Diwali sketches

Normally I post under the title of the subject I’m sketching/ drawing, or the tools I’m using- but this day of the year it’s hard to ignore the cracking of patakas in the sky all over the city, and it generally has been a sufficiently Diwali-ish day for me to name this post thus. Between helping my mum light diyas and tape wreaths of flowers over our threshold, meeting a friend for lunch and then coffee with a cousin and his friend, and getting an interesting new book, it was a decent enough day.

The book is a very cool, very heavy illustrated edition of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, which documents his travels aboard the HMS Beagle and all his notes on his discoveries. I’m excited to sink my teeth into it, because it’s filled with the kind of sketchy note-littered drawings and illustrations I love, that for which a text of this sort is the perfect complement. It’s also strange to think that Charles Darwin and I went to the same university centuries apart; I keep picturing him walking around the campus I miss and love so much, and it’s a bit bizarre- it makes Edinburgh feel even more like a fantasy and less a real, tangible place. The constant heartache and homesickness that I’ve carried around with me ever since I left Edinburgh flares up whenever I come across these unlikely reminders; Christmas time, too, is painful for the same reason.

On a lighter note, I’ve been hunting for a more affordable and easily available sketchbook alternative ever since I picked up a truly beautiful sketchbook in Paris, Strathmore’s 500 series Mixed Media journal. I’ve tried Stillman and Birn, which is easily available in India, but they just don’t have the same quality. I’ve been learning more about papers, especially now that I’ve ventured out of dry media and just sketching in any blank book or large marker pads with thin paper. I love ivory or cream coloured paper, but it’s been hard to find a true all purpose surface texture and paper weight that’s workable with all the things I use most; graphite, ink, chalk, charcoals, and light washes of watercolours. I only recently tried the Moleskine sketchbook, which out of everything else out there comes closest to being that general purpose champion, but experimenting with other, rougher surfaces made me realize that I’ve come to rely heavily on linework as a result of always using smoother cheaper paper. For this reason the Stillman and Birn Gamma sketchbook I bought just doesn’t suit my style of sketching, even though I really wanted to love it.

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But it’s too decent a sketchbook to just lie around mostly empty, so I found another use for it- ballpoint sketches. Ballpoints are very curious instruments to sketch with, somewhere between ink and graphite, offering unique advantages. On rough surfaces like this Gamma sketchbook, the ink skips and ghosts so that a featherlight stroke is almost like a mechanical pencil stroke- and dark lines are more like traditional ink. So you can use the ridges and valleys in the paper to plan your drawing, to take quick measurements and lay down construction lines before inking in the form. Who would have thought such a cheap tool could work so harmoniously with such a premium sketchbook made for different tools?

This is a big sketchbook so it’s likely I won’t fill it all with ball point pen sketches, but at least it won’t go to waste if I don’t like using anything else in it.

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