How can a tattered and worn sketchbook possibly compete with the dopamine rush of seeing dozens of Likes on your latest Facebook post?
Whether we’re satisfying a sense of urgency or simply alleviating boredom, the gravitational pull of Facebook, YouTube, texting, and email holds us in ever-tighter orbits of distraction. Yet, I’m always amazed by the transformation that takes place as students work in their sketchbooks. I smile as I see the constant buzz of checking in with their digital world give way to the pleasure of drawing in the real world.
When I observe students sketching in the field or in my studio, I notice distinct changes in their facial expressions and posture. Beginners and advanced sketchers often fall into a zen-like trance as their eyes and body disengage from digital twitch mode. Soon, frenetic hand gestures used for scrolling a text message or tapping a thumbs-up screen icon are replaced with the calm, controlled movements of line strokes on paper.
Every time I immerse myself into my little sketching ritual, I realize just how much my brain craves this natural, primal interaction with the world. Using a sketchbook offers a different satisfaction than using Instagram. I think it’s much more gratifying. Instead of taking a mere few seconds to snap a photo of lunch, I enjoy spending several minutes drawing interesting subjects that come into my field of vision. The process opens up entirely new avenues of sensual awareness and textural details that a digital lens completely misses.
Even so, I acknowledge that technology and social media play an important part in our modern lives. Facebook allows us to be in touch with family and events in our neighborhood and around the world. But in the era of Instagram food portraits and SnapChat selfies, paperbound sketchbooks offer a viable alternative for personal musings. Instead of showing up as a tag in Facebook albums or residing somewhere on the cloud, intimate sketches and notes can remain in a journal that is yours alone.
Paradoxically, your sketchbook can also be a powerful tool for connecting with other people. Unplugging and going outdoors with a sketchbook allows us untethered freedom to connect and be creative. Sketching affords us time to be alone in the woods, or to share ideas and experiences with others—a craving we humans have been satisfying for tens of thousands of years.
After all, we can always make a drawing, snap a pic of it, and post it to Facebook; then sit back to watch the Likes pile in.