Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Why I draw : Artists and their sketchbooks


I make them to discover myself. 

MARGARET NEILL  


I’ve always found the sketchbooks of artists engaging because of the sense of spontaneity present on their pages. Unfortunately, since most artists don’t share their sketchbooks publicly, there are relatively few opportunities to see them. While museums occasionally exhibit a modest selection of sketchbooks as part of major retrospectives, at best we see just a few pages from decades of notebooks. The best-known exception to that near total invisibility are the widely published sketchbooks of Leonard da Vinci, available both in print and online.  Additionally, it is now possible to see the complete sketchbooks (29 sketchbooks with 1045 drawings!!!) of Richard Diebenkorn here, and some Cezanne sketchbooks here.  The Tate Museum offers access to an online catalog with thousands of images from JMW Turner sketchbooks, drawings, and watercolors here. The 2011 Serra exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum included a vitrine with a whopping 25 sketchbooks, but unfortunately they cannot be viewed online at this time. 

In a previous post, I wrote about the role of notebook drawings in my studio practice. Working in notebooks gives me the freedom to make a mess, to work without rules, and provides a space in which my hand, rather than my head, takes the lead. Since I don’t remove any of the pages, the bound notebooks also become a sequenced ‘diary’ of visual notes.


Each page is a note to self, a gestural record of a moment in time.  

TAMAR ZINN



My curiosity about how other artists make use of their sketchbooks led me to reach out to a small group of artist friends with a series of questions.  With the exception of one or two who regularly post sketchbook pages on social media, I had no idea how often they worked in their sketchbooks, what purpose they served, or if they now relied on digital sketchbooks.  Ten artists very generously took the time to respond to my questions and share several images from their sketchbooks. Their responses are both thoughtful and engagingly candid. I had intended to limit this post to artists who work in ‘traditional’ sketchbooks, since the mark of the hand is particularly meaningful for me. Nonetheless, I have included an artist who by his own admission last worked in a bound sketchbook many decades ago, and also develops preliminary drawings digitally, rather than working with pencil and paper sketches  Finally, where I have briefly quoted from an artist's response, that artist's initials appear after the quote.

While there were several commonalities among the responses, also in evidence was the deeply personal nature of keeping a visual diary. For most, sketchbooks are for loosening up, serving as a platform for open-ended meanderings, where ‘anything goes’ (RA). However for one painter ‘they are where I scale up for the transfer to the much larger paintings’ (SB).  And for another, ‘sketches help me change direction in a painting so I can move forward’ (CS).

Just what goes onto the notebook pages varies from artist to artist. The sketchbooks are often strictly visual, but may also include notes on the drawings, quotations from readings, or observations about exhibits. Although some artists work exclusively in pen or pencil in their notebooks, others will switch off between charcoal, watercolor, or collage. 

What is apparent is that the use of sketchbooks frequently becomes ritualized. Most have an almost obsessive preference for a specific size and manufacturer that lasts for years. Some will use a different sketchbook to explore each type of media, while others will mix it up. For several artists, working in a sketchbook is a daily practice, but for others, it is a sporadic activity.  ‘Not all that often. A sudden burst of activity, especially while out of my studio and home.’ (KS).

What follows below are edited selections from each artist’s response to my questions.


ROSAIRE APPEL

I love seeing people's sketchbooks! 

The voice is often different from the 'real' work - 

it doesn't have its shoes on.   


ROSAIRE APPEL


ROSAIRE APPEL



Describe the purpose of your sketchbooks: 
Anything goes. Sometimes I draw just for the sensation of it. Sometimes I hit on something and fill the whole sketchbook with it. Basically it's free space I can occupy however I please at the moment.

Do you consider your sketchbooks private? 
Depends on the sketchbook -  ones that are just drawings aren't particularly private but those that are strewn with notes are a different story.

Are your sketchbooks the same size ? 
Around 8x10. I'm particular about the feel of the paper and how it takes ink: cheap paper is best, newsprint is so soft and mellow.... I hate to draw on good thick paper that seems to beg for some formality, some intention, that seems to require that the drawing be 'good'.

Are your sketchbooks exclusively a visual journal or do you also write notes?
Notes also but not always. I'm also fond of crossing out notes and turning the crossings-out into a drawing...

ROSAIRE APPEL WEBSITE



STEVEN BARIS

In the sketchbook, I work through many ideas, usually by constantly erasing and redrawing until it arrives.

 

STEVEN BARIS


STEVEN BARIS

Describe the purpose of your sketchbooks:   
For me the sketchbook drawings are all about developing ideas and especially for exploring compositional possibilities. Also they are where I scale up for the transfer to the much larger paintings.

Do you look back to sketchbooks you did years ago?
Not that often, but once in a while I do. At times it can be inspiring and precipitate a renewal of an older, nearly forgotten series. Other times it can be a bit embarrassing.  

Are your sketchbooks exclusively a visual journal or do you also write notes?
…….  looking back on way older sketchbooks, I realize that I used to do a lot more writing; some pages had little to no drawing. But that’s not the case more recently, and I think the reason is that I do so much more writing elsewhere.

STEVEN BARIS WEBSITE


KATHY ELLIOTT

There is no judgment, they just exist.


KATHY ELLIOTT


KATHY ELLIOTT


Describe the purpose of your sketchbooks:

They are meditative, a daily exercise, and a part of who I am. I set intentions at times, such as looking at artwork I admire and then recreate this structure or line work, which opens me up to new pathways in how I see as well as how I use the tools and my hands…..  They are like automatic thoughts that have been shared.   

Are there connections between your sketchbooks and the rest of your studio practice?
I often don't realize the connection my sketchbooks have to my work. Sometimes I will look through an older sketchbook and find something almost identical to something more recently painted or drawn. 

How often do you work in your sketchbooks?
My sketchbooks are touched every day, even if only to revisit, sometimes revise, or actually dig right in and scribble, doodle, and sketch!  I have many going at the same time. 

What size are your sketchbooks and what media do you use?
I tend to like squares. They vary in size, from 5” x 5” to 12” x 12”.  I work in graphite, ink, charcoal, watermedia, collage, oil and cold wax….. it depends on the paper.


LORRIE FREDETTE

I’ve learned to not make sketchbooks/One Books “too precious” because when I do, they no longer offer me the freedom 

I seek from their pages.


LORRIE FREDETTE


LORRIE FREDETTE


Describe the purpose of your sketchbooks:
The primary purpose of my sketchbooks is to gather impressions.  The idea, the feeling, and the imitation are gathered without any censoring. In addition, I keep a project sketchbook.  When I make the decision to commit to an installation, it receives the honor of its own book.

Are there connections between your sketchbooks and the rest of your studio practice?
My studio practice is pretty defined, systematic and maintains a routine when I’m working on an installation. My sketchbook is the total opposite…thank goodness!

Do you consider your sketchbooks private or do you show them to other people?
In this age of revealing everything, I’ve mostly kept my sketchbooks private.  They’re a bit like a journal.

Do you look back to sketchbooks you did years ago? 
Oh yes!  There was a leak in my studio last year and I lost several of them due to water damage. It was utterly heartbreaking.

Is there another artist whose sketchbooks had an influence on your work? 
No, no particular artist.  I would share I do have a fascination with DaVinci’s notebooks, Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” script notes, and the field books of explorers like Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Darwin, Margaret Fountaine and Colin Thubron.

LORRIE FREDETTE WEBSITE


MILISA GALAZZI

I feel very vulnerable sharing my sketchbooks 

and I think that that is a good thing.


MILISA GALAZZI


MILISA GALAZZI


Describe the purpose of your sketchbooks:
My sketchbooks are a creative practice in and of themselves. I look at them as thinking books or idea books, which document the meanderings of my creative mind……. [they include] list of all kinds, quick sketches, doodles, preliminary drawings of larger ideas, and collections of things glued into the pages which document my activities like museum trips, art shows, trips to interesting places…. My sketchbooks serve as my portable Idea Wall.

How often do you work in your sketchbooks?
I date each page in the bottom left or right. I work hard to not let more than three days go by without filling a page. This has been my practice for the past 12 years.

Are all your sketchbooks the same size? 
All thirty of my sketchbooks are Moleskin 8x12 with thick drawing paper so that I can use water media and dry media as well as glue stick pieces of paper. I do have an additional twenty-five sketchbooks from my high school and college days. They are all random sizes and some are not fully complete.

Is there an artist whose sketchbooks had an influence on your work?
Austin Kleon’s  sketchbooks inspire me. His whole creative practice is writing and creating sketchbooks.

MILISA GALAZZI WEBSITE

MARGARET NEILL

I learn things about myself, my mood, 

and how my hand is connected to my thoughts 

and heart at that moment.


MARGARET NEILL

MARGARET NEILL


Describe the purpose of your sketchbooks:
The purpose of the sketchbooks is multifold. I use sketchbooks to explore a particular medium. Also I love the format of a book to create small working sketches including the double pages and the consecutive pages.  What is interesting to me is the beginning, middle, and end, as in a book that one reads.. …… working in sketchbooks allows me to see what comes up organically without any predetermined notion of expectation.

Do you look back to sketchbooks you did years ago?
Oh yes. To remind me of what happened.

What media do you use in the sketchbooks?
Each sketchbook is usually devoted to one particular media. I enjoy the aspect of filling a sketchbook with a particular media I am exploring. Front to back. I’m obstinate about that.

Is there another artist whose sketchbooks had an influence on your work?
Yes. Cezanne watercolors, Van Gogh Drawings. Some of the early American artists, I think Whistler. And Delacroix.  Also my mother she filled many books with images, papers paraphernalia and sketches. They are a huge influence. She wanted us to see them.

MARGARET NEILL WEBSITE

KAREN SCHIFANO

I do like the freedom they give me to explore 

and make bad images!


KAREN SCHIFANO


KAREN SCHIFANO


Describe the purpose of your sketchbooks:
I don’t actually routinely work in sketchbooks. I'll pick one up once in a while when I need to plan new paintings or installations.  I use them mainly for little primitive sketches of new shapes that I might use for paintings later, basic compositional ideas for a series….. The notebooks are for externalizing visual thoughts I might have ……… I think that finally, my notebooks are really used for a kind of mental notation, rather than for serious drawing or research. They are for thinking, but certainly not finished work, nor maybe even of interest to anyone beside myself!

Do you look back to sketchbooks you did years ago?
I save them, as well as all my journals dating back to the 1980s. I don’t often look through old sketchbooks, but if I’m stuck, I pull them out. Sometimes I do look back through recent ones to see if I can mine something I may have forgotten about. It’s possible that I do more writing to myself than sketching! In the journals, I sometimes take notes from books I’m reading and want to remember. Those ideas have, at times, changed the way I see and think! I am quite visual, though, but the language-based thinking sometimes gives me an insight that becomes visual later on.  

Are your sketchbooks the same size? 
Different sizes, mainly : 4 x 6 inches, 6 x 8 inches. If people give me notebooks with fancy bindings and paper, I tend not to use them, because I find them intimidating!   I want them to be portable, not large sheets of paper. I usually put one or two small images on each page.

KAREN SCHIFANO WEBSITE


CLAIRE SEIDL

I make sketches to loosen up, not as a means to an end

 but as an end in itself.


CLAIRE SEIDL


CLAIRE SEIDL



Describe the purpose of your sketchbooks:
I keep sketchbooks but tend to rip out their pages when a drawing has something to do with a painting. I hang them up around the studio so I can see.  Once in a while, a sketch will serve as a beginning to a painting. Other times, sketches help me change direction in a painting so I can move forward. Sometimes, I sketch during the process of painting to record what is there temporarily, just before I cover it up, as a record which might direct me later.

Are all your sketchbooks the same size? 
The sketchbooks are usually between 8 and 16 inches and different sizes. They have to be small enough that they don’t turn into “works on paper” but big enough to see them and move around in them.

What media do you work with in your notebooks?
Sometimes the sketches have color, sometimes they are stark black and white. I might use pencil or charcoal or crayon or ink and watercolor with brushes.

CLAIRE SEIDL WEBSITE


MARK WETHLI

With the arrival of Photoshop, nearly all of my preliminary drawings 

shifted to the computer.


Just four of countless variations on a theme, from 2018,
trying out different constants and variables.

MARK WETHLI

The best version in this series of studies (which I have yet to paint)
happened by rotating the last variation (from the four above).  The roughed up edges from all 
cutting, pasting, and digital "noise" also suggest that it will work better with less precise edges.

MARK WETHLI


Thoughts on Keeping a Digital Sketchbook
I think the last time I drew in a bound sketchbook was in college. As much as I love the idea of keeping a visual journal, it was always more natural for me to grab the nearest sheet of paper and make some thumbnail sketches when it was time to start a painting. 

With the arrival of Photoshop, however, nearly all of my preliminary drawings moved to the computer. On my desktop is a folder called “Studio"--a virtual work space. It includes digital sketches and numerous variations, like the ones shown here.

The thing about Photoshop that I find most useful is its ability to generate hundreds of alternatives in a very short time. Even so, I’m well aware that speed isn’t always a good thing. There are tiny gestations that only happen in those brief moments when we stop, glance up from the paper, and then continue, but my fingers are slow enough on the keyboard that things don’t slip by too quickly. 

Another use of Photoshop that’s been a huge help is photographing paintings in progress when they hit a snag, taking them back into the computer, and trying out different ways to move them forward. These often turn into sketches for new paintings and leave a useful track record of “states,” similar to printmaking, that I find useful to return to for new ideas.

MARK WETHLI WEBSITE


MARK ZIMMERMANN

They lay bare the process of my work, yet there is a freedom in the notebook that I don’t have in the studio. 


MARK ZIMMERMANN


MARK ZIMMERMANN


Describe the purpose of your sketchbooks:
My notebooks exist (primarily) outside of my studio, yet have a huge impact regarding formal possibilities, titles & or concepts…… I see them as visual, poetic & practical. In a museum, I’ll take notes, I’ll write down quotes from what I’m reading, I’ll sketch out forms. It’s just part of my day...

How often do you work in your sketchbooks?
Almost every day. It’s a very organic process- I might simply jot down a list of potential titles for paintings, the first paragraph of an essay, or a list of to-do’s & it morphs into a few drawings, or a poem...

Do you look back to sketchbooks you did years ago? 
I’m always looking back. My paintings usually take 1-2 years to make, whereas my notebook work is very spontaneous. I find ideas in those books of last year...

Is there another artist whose sketchbooks had an influence on your work? 
In terms of “practice”, the informal drawings of Richard Serra & Brice Marden laid out a path.

MARK ZIMMERMANN WEBSITE


A few more sketchbook pages...... 


RICHARD DIEBENKORN    Page from Sketchbook 4



PAUL CEZANNE

RICHARD SERRA

The notebooks ground people's perception of the work and it gives them an experience of who is this person making this work..... What does this guy do when he is in the world, in his daily life? 

RICHARD SERRA




17 comments:

  1. Thank you, thank you...I adore the imaginings of other artists, almost more than I like to see "finished work". There is something so immediate about sketchbooks that takes you right inside the artists' souls.

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  2. Terrific post, Tamar. Thank you so much for researching and sharing.

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  3. I’m really enjoying this series and hope you will continue with additional entries. . Stimulating and inspiring, and it also helps to connect us to other artists in a meaningful way during this period of quarantine. Thank you!

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  4. Excellent, if there's one thing I love is looking at someone else's sketchbook. I enjoy seeing how differently we all work and it gives you a peep at their methodology and a tiny insight into their mind. Lovely! Thank you

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  5. What a rich display you've set before us, thank you!

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  6. a great fantastic display of sketchbooks.

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  7. Thank you Tamar. Beautifully and thoughtfully presented as always. Nothing I love more than peeks into other artists' studios, sketchbooks, writings and process. A special treat and much needed momentary escape from these harrowing, heartbreaking weeks.

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  8. Check out Brooklyn Art Library Sketchbook Project

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  9. I will share your text on my own blog tomorrow. the sketchbook for me is a very personal meeting with an artist, a special moment. I always have one with me. thank you Tamar for this very inspiring post.

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  10. What a pleasure to see all those sketchbooks. I have also found the answer why I never did sketch more: bought sketchbooks ask for format drawings. I started this year making my own, all different papers, sketchbooks, resulting in hours 'playing with techniques

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  11. Wonderful post. I have really enjoed it. Thank you.

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  12. IT’s a pleasure to get a glimpse of these artists sketchbooks. Are you aware of Sketchbook Skool? Danny Gregory is influencing thousands of artist to get back into the sketchbook. And then there’s Urban Sketchers International. There’s been quite a revival of interest in keeping sketchbooks. My own books are more of a studio journal, a combination of sketchbook, journal, diary, file cabinet of ideas.

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  13. Beautiful blog and wonderful choices, bravo !

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  14. love this makes one want to draw which is how it should be

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