Sketchbooks are way up there, close to the coolest items on the planet. It’s really hard for me to walk into an art or hobby store and NOT pick up a new sketchbook. I see them there along the aisle, stacked on the shelf, reams of empty 65 lb. pages waiting to be filled with hundreds of brain dumps.

Paris street from Joe's sketchbook

Unfortunately, the idea of drawing is frequently a short-lived infatuation that fades with a few days of typical rat race. I often find a pristine sketchbook stashed on a shelf or buried in a drawer, never touched.

But lately, I’ve become adicted to sketching again, thanks in part to Google Maps Street View (more about that later…)

Sketchbook Papers

Bicycle Rider, Joe's sketchbookThere’s a ton of cool sketchbooks; just see Top 8 Sketchbooks from

My favorites are the hard cover, spiral bound sketchbooks.

The spiral bound books stay open without having to hold the pages open, and the wire spiral is great for clipping a couple of pens to. The hard cover prevents the pages from getting bent and beat up. And the cover doubles as a portable table — gives your sketch pad backbone for drawing on.

A 7 x 10 Canson Field Sketchbook is perfect. Now, what to draw with?

Sketchbook Pens

I used to use mechanical pencils, but by the time I reached the end of a sketchbook, all my initial drawings were smudged to death.

Pedestrian, Joe's sketchbookTo combat the smudges, and also to loosen up a bit (I have a tendency to overwork a drawing until the life is gone from it), I switched to ink pens. Ink pens made me buy into the idea that in sketching, there are no mistakes, just happy accidents. Ink destroys the urge to erase and correct. And it doesn’t smudge.

You can buy very expensive pens, but my favorite is the Pilot G2 Gel Rollerball — you can get a four pack at Wal-Mart for under eight bucks. There’s something liberating about having a lot of spare pens…as in, use all the ink you want, and fill the pages to the edge.

But that’s just my own sketching personality. Everybody, it seems, has a preference, which is why it’s fun to look at other people’s sketchbooks. And a lot of people have put their sketchbooks online. For instance, this page has links to a ton of them: Sketchbook Links.

Sketching from Street View

Anybody who has been through an art museum with me knows I like a wide variety of paintings, but I love cityscapes. But there are problems with drawing and painting cityscapes…

For one, if you live in Alabama (like moi) the cityscape scenery is pretty limited.

Twenty dollars, Joe's sketchbookSecond, if you want to sketch something with the feel of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, well — you might have to stroll some fairly dangerous neighborhoods to see the often most picturesque rough side of town. And when you pull out a pad and start drawing people — all bets are off. They’re likely to request money for their modeling abilities, or demand you stop infringing their privacy, or worst of all: they want to strike up a conversation about art and give you advice while you’re just scrambling to catch the scene before the awesome shadows fade into evening shade.

Luckily, there’s now Google Map Street View. No, it’s not like sketching the scenery in real life, but it can be even better. Where else can you amble the back streets of the Bronx or explore narrow Parisian alleys all in the same day without going through airline security hell? Not only does the weather and the sun cooperate in Google land, but the pedestrians are frozen in all sorts of interesting poses.

Google Street View people from Joe's sketchbook

So, while the economy crashes, grab a sketchbook and a pen, all for under $12, and open up Street Views. Being an armchair artist has never been so much addictive fun.

[tags]sketchbooks, Google Maps Street View[/tags]

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29 Responses to Sketchbooks

  1. JoeC says:

    Thanks! Sketching is also a great way to turn off the left side of the brain…almost sort of a meditative state when you get into it. I wonder if people get “sketcher’s high” like runners do? I’m not quite there yet, but I have noticed the feeling like I’m in the zone, when the scribbles and doodles are flowing particularly well.

  2. Xman says:

    Interesting comment about “sketchers high”.

    True confession time:

    Back in high school I was in a program, I think it was called Interdisciplinary Studies. WAY relaxed. Three of the courses were physics, humanities and a drama class. Two of the courses were taught by disciples of Timothy Leary (seriously). I remember rolling up in a big persian rug with a female classmate one day and saying “oooommmm” the whole hour. Anyway, had to turn in some sort assignment in the humanities class. Started doodling. Can’t draw decent stick people to this day. However, since I had pushed all my class projects to the last week(and didn’t even know what my projects were going to be), I had to stay up for three days and nights…with some help from a couple new friends called Cross Top and Pot…to get all the projects done. (Yeah, I saw little dwarf people and forest creatures and while driving to school on the last day. Big rain drops hit my windshield and big black ravens flew out of them…away into the sky).
    Anyway, I couldn’t stop drawing. I filled pages with my work. Most portrait type stuff of my generation. SF hippie scene which I visited often. I have no idea how I tapped into that part of my brain, I only know I got an
    “A” in the class and the kids and teachers fought over my drawings. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a single one for myself. And like the old movie “Charly” with Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom, I immediately reverted back into the worst stick people artist in the world once I got some sleep. The funny thing is, I have dreams to this day where I do anything I chose to do…effortlessly. If I could only recall the long poetic masterpieces I come up with. I think there is someone else inside me, but I gave up pot 30 years ago. It made me depressed.

  3. JoeC says:

    Charly, that’s the movie, based on one of my favorite books: Flowers for Algernon, which was one of my reading assignments in the 9th grade, and I still like it.

    Drugs can obviously lead to awesome creativity and I think some of the “talent” that emerges under the influence happens simply by the drugs’ ability to shut down the left side of the brain…sort of remove the left brain’s censoring of the right brain (which is a big part of the basis for Betty Edward’s classic Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. If you think you suck at drawing, pick up this book, do some of the exercises, and you’ll be surprised.

    I think the drawback with drugs is that, addiction aside, they tend to artificially turn you into a manic depressive type of personality…you have the bursts of creativity and feel very high followed by an equally proportional but opposite downer time of feeling low and depressed…and as much fun as the highs are, the lows can be killer, literally.

    Naturally pursuing such heightened states through meditation, exercise, and yep…sketching in the zone…at least offers your body’s own built-in safety net…gives you highs and lows, but in a range you’re capable of handling and still functioning well in the rest of life, at least that’s my two cents, and I’m sticking to it ;-)

  4. Life is sketchy. I’m high on life.

    Interesting post and commentary, but I’m not about to start confessing.

  5. Pelmo says:

    I can’t even come up with good stick figures, much less sketches. But I do have about a thousand and one fantastic pens.

  6. Xman says:

    Indigo, if you think playing coy is going to work, you don’t know my imagination. You would believe the things you have done!

    Pelmo, do you have one of those James Bond kind of pens? You know, with the camera in it?

  7. Xman- So, in an odd way, you understand…but I’m still not confessing.

    I encourage it though…y’all go ahead, this could get real interesting.

  8. Pelmo says:

    Xman I don’t have one with a camera, but when I was a lot younger and in the military I found this unique gun store that sold pens that fired 22cal.
    rounds along with canes and umbrellas that fired almost every caliber you could imagine.

  9. Xman says:

    Wow, Pelmo, that is a store I would have enjoyed at one time. Being a big Bond and spy novel/movie fan.
    I did own a Minox once which was fun until it was so hard and expensive to develop the film. Now I have a digital camera about the size of a SD Card case that lives on my key chain. Where was that store?

  10. Pelmo says:

    It was in San Francisco back in 1965, you would have loved this store.

  11. Xman says:

    I didn’t get to SF until ’68. Spend a bunch of time there taking photos of the hippies, etc. (making “connections”). I need to dig out those old photos.

  12. I once very nearly started a war in an Irish bar, with an Irish mercenary, just back from Mogadishu, on Haight Street, no less. But, I digress.

  13. That was very nearly a confession.

  14. Xman says:

    It’s enough for me to run with.

  15. JoeC says:

    Indigobusiness: that’s not a confession…that’s almost a damn good novel, maybe a movie deal, too! ;-)

  16. Have your people call my people. Let’s do lunch?

  17. Pelmo says:

    Xnan I was to busy fighting the hippies to be taking pictures of them. As an MP in the Armed Forces Police we would go across the bay to Oakland and do battle with them as they protested the war at the Oakland Army Depot. Was the topless craze still going strong in 68?

  18. Pelmo, You are going to Hell.

    I knew it!

  19. Xman says:

    Yep, the topless scene was going big time. Remember Carol Doda with her twin 44′s?
    Went to see her once and I was stunned, but really liked the North Grant area for the hipsters and the hash they sold and of course China Town when it was a real China Town. How I never got mugged in all those narrow back allies I’ll never know. But, I had to go there because that’s where the exterior staicases were that led to odd little rooms filled with Chinese workmen and the best Chinese food I’ve ever had.

    I only did one protest. We made a “Make Wine Not War” banner and went to the party. Who knows, if you were over guarding the Oakland induction center I might have seen you as I went in, while shaking off the clinging arms of the most beautiful girl protester begging me not to go. I still see her face and hear her pleas. She planted a seed and it has grown.

    Wow, those were the days.
    I guess some would call it hell and for some it was.
    Indigo, If I deserve hell, then it is still coming…unless I’m in denial…and it’s sure possible.

  20. Xman- Beating up flower children, back in the day, implies a dastardly Nixon voter. I rest my case. But I was just kidding, and I didn’t intend to impune the topless scene. Hell is for heroes.

  21. Pelmo says:

    Indigo am I going to hell for beating the hippies or for going to all those topless bars? I just beat them a little, didn’t maim them any. Besides a few got their licks in on us to.

    Xman I shure do remember Carol. She is the one that really got the craze going. I always marveled at how short she was and how she was able to stand there without falling forward. Was she still doing the same act in that cage in the air rolling around on the couch?

    Our station in San Francisco was a block away from China Town and some of those hole in the wall places did have the best food in town. You hit the nail on the head, those were some wild and crazy days.

    Our barracks were on Treasure Island which was a small navy training base at the time.

  22. JoeC says:

    Xman, Pelmo…you sure you guys aren’t really the same person? Any history of shizophrenia? Xman, you sure you weren’t beating up hippies when you thought you were asleep? Pelmo, ever wake up in sandals and a halo of hemp?

    Anyway, you guys peaked (pun intended) my curiosity; I hereby invite you to a tour down memory lane. I give you Carol Doda:

    Carol Doda at the Condor

    Carol Doda

  23. Aw, Joe, couldn’t you have ‘given’ just a little more of Ms. Doda?

    Topless is almost always a good thing. “If you’ve seen one pair, you pretty much want to see the rest.” I think Ron White (filthy chauvinist pig philosopher and funnyman) said that.

  24. JoeC says:

    Oh…I didn’t realize I’d cropped anything out of the picture…all I noticed was she had an average, nice face (remember guys, I’m married, and it’s pretty cold nights to get sent to the dog house! :-) )

  25. I’d pay $2.00 to see her swim dance.

  26. Pelmo says:

    Save the duce, it really wasn’t worth it Indigo.

    Joe wouldn’t have looked good in sandals since I had one of those stylish military flap top haircuts.

  27. Xman says:

    Joe, you got me going. I don’t know if my memories are real or ppplanted. But, they feel real. I also have experienced another side of myself from time to time. But I never have had flat top. Actually I did nail a very aggressive hippy in Union Square once. He was right in my face and in the face of my girlfriend. I felt a purse snatching coming so hit him once in the chest with my palm and he went tumbling. Cussing like mad, but he didn’t come back.

    Yeah, Carol was on a couch writhing around. Don’t recall the cage.

    I was stationed at Fort Ord. Pretty much keep my hair tucked up under my hat…like the song goes. If our company captain saw much hair I was in it deep and he would jump on our Top. That was worse. A ggod share of our NCO’s were surfers. Pot smoking surfers. So, life was pretty mellow for me. No one believes me, but we had two beer machine in our barrack rec room.

  28. I was in the Cub Scouts, at least until I beat-up my den mother’s bully of a son. So ended my military career. I became a pacifist, with attitude.

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