Blog / 2023 / The Problem with Pristine Sketchbooks

August 22, 2023

[video transcript]

My perfectionism has been a major source of pain and frustration throughout my life, but, when I look back at who I’ve been, like in this video, I’m glad to see that I am generally getting better—even if it doesn’t feel like it’s happening quickly enough.

marker and colored pencil on paper drawing of an adult mother and daughter
Gwenn Seemel
marker and colored pencil on paper
5 x 8 inches

If you want to see more of my sketchbooks, there’s this vlog in which I flip through some high school notebooks. This video about my daily rituals as an artist shows more of the sorts of drawings I make in my old planners.

marker and colored pencil on paper drawing of a family
Gwenn Seemel
marker and colored pencil on paper
5 x 8 inches

I’ve got a weird relationship with sketchbooks. The prettier they are—I’m talking hard covers and luscious, thick paper—the more I fear them. I’ve never been a really big sketcher, but, when I need to plan an idea out on paper, I usually turn to my old planners. I prefer these half used notebooks, with their lines and their scribbles. I like the idea of using up the extra space on a page that’s already “ruined.” It lets me feel free in precisely the way that trying to draw in a pristine sketchbook does not.

But then I found a really nice sketchbook in a giveaway pile, and I thought: “This is the one I will be able to draw in!” Someone else is treating it like garbage. They had put it out on the sidwalk. Like, this...I will be able to do this.

Except I couldn’t.

And that’s when I had to confront the fact that it wasn’t the expense of high quality sketchbooks that was keeping me from using them: it’s my perfectionism.

So I decided I had to fill this book. I had to prove to myself that I could get past my need for all my drawings to be perfectly pretty and right.

I decided to draw the road trip I took this summer. My partner and I drove out to the west coast for my father’s memorial. We both took a ton of photos along the way, knowing that when I got back to my studio I’d be drawing from those photos and from old photos of my dad, as a way to process the trip and also get over my perfectionism a little bit more.

So now the sketchbook is officially full. I’ve been a professional artist for two decades, and this is the first time I’ve ever been able to say that about such a nice sketchbook. And now that I’m on the other side of this—now that I’ve actually filled a really fancy sketchbook with some okay drawings as well as some terrible ones that I will not be showing you—the idea that I managed to do this difficult thing is making me feel pretty good.

I don’t think I’ll ever be big into sketchbooks, but at least now I don’t have to feel like my perfectionism is in charge.

This video is made with love and microdonations from my community!

marker and colored pencil on paper drawing of beautiful woman adjusting her shoe
Gwenn Seemel
marker and colored pencil on paper
8 x 5 inches

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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