A.K.A. “Sketchbooks”, these multifunctional books have proven to be a very important tool in developing ones style, knowledge of art, knowledge of a specific subject area completely unrelated to art, experimentation with media and development of ideas for studio pieces. As a kid, I was always drawing, doodling and sketching away in my sketchbooks, often times ripping out the drawings that I didn’t like and starting fresh. After years, I’d go back and be appalled at my earlier drawings and throw the books away out of embarrassment.
I wish someone had told me that it is not about being perfect on your first attempt, but about working through a process to get from one stage of development to the next. It is about seeing the progress one has made through their artistic endeavors.
The International Baccalaureate Visual Arts course under the I.B. Diploma Program’s subject 6 requires that all students keep a working ‘investigation workbook’ or IWB. These IWBs are a big portion of their grade, because they show the efforts put towards a studio piece. Students choose a theme or multiple themes to focus on, research those themes, analyze those themes, experiment with a variety of traditional and non-traditional media, brainstorm studio ideas, research artists that interest them and come up with studio pieces that are relevant to the investigations recorded in the IWB.
The hardest part about starting a new piece is coming up with an idea for subject matter. Also known as ‘Artist’s Block’, this dreaded roadblock in the path to a successful piece can
come up at any point. If the artist is keeping a working IWB, they can take a few days, weeks or months to brainstorm new ideas. I always have my students start with a word web with their theme in the center. Off of that, they need to brainstorm in breadth (all the legs coming off the center to form sub categories for their research) and depth (once they have many sub categories, they then research deep into each one; history, cultural comparisons, medium, cross comparisons, etc) to come up with ideas that will inspire them to produce.
One problem I see many students and accomplished artists facing is not knowing WHERE to start once they have an idea. Once again, an IWB is great for this. They can sketch out thumbnails of different directions they could go. Then, after they have two or three, I tell them to just start. Start with any medium, if you find in the preliminary steps that you don’t like it, stop and start over a different way. Whatever you do, DO NOT rip out pages with failed attempts. This is all useful in showing the process of a piece and how much work actually goes into creating something spectacular. Not every piece you do will be perfect.
My favorite part about IWBs is the media experimenting. With art, one’s tools are endless. One can use traditional media like oil paint, pastel, charcoal or watercolor with their proper techniques, OR one can use these materials in ways never imagined. Play around with them, see if you can find a way to use them in a different way. The rules say ‘don’t mix oil paints with watercolors because they don’t mix’, so mix them and see what happens. You may find an unexpected outcome that you like. Then there are the non-traditional media. These are media found by mistake or on purpose that aren’t usually used as an art tool. Mix dirt with paint. Find recycled objects and use them to create a sculpture. See what happens when you melt plastic wrap with metallic crayons colored on top between 2 sheets of wax paper. Have fun! The IWB allows you to document your experiments so that if you like one, you can remember what you did for future pieces. I’ve played around with non-traditional materials and mixed them with traditional materials and found so many cool techniques. It’s even more rewarding
when a student discovers a cool technique. I had a student ask if they could put crayons through a hot glue gun for one of their media experiments. She played around with it for weeks and discovered a really cool effect when the different colored crayons melted together in a marble technique. She later showed other students in the class this technique and it became a favorite with each person developing a slightly different style.
With the endless ways to use an investigation workbook, I’d hope that experienced and inexperienced artists alike would give it a try. See how much more it makes you and others appreciate your hard work. If it’s not for you, you don’t have to continue, but from experience, it takes time and patience to get used to keeping such a journal, but the rewards are worth it!