Camera versus Sketchbook

Like most people nowadays I carry a smartphone with me when I leave the house. I mostly enjoy it for its built-in camera, so that I don’t need to carry a bulky camera with me all the time. Usually I use it for snapshots or reference photos. Does it replace a sketchbook though? No. Not for me.

Most people I know use the camera on their smartphone to easily share photos and videos on social media, documenting their day. Well, my life is not that interesting that I would feel that need and I never intended to live my life for other people to impress or amuse. But that’s my personal worldview.

I like to experience life, and this is when my sketchbook comes in. From my experience, I don’t remember places where I quickly shot a photo of and then moved on. True, it’s nice to have a photo to share with the people you care about. But if I don’t remember that place with my own senses, how valuable might it be for others?

When I sit down to sketch, I take in much more than the lines and shades I put into my sketchbook. I make myself look. I see details, contrasts, and scenes I might have overlooked did I only take a quick photo. I make sure I notice the colours, sometimes I scribble them into my sketch, I observe textures, patterns, shadows, face expressions, …

My sketches can be very rough and often they make no sense other than to me, but years later I will still remember the sounds I heard, the atmosphere, the people I was with, the scents I smelled, even the weather or temperature of that moment in time. Sometimes even my thoughts.

Can you do that with your smartphone? Sure. Kind of … My daughter recorded sounds of the city when she was sketching in Montreal, or at the ocean. It too enhances our memory and I do enjoy our ever improving technology. However I doubt that she would remember the scene as much had she not taken the time to sketch and instead filmed the scene. When you draw, you are absorbed and yet alert. You take in much more than you know at that moment. When you take a video or a quick photo however you are not involved, but by putting a device between yourself and the scene in front of you, you detach yourself. Therefore you never really experience the moment, not at the time when you shield yourself from the scene with the device, nor later when you watch the photo or video and the moment has long passed.

Try it for yourself. A sketchbook and a camera both have its place – and combined, they’re miraculous!

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That’s me sketching in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal after the 2017 SCBWI Conference. The photos were taken by Rachel Comeau #rachelcomeauart and I’m very grateful to her for how can I now ever forget that day?

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