rate drawing, and being a proper bound book there’s no opportunity to rip out a page full of mistakes.

My sketchbooks

My sketchbooks – as new!

art journal

So I thought – I know I’ll buy spiral bound regular art journal style notebooks, and try sketching in these.

This didn’t solve things as I found I kept reverting to my normal use of these types of books – as an art journal / scrap book / ideas book.

Why do I have this problem with second rate work – even in a sketchbook – that hardly anyone sees, and is supposed to be the place where I am most creative – not trying to make a finished piece of work?

Many years ago at art college I was having a portfolio review.

This was in preparation for my upcoming design degree course interviews. Our college cleverly decided that the review of our works should be carried out with unfamiliar lecturers to get an unbiased and fresh perspective on our work.

My assigned (Fine Arts) lecturer came into the studio trailing a fearsome reputation for high standards of work, and a dismissive nature for those who didn’t come up to scratch. As with anything you fear, the reality is often different to your wild imaginings, yes he was a bit larger than life and scary, he said little, and when he started to flip through my work at a high speed, I thought ‘here we go’, but when he got to the end of my folder, he flipped back to one page of designs, looked at me and said:

“One bad piece of work can ruin an otherwise good collection”.

That was it – he had honed in on the filler piece of work I had knocked up the night before, thinking I just needed one more thing to pad out my folio. And of course, he was so right, that sheet jarred. His takeaway from the review was not all the other stuff I had done, just this piece that didn’t work. Ooh I do love a good affirmative life lesson!

Whilst I think this is great advice, and I have used it throughout my life, not just for artwork, I realised I had started to use it too literally in my sketchbooks.

My problem was two-fold. Not wanting to waste expensive paper, and not wanting to have a bad piece of work permanently alongside it’s counterparts.


My solution, affordable paper* ripped into small squares and piled up on the corner of my desk, easy to reach – close to art materials and regularly replenished.

stack of 6" paper squares

Now any idea I have, I reach for a 6″ square of card, and draw / paint / ink away. If its good I stick it into my journal and start to develop ideas from it – if it’s bad I ruthlessly recycle. I don’t have to worry about expense, and each individual sheet has the promise of a clean slate with no standards to live up to. As for my sketchbooks, I have started to dismantle some of the larger ones – harvesting the good quality paper for individual projects, and the Moleskine? It’s still on the shelf – well you can’t win them all can you?

* I have been using Aldi A3 watercolour pads, I live in Australia and  when on weekly special at my local supermarket they are usually about $3, this works out about AUD $0.06 per square. The paper is water thirsty, rough and the quality you would expect for the price. But it is thick heavy paper, 300gsm / 140lb, and is ideal for my purposes.SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

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