There was a great article in the NYTimes recently talking about the Bento trend of tiny packed lunches that are replacing brown bags in schoolrooms across the country. I've been using the idea of bento in my Foundations of Studio Art classes for a while now, but my food-free method was developed to foster a different set of healthy habits. The point of a Sketchbook Bento is to encourage people to try new things in their sketchbook every single day.
Many art students drag giant tackle boxes full of charcoal, pencils, and erasers all over campus every day--but I've found that you can pack more useful materials into a smaller space if you replace the tackle box with a tiny lunch box and are considerate and creative about what you pack. Students using Sketchbook Bentos filled with non-traditional materials are often more willing to share those materials and the results of their experiments with other members of their class.
What is a Bento?
While the Japanese term "bento" roughly translates to "box lunch" in English, this is not your average packed lunch. Designed to be easily portable, the goal with bento is to assemble a meal that is just as appealing to the eyes as it is to the taste buds. It's not uncommon for Japanese mothers to prepare an elaborate, playfully and creatively decorated boxed lunch to entice their children to eat all of their food when they're at school. These lunches may also contain cleverly repackaged leftovers.
What is a Sketchbook?
Designed to be easily portable, a sketchbook is a book or pad with plain pages used by an artist to collect observations, to explore an internal monologue, and to pursue inventive ideas. The goal of a sketchbooker is to assemble a collection of ideas that is just as appealing to the eyes as it is to the brain. Your sketchbook can track the progression of an idea over time and can stand as a testament to your brainstorming efforts.
What is a Sketchbook Bento?
Although it is quite uncommon for University of Memphis Fine Arts instructors to play the role of Japanese mother for their students, these Sketchbook Bento have been packed using the same philosophy that these housewives use to nurture their healthy sons and daughters. As an art educator, I have prepared elaborate and playful containers full of sketchbook supplies to entice Foundations students to use all of their sketchbook pages while they’re at school.
The Sketchbook Bento each contain a different set of supplies. Some of the supplies are traditional sketchbook fodder (paints and brushes, pencils, crayons, stencils and printmaking supplies). Some of the supplies are familiar to most arts and crafts aficionados, but are not often used in a sketchbook (swatches of fabric, needles and thread, sequins, ribbon, yarn). Some of the supplies are more familiar to engineers rather than artists (circuit boards, wire, watch and radio parts). Some materials may be more along the lines of what a naturalist would consider interesting (plant matter, soil and mineral samples). And finally, somewhere in each bento students will find pages torn from Art Forum, Art Papers, or other fine art periodicals.
Students are encouraged to use all of these materials in their sketchbook in some way or another over the course of the semester and to constantly restock their boxes over the course of the semester with the materials that are relevant to their current interests and ideas. At the end of the semester, students are expected to restock their Bentos for the next group of students and present the boxes along with their sketchbooks for their final sketchbook grade.
The following “eating utensils” will need to be provided by each student for each Bento: Scissors, Exacto Knives with fresh blades, adhesives such as tape or glue, and a camera to document “sketches” that are temporary or three-dimensional in nature.