Sketchbook Round-up

Oct 4th, 2012

My first introduction to artist sketchbooks was as a tool for the observation of nature. My parents, both ethnobotanists in some capacity, had countless books by and about early naturalists, a field in which data seemed to take the highly aestheticized form of hand scrawled notes and quaint, often cartoon-like sketches of plants and insects. As a kid, I embraced this tradition in my own way and filled many tiny notebooks with crayon drawings of grinning spiders and other fantastical specimens. Patient observation came naturally to me, but I always wanted to give it a twist. Later, as I moved deeper into a photographic practice, the skill of observation became increasingly relevant, but the sketchbook as a tool, fell away.

Now, when Nikki and I visit artists in their studios I find myself curious, even prying about what’s tucked away in the pages of their sketchbooks. Visiting someone’s studio is already permission to enter into a private space and an artist’s sketchbook feels like a room within a room, it’s where the secrets are, the strategies, failures, future schemes and sometimes self-reflection. Of course, not all artists use a notebook but for those that do, they each use it differently. For some, the sketchbook seems to be a smaller, more portable studio in which whole works grow from conception to completion, but for most the sketchbook is still about observation and a need to quickly record what has been witnessed either out in the world or in their own internal process. -KM

A page from Naturalist John Muir’s notebook during his travels in Alaska in 1879.
(Image from the book Beyond Words: 200 years of illustrated diaries, Heyday Press)

Both sides of a 3D page in artist Fran Siegel’s notebook, which she uses as a testing ground for patterns and methods that in some cases work their way into larger pieces.

An always-relevant question in San Francisco sculptor Mary Button-Durrell’s sketchbook.

The Observers: Claude Collins-Stracensky, Narangkar Glover and Hadley Nunes

The Planners: Ian Macdonald, Mary Button-Durrell, Andrew Schoultz and Annie Costello-Brown

The Diarists: A page from one of dozens of notebooks belonging to beat generation poet/painter/printmaker Bob Branamen. Like much of his work, it’s an homage to the women he has loved.

Narangkar Glover records both detailed notes on painting strategy as well as moments of daily life that leave an imprint (in separate notebooks of course).

Amsterdam artist Alvaro Sotomayor has drawn the form of a bull again and again, on every available surface, until it’s becomes a single gesture.