Sketchbook Thursday: “Sketch!” by France Belleville-Van Stone

This is one delightful little book. The author, France Belleville-Van Stone, is a self-taught artist, and she urges her readers to spend a little bit of time every day (as little as 10 minutes) sketching. This I love. That’s why I started this Sketchbook Thursday feature in the first place–to encourage those who want to learn to draw, or those who want to spend more time drawing, to just sit down and do it.

Yes, I think you should get it.

There are lots of books already written, for drawing instruction. I own quite a pile of them myself. This book is refreshingly different from so many of the others. Several things set this author and her book apart: first, she doesn’t focus on the end product–the drawing itself–rather, she encourages you to enjoy the drawing process itself. Also she is full of encouragement and tips for how to enjoy recording your surroundings with your pencil and sketchbook, not worrying about if you’re getting it right or producing something that you can, say, put in a frame and hang on the wall.

Take a deep breath–what a relief! Can you feel it? There’s no pressure here.

This was lovely advice for a perfectionist like me (and maybe you?) to read, Gentle Readers. Absolutely, my spirit just drank it in. Basically she says “Draw and have fun. Enjoy the process. Record your surroundings. Remember what it felt like to just savor the feel of the pencil moving across the page, and not to worry about if it was ‘any good’ or not? Do that.”

“Why Draw?” is a question France answers quite simply: “Over the years, our familiar surroundings have become invisible. We don’t have the time to notice objects beyond their usefulness to us, like a coffee machine or a mug. Getting out a piece of paper to draw what is familiar around us is like shining a big spotlight on what we had grown to ignore. It turns the invisible into the new and, dare I say, beautiful.”

There’s so much anxiety about drawing. From what I’ve observed, children draw joyfully and freely until a certain age (around second grade, or whenever they start looking around at what others are drawing) and then they abruptly decide that they don’t know what they are doing, and oftentimes quit. That is a sad day, indeed, for the child and for all the rest of us, too. With comparison comes discouragement, because there are always going to be people who can draw better (this is our perception) than we can. In fact, sometimes they live in the same house with us. 🙂

I have lots of breakfasts in my sketch book.

I have lots of drawings of breakfast remains in my sketch book.

This situation makes me sad, because I believe drawing is like any other skill–the more you do it, the better you get at it. If you work at your math every day, you’ll improve your math skills. If you play away at the banjo every single day–even if you just spend fifteen minutes at it–you’ll learn to play the banjo. If you draw every day, then you’ll get better at it, too. It seems so simple to me, but many people believe that they don’t have “talent” for drawing. So they quit trying.

I hear “I can’t even draw a straight line,” well, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this line, Gentle Reader, I’d be sitting on quite a pile of nickels. I could probably reach out and touch Venus, if the atmospheric pressure wasn’t so intense that it would crush me, or the heat (hot enough to melt lead) wasn’t quite so punishing out there. But back to earth, Amy: the point is, you don’t have to be able to draw a straight line to make a good drawing of your shoe, or the cat, or your coffee mug. Or your breakfast.

And in some cases, you don’t even need more than 10 minutes or so. Which you’ve probably got.

Only one coach at the tournament had bangs.

Only one coach at the tournament had bangs. Of course I had to record that.

Most drawing books are written by professionally-trained artists, and can be intimidating. But this one is different in this way, too: the author and artist is very good at her craft, but she is honest about messing up drawings and struggling with certain subjects. Her drawings are beautiful, but she writes like an ordinary person, one who has learned to draw by doing a lot of drawings, and is not worried about messing up.

The author covers a lot of ground in this slim volume: she discusses drawing supplies–from sketchbooks to pencils and pens, to a digital tablet and stylus. A chapter at the end of the book lists dozens of drawing prompts. Throughout it all, she shares her own drawings. She even includes a few step-by-step demonstrations, showing how she did a particular piece.

France was accustomed to spending plenty of time drawing every day, and then she had children and she shares plenty of tips on how she still manages to draw each day, while working a full-time job (she’s a teacher) and caring for a husband and child. It’s inspiring.

In fact, spurred on by her example, I packed my sketchbook and a few sharpened pencils and spent quite a bit of time at a recent wrestling tournament, drawing. Perhaps in the past I might have felt conspicuous toting a sketchbook into a wrestling tournament, but I decided that that me was so pre-2015. It was so enjoyable, and I felt quite smug that I wasn’t sitting there, wishing that I had more time to draw: I was drawing, doing what I loved while I also supported my dear son-in-law-to-be, Saia, at his regional championships.

Grumpy coaches are particularly fun to draw. :)

Grumpy coaches are particularly fun to draw. 🙂

She also points out that if you keep a sketchbook and pencil handy, the wasted moments in the grocery checkout line, or in the dentist’s office, can be used to make a drawing. Is your imagination buzzing yet, planning out how you’re going to get in a bit of drawing today?

Now I think differently about the half-hour I sit and wait, while Mack is taking his piano lesson. Also about the time I spend in the car, while Amalia (she’s 16, you know) practices driving me to various places, nearly every day. I have several pencils in my purse at all times, a pencil sharpener, and one of many sketchbooks with me. This is not wasted time. It’s precious, redeemed time, when you have planned it as your drawing time.

France says: “These are perfect opportunities to send the outcome to the wind and simply draw. There is a silly quasi-adrenaline rush about drawing when we don’t know how far it will go. If you can let go of the idea of finishing, if you can accept that your sketchbook will be full of half-this and one-quarter-that drawings, you will see nothing wrong with loosely tackling anything. You will not only content yourself with, but grow to love, sketching your colleague’s ear and earring instead of a full profile during a meeting.”

If you love to draw but don’t know where you can possibly find the time to do it, or if you just want to get better at it but don’t have tons of time, get this book! It’s wonderfully encouraging and is full of lovely drawings to learn from, too.

Thanks for checking in, Gentle Reader!



11 thoughts on “Sketchbook Thursday: “Sketch!” by France Belleville-Van Stone

  1. Janelle

    yes, this definitely sounds like a book worth grabbing. Especially for someone like me. I don’t have time so anything extra works help! I’m curious, thought about doing a monthly giveaway to your readers? Would be a great monthly contest 🙂

  2. Cathy Chester

    I am NOT artistic but I love to write. So I try to write every day. I am so impressed with anyone who can draw, paint, etc. Your post was lovely and I enjoyed it immensely. By the way, I’m from the Bloggers Corner FB page. Many thanks. Cathy

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