tracing paper

the sketchbook is splayed across the table, thin gauzy papers stacked in a bundle several inches tall. the pages have worn smooth, soft, as if from years of being handled and rehandled; the cover stained with a coffee splash and various ink scribbles from testing pens.

it’s an imitation of paper at this stage, lightly creased and faintly smudged from various attempts to smooth it out, restore some level of crispness to the sheets. you couldn’t write or draw on it, and as i heft the window open the pages stir, fluttering limp in the sudden breeze.

in the sunlight, the sheets appear more aged than they really are – i know i only bought the book a few weeks back, but constantly worrying the pages has aged them quickly. dissatisfied, i balance a few pens on top of the cover, drop a few books on top of it all and plan to come back to it later.  i’m going to need a new book, one that i can fill with work without thinking about how the actual content is going to look.

there’s no time to do anything though, no time to go out and buy a new one and ordering online always takes too long for shipping. it’s something i never had the patience for, and in the end i resign myself to using paper that’s worn to the point of feeling like tissue-paper. it’s too soft and thin, so i layer sheets of solid white in between, trying hopelessly to differentiate them.

i draw and write, pressing the words and lines into each page, with enough force that it tears under the line of the pen. when i finish a page and move onto the next, the paper’s so thin as to show the previous work – in the end it becomes layers on top of layers on top of layers, bleeding one into another and blurring lines.

the book fills up fast, and the pages become a mess of lines, text written in such a way that it would confuse a casual observer.

after it runs out, i buy a new book, one of heavier paper with a thicker texture, a subtle pattern woven into the monochromatic shading. even two pages into this one, i can tell it’s not going to be the same. with the first book, outlines of people came through so strikingly on a page worn translucent that it frequently looked to be populated with ghosts, words hovering in the air, transcending some kind of barrier to communicate the leaves with each other.

this book is sturdier, cleaner, and the pages don’t ruffle easily. the spine doesn’t break when i press the heel of my hand into it, trying to put enough pressure on it to stop used sheets flipping back as i work. this book doesn’t feel like home.

it doesn’t feel right, having work be decisively separated from each other – this book, every piece i work on feels isolated. distant, even, though most of the pieces are just a millimetre or so apart.

later, i rip the book apart, destroying it and consciously trying to make it feel like home, spilling coffee in some semi-deliberate pattern on the pages and letting it seep into several corners of the book. none of it works – if anything, now i feel like a visitor to my own work. it’s a symphony of chaos, instead of being something that loops back a circle of puzzle-pieces that fit together.

when i finish the book, i abandon it to the back of a wardrobe, where it quickly gets buried among a stack of shoes and scarves and the odd nail polish bottle. it sits there for months before i clear out the cupboard, piling things into heaps around me while i sit there, paging through.

the pages are still crisp, still hard – if i press my finger hard enough into the corner, it leaves a little indent in my fingertip – and as i sift through the mess of work, it occurs to me that this one is solitary in its chaos. no two pieces slot together, no two pages whisper secrets to each other because they’re worn thin from use.

instead, i page through and find every piece still solitary. it’s still a coherent set of work, but with only a few minutes’ thought i rip out the first three drawings, place them to one side for framing and hanging up. the rest of the book is battered, scuffed and scratched from having spiky-heeled shoes and rough boots scraping over it when i tossed them into the wardrobe.

the book feels more like home now, fits easily in my hands as i read the rest of my work. there’s something that almost feels like i’ve come home; i can remember the way each piece felt to create, can remember the way each page developed almost without my input.

this time, when i buy a new book, it’s got regular fine pages, no new interesting patterns or unusual textures added. they’re mine to add, now, and as i search the stacks of identical books i’m already listing what i’m going to do when i get home, adding signatures and random flourishes.

the salesgirl doesn’t say anything about the choice when i get home, and i uncap my favourite marker, hover it over the cover label and dot it with random tapping as i think.

i think i’ll call this one harmonious.

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