Sketchy Memories

I am currently in the concept stages of a logo development project. I always begin in my sketchbook, doodling forms and symbols, playing with shapes, sizes and letter forms until things start to connect. I go a long way with my pencil before I boot up my computer. Yesterday, as I was in this process, I kept remembering an icon I had drawn in a sketchbook several years ago. It wasn’t part of any particular project, it was simply a doodle.

So I took a break from my concepts and pulled out my stack of recent sketchbooks, paging through them one by one. These books go back about ten years, and as I looked at each page, I began to reminisce. Each drawing was, in a way, like a photograph: a memory sketched rather than caught. Some books included drawings by my daughter in her early years. Some of those were pictures we drew together. We used to play a game in which one of us would draw a line or a shape and the other would build on it with a line or shape, and we’d alternate back and forth until we either filled up the page or finished the drawing.

As I looked and reminisced, I thought about where I was when I made each sketch – whether it was preliminary for a client project, or a record of a place, like Yosemite, a portrait of someone, quick sketches of my dogs. I recalled conversations, thoughts, locations, feelings… my general frame of mind and stage of life when each sketch was made.

I was struck by how different it is to take a photograph of something than to sketch it. Photographs are more separated and distant to me. They’re captured. WIth my camera I am more concerned with composing the shot, framing, bracketing and lighting and with the technical issues of focal length and f-stops. The approach is more analytical, and the image is captured in an instant.

Drawing and painting, in contrast, are built over time. They each are developed line by line or shape by shape. When I sketch or paint, I am concerned with composing, with form, light and shadow, angles, gesture, contour, color, texture…  but my mind can go wandering off and return again. In the time it takes to make a drawing, I get to know my subject. If a person, I can converse and observe. If an object, I memorize its contours and details. The slowness of the process allows me time to muse, contemplate and reflect. I literally can look at an old drawing and remember what I was pondering while I was making it. I don’t do that so much with photographs.

Needless to say, I revisited a large chunk of my life yesterday. I’m glad to say that most of my recollections were good ones: of a young girl now grown and gone, of people who are no longer on earth, of my dogs when they were pups, of places I haven’t been in awhile,  of design projects I’d forgotten about, of certain trees and forms that simple caught my eye.

I found the doodle I was seeking. It was in the fourth book in the pile, toward the back. And you know what? When I found it, I put that book aside and picked up the next one, and then the next, and kept going until I had finished looking through all of them.

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.