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 more 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 the stirring of my suppressed internal
sketcher could be ignored no 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 do 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 started to
define 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 nothingness we’d in essence 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, but instead the 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, rule-less 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.

Gary Varner

Photo courtesy of the author
Originally posted March 5, 2004

[We’re bringing back "classic" posts here on Moleskinerie as we get ready to celebrate our 3rd year on January 12.]