A Little Constriction Can Set You Free

Yi Shun Lai
3 min readApr 17, 2022

While packing for a weekend away in a new-to-me location, I left behind my sketchbook. I wanted to see how I’d do if I only had my agenda to draw in or take notes with.

I use a Hobonichi Techo with Tomoe River paper, which holds up a little better than regular paper. I’ve used watercolors on this paper before, with halfway-decent results.

watercolor painting of a blue-skinned mermaid on agenda paper over a sticker from “baology,” a restaurant in Philadelphia.

I’m not sure I had a really complete thought about leaving the paper behind; I only knew that I didn’t much feel like lugging around a sketchbook or even heavier watercolor paper, even though I fully intended on using watercolors over the weekend. I know. Looking back, it’s an odd choice. I can only explain it by saying I really liked the way the water in watercolors makes this particular paper crinkle just a little bit.

We were in a lovely place at the weekend. We were on the Oregon coast. On my runs I traced the clouds with my hand held as if I was holding a brush. I jogged with my hand in the air and my gaze held up to the sky, trying to feel my way to strokes that would approximate the loose rain falling from the belly of the cloud, willing myself into using broader, firmer strokes for the solid shapes I could see that made up the tops of these clouds, the cliffside, the haystacks.

And then I surprised myself entirely by turning not to my watercolor brushes and the more fluid medium, but sticking to my four-color pen instead.

agenda spread for April 15 and 16. The pages are clearly part diary, part planner. There are some drawings — a cup of tea, the face of a friend, a few broader landscapes featuring clifffaces, ocean, rocks, and clouds; a rock-covered sea anemone, a pair of running legs, etc — over each page.

These aren’t great drawings. I like the landscape in the upper right and the little landscape in the bottom left, though. I like my little icons and the memories they bring me. I liked the feeling of not having to prepare a bunch of equipment in order to sketch out a thought or an impression. I liked…

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Yi Shun Lai

Author: A SUFFRAGISTS’S GUIDE TO THE ANTARCTIC (2024), Pin Ups (2020). Columnist, The Writer. theGooddirt.org; @gooddirt. Psst: Say “yeeshun.” You can do it!