Thursday, 2 February 2012

A Book of Sleep & Seven Remembered Dreams

   A few months ago I won entry into the Sketchbook Project through a giveaway at Pikaland.  The book arrived in the post one morning and it had a theme: "I Remember You". 
    I started trying harder to remember my dreams.  My husband made me a little book from leftover cuttings of the thick rag paper I use for etching, tied it up with yarn, and left it beside the bed. 

I saved up dreams for a while before I started drawing anything at all.  It turned out to be a funny thing to draw out a piece of a dream.  Of course, it was not possible to draw a whole dream, so instead it became an odd compromise.  Sometimes it made more sense to draw parts of the dream that only existed by implication, or parts that must have taken place before the dream started. 

I got lost in the book.  I thought of things I had heard about hypnagogic hallucinations where streams of faces flash past dreamers in the space between sleeping and waking.  I thought of the strange menaces of sleep apnea.  And then I thought about all the vagabond ideas that run all through sleep and into the spaces before and after it.  

And so a troupe of thoughts runs along the bottom of every page, intersecting dreams and winding through the blank spaces between them. 

In the centre of the book there is a sort of out-of-body experience where these ideas can be seen running down the pillow and into the mind of the dreamer.  It seemed like the book needed a bit of an explanation, something to anchor it a little.

This sketchbook is small, only about seven inches tall and the paper inside it is very thin.  Pencil is the only medium that such thin paper could hold up against, and even pencil shows through the back of the paper.  Yet the more I drew, the more involved I got.  

The book developed a weird sort of logic that had to be respected, a balance that had to be maintained.

Unlikely little memories and personal references began to sneak in as well.  There is a little reminder of the time we were stopped by a man in India who opened his long trench coat to reveal rows of fake beards that he was trying to sell.  Then there is the lamp that hangs above the bed and looks to us like a girl floating down from the ceiling, her skirt billowing out like a parachute. 

The other day, as I was putting the last touches on this book of sketches, I decided to read through the dreams I had written down in the little book my husband made for me.  Even after so much time I could remember all of them, all but one.

The forgotten dream:

    "Strange, lovely bird - sort of like magpie - appears in our house, is very tame & friendly.  And we wonder how it came inside.  It tells us it followed us home & how it snuck in past us.  Turns out to be a strange boy.  He has one or two objects that are with him.  A sort of container that is bigger when opened from one side than from another & other sorts of unbelievable things."

So I think I will continue to record my dreams in the mornings when I can, to see what surprises might be lurking there. 

I used to do that a lot when I was growing up, filling up spiral-bound notebooks with the chicken scratch of early mornings.  I remember that it became easier with time.

Because this sketchbook is so small, I thought it would be wiser just to post some details from it here, since they risk going unnoticed on a small photo of the whole page.  There are still a lot of things that are not photographed here though, and so I have posted photos of the whole pages on flickr.  That will also give a better sense of the sleep cycle structure of the book.

Oh, and this sketchbook, along with many, many, many others will be touring through parts of Canada, America, and also over to London starting this spring.  There are tour details on the Sketchbook Project page.  There will also be a permanent home for the exhibition in Brooklyn and a digital sketchbook library for those who can't see the books in person.  I love the idea of being able to leaf through all these books, and think it is fantastic and thrilling that so many people have given so much to this project. 


  1. What an amazing project Jodie and lovely that your husband made the book and left it by the bed - as though it were a waiting pillow for them to spill out upon from your head.

    Loved the idea there's a guy in India with false beards for sale in his coat! - beats knock off watches hands down.

    Congratulations and it must be a dream in its self to wave your dreams off on an adventure of their own.

  2. wow, i am so inspired by this. for a long time i tried to remember all my dreams, but i really weighed it down by trying to be very precise, and remember everything and not just let myself wander off with a detail and enjoy it. like you have here. what a treasure! i love the marionette levels, and the old large-format camera and the big fish head, and the i-spy character next to the guy on stilts. so many fantastic little pieces of another world!

  3. You're gifted with an abundance of dreams, and the way you bring them to the paper is just so very very beautiful.
    The 'grotesque' can be exaggerated, you bring it with a quietude and gentleness that works so very well.
    I feel a deep pleasure with the starfish hunting fish skeletons :) and I love the death pointing at the walking bushes.
    Hardly anything as precious as a man truly supporting and inviting the treasures in a woman's soul.

  4. Annie,

    I forgot to mention that there will also be an Australian show of all the Australian-made sketchbooks from this project. So if you just happen to be visiting Melbourne in November, that would probably be a great thing to stop by. I really wish all these shows weren't happening so far from me... I love peeking through other peoples' sketchbooks!
    That man with the beard still makes me burst out laughing. He looked so earnest too, so we tried hard not to laugh at the time.
    And I am very pleased to send all these little guys off into the world. I hope they brighten up someone's day, even if they are a little odd.

    Robyn, thank you! And I'm very glad to know that you liked it!

    Zoe, I used to do the same thing with trying to remember my dreams (probably that's why I stopped). I even thought maybe if I tape-recorded them right when I woke up it would maybe be better (since writing is often not fast enough to keep up and can become illegible). So, I ended up with a tape that began with a few incoherent mumbles and then was followed by about 45 minutes of just breathing where I fell back asleep beside the tape recorder without turning it off. Kind of funny, but not too useful. So this time I decided no to worry too much about details. I figure there's only so much one can bring back with them. Anyway, I'm so glad you liked it!!

    The grotesque is a funny thing... it seems to pop up again and again for me. Mostly I tend to see it as not a bad thing, but just different. Sometimes I have used this symbolically, following old associations with grotesques... but those associations seem one-dimensional, because they are a kind of artistic short-hand. I tend to get lost in the things I am making and I begin to find more sides to them by the end of it. Maybe that explains the gentleness you mentioned?
    A physical difference could be a sign of some internal defect or strength, or it could be a struggle that needs to be experienced, or it could be something that is beyond our understanding.
    And you are right, it is wonderful and precious to have someone so supportive! I feel very lucky indeed. How much nicer things are when we all look out for one another.. I do hope I hold up my end of the bargain!

  5. ... haven't been able to stop thinking who would want to purchase a false beard and why - and how many bearded ones woke to find theirs had been stolen whilst they were sleeping?

    I've just come away from your flickr page - so many images captured a second closer look - just wondrous Jodie, and they will brighten many people's days; inspire a few dreams too I'm sure.

  6. Annie, I hadn't even thought of the whole stolen beard problem! That makes me think of that book "A Fine Balance" with the guy who goes around the slums stealing hair and hoarding it. The scene was perhaps even weirder because my husband already had a beard, so wasn't really in the market for another one.
    Thanks for checking out the whole book over on flickr... I'm really glad you are enjoying it!!

    Tom, thanks very much! Will do!!

  7. "... my husband already had a beard," gosh that is bizarre isn't it - though it's very funny too in a Peter Sellers sort of way ;)

  8. haha! what could the seller have been thinking??

  9. "A physical difference could be a sign of some internal defect or strength, or it could be a struggle that needs to be experienced, or it could be something that is beyond our understanding."
    This is exactly how I see/feel it :-)

    With quietude and gentleness I mean that you do not exaggerate the grotesque in the style of drawing. These pencil drawings look quiet and natural to me. When such figures would be exaggerated in the drawing style, they might look like freaky or unnatural or agressive or fantastic hallucinations, something like that. I'm not always good in expaining. Anyway, quiet and natural I see them walking over your pages, and I love that.

  10. Thank you Barbara, that is really nice to hear. And don't worry, your explanations make good sense to me!

  11. I love these..i too write down my dreams and on their own they would make strange and wonderful stories, i had never thought of illustrating them though, i think i shall give this a go its a wonderful idea! thanks so much for the inspiration and your drawings are brilliant!

  12. Thank you Gemma!! And you definitely should give it a try... it's great fun really. I found it interesting to try to find the essence of the dream, since of course I couldn't draw every single detail of it. And it's great that you already have a whole collection of written down dreams to choose from!

  13. A fabulous post and a wonderful project. How brilliantly you've realised it. Enough material in that little book to keep you going for years I would have thought!

    How lovely your husband must be, to quietly make you a drawing book and leave by the bed. A stupendously romantic gesture!

  14. It's true, I think there are many ideas in there it might be worthwhile going back to. It's lovely to have a bunch of sketches around for days when you feel like starting on a new thing, but don't know quite where to start!

    Actually my husband made me a little writing book to get the ideas down on in the mornings. Still stupendously romantic though, I think.... he is quite lovely!

  15. These are really great, I need to ponder them a bit more than I have, plenty of rich symbolism.Thanks,