Sketchbooks are Time Capsules…
They preserve drawings, sketches, notes and ideas which otherwise can disappear. Happily, I am by nature, a collector and since 1963 have saved over 75 of them. They vary in size, format, durability, format and purpose. The oldest ones date from my Junior Year Abroad as a college student in France (1963–1964), and continue to the present. I began to appreciate the scope of the collection two years ago when I laid them out in chronological order on my studio floor.
They showed their age: battered or missing covers; faded colors and dated type faces. The booklet’s front cover, Fig. 1, reproduces five of them. After examining the covers, I explored the contents of each sketchbook and discovered forgotten parts of my creative history. I was pleasantly surprised by the work and its variety. After completing an initial survey, I put them away to think about next steps. Then, in February 2020, the D.R.A.W. (Department of Regional Art Workers) in Kingston, NY, offered In Edition, a four-week book making workshop, led by noted book artist Maureen Cummins. For the first class we were asked to bring a proposal for a 16 page book, plus cover. I decided to select images from the sketchbooks and write notes about them. After the first meeting in March, I began: designing the format; selecting images; writing notes. Realizing I would never be able to represent 56 years of work (1963–2019) within the constraints of the 5 1/2 x 8 1/2″ page size, I limited myself to the first 30 years (1963–1993) and later, to create a second book covering the period 1994–2019. After the second meeting Covid-19 struck and workshop was suspended.
In the following weeks I worked independently, selecting, scanning, cropping and color correcting over 200 images from 40 sketchbooks. In mid-May, after completing the layouts and writing and editing the notes, I was ready to go to press. Following workshop guidelines, 10 copies were printed and hand sewn using the Basic Pamphlet Stitch. While working on the book, I thought about the range and variety of all the sketches. Altogether, there were over a thousand, filling hundreds of pages. Then I thought back to my days as an art student when I understood drawing and handwriting as the same linear process. Many of my early sketches were built of lines. In art school, I was influenced by courses in modern art history, photography and advanced drawing that led me to see the world as abstract groupings of adjacent shapes and patches of color. With this new understanding I saw how to integrate line and tone into drawing. I also learned to draw type with broad chisel pencils. With a few considered strokes, letter forms (or other shapes) could be boldly drawn avoiding anemic looking outlined letters.
I am very conscious of my history and how it has shaped me. Picking up a pen, brush or pencil and making a mark starts a series of half-conscious questions and decisions. Will the points, lines, planes and shapes express some abstract set of relations or will they turn into the faces, figures, letter forms, objects, landscapes that populate my sketchbooks? One conclusion for me—drawing is a form of improvisation, shifting unpredictably between my imagination and the external world.