Shakespeare's Dilemma


Inspired by the wonderful sketches shared at moleskinerie, I finally succumbed to buying my first moleskine… without lines. As an ardent disciple of the mantra “stay between the lines” in my journaling over the years, I seem to be more comfortable writing in a ruled journal rather than face the challenge of a truly blank page. Since I paint using words, it seemed unnecessary and somewhat frightening to lose the safety of those lines. Perhaps it’s that bane of all writers, to be stuck “staring at a blank page,” that kept me buying ruled journals all these years. Somehow I always count those printed lines as page occupants, thus preventing my mind from seeing blank pages… or perhaps I thought the lined pages weremore accepting of my handwriting. Working past all that, I still hesitated to change my process, even as I purchased my new blue-banded beauty… yet I could not ignore my suppressed internal sketcher any longer.

The last time I remember using a blank journal was several decades ago while in architecture school at UT Austin. I was a high-school architecture prodigy of sorts, and my initial exposure to “real world” architectural studies was a humbling experience. Blank sketch books were de rigueur of my first architectural drawing class, and while I can’t remember the brand, I remember the frustrations associated with those unruly blank pages. The first day, we assembled in a campus courtyard to sketch stately oak trees. When the TA defined the assignment, it sounded so simple, so basic, so “why aren’t we doing some serious sketching?” But to our collective surprise, he prohibited us from actually drawing the tree. Our assignment was to draw the voids existing between branches, and thus, by sketching the tree’s negative spaces, we’d define its reality. Despite the Zen-like appeal, my logical mind imploded, and noting the expressions of my fellow students, it seemed I wasn’t alone. After that assignment, I had hoped such absurdity would be atypical, and we’d soon be sketching the marvelous edifices that populated the campus. Hope proved fleeting, however, as the following week we met to sketch the modernistic use of brick, tile, and stainless steel in a campus dorm lobby. And as suspected, our Zen TA intoned that we were NOT to draw the walls, fountain, or sculpture, butthe shadows that defined the space.

These long-forgotten experiments in abstract interpretation and forced out-of-the-box thinking came as flashbacks when I started working the blank pages of my new Moleskine. In the two weeks since, I admit to enjoying the unrestricted writing freedom these creamy empty pages allow. Maybe it’s the release from the bondage of lines that usually define my pen’s path or perhaps the freshness of form in a familiar process that’s contributing to feeling like a kid with a new toy. And although the hidden artist has yet to appear, for the moment I’m content knowing my fountain pen could smoothly move from verb to vision when the sketcher does finally awaken. Other than the doodle I placed on the owner’s page (ala Vonnegut), I’m determined to include several sketches before I finish this volume and face that gut-wrenching decision: to rule, or not to rule… that will most definitely be the question.

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