She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes     

Ode to the Sketchbook

         ink, Sketchbook and Starlight


Neither diary nor journal, though could be. The bindings as widely varied as snowflakes and often as intriguingly beautiful. Cardboard, leather, plastic, cloth. Industrial, scholarly, swank, artsy, craftsy, cute. The marketplace for sketchbooks has expanded enormously and the styles can barely keep up with demand.

But not so long ago, the sketchbook was singularly the serious art class companion, or the private studio portfolio kept close at hand where intimate challenges were explored: the length of a forearm, the profile of a forehead, the dip of the clavicle, the distance between chin and nipple, the turn of a leg, the form of a foot, an angry hand, an open hand, a thunderhead cloud, a stormy sea, a rained-on blossom….kept and revisited through a day, through a life.BILOXI WINTER, LOW TIDE And 20 or 40 or (if you’re lucky) 80 pages of a time so specific that to pick up and look again is to slam the owner into a time, an immediate turn back to a piece of land, a city block, an infatuation or deepest love, the history of a beloved cat or dog, faces, dishes, chairs, gardens, Pen & Ink Robindson Canyon Rd Spring, Sparhawkthoughts…..all of it the very most personal. Because it is one’s own landscape.

To carry a sketchbook under arm or stuffed in a pocket was the equipment, the sole province, the badge of an artist. And to carry such treasure and not be an artist would have been as much engaged in fraud as publicly parading pink satin ribbon tied ballet slippers over the shoulder of a 2-left-footer never dancer. Sacrilege.
So much to learn about the sketchbook.ink, Angels Dancing in Treetops, Garland Park

Angels, Dancing on Treetops “Angels Dancing on Treetops”, the sketchbook drawing above, the oil painting below that. (**See note below)

There weren’t tutorials, you discovered marvelously obscure art supply stores or school shops and checked out the stock. For one thing, an early find, the paper varied in weight and roughness or smooth surface. There were sketchbooks with pure white papers, or gray, or browns, kraft or even black; useful depending on your medium of ink, pencil, chalks.

Some sketchbooks had a ribbon tie, or three ribbons! Some had spiral bindings, in color! Some cloth bound like books. Some five inches square, some 10 by 15 or 18 by 20. Long, tall, wide, fat, thin.

Now, confronted with a small, bound, blank paged, ready-for-action treasure, with its simple cotton gross-grained ribbon to be used to tie shut your private work and thoughts, is thrilling.

It is a tribute to bright ideas, to learning, to invention, to anything is possible in the human experience. Dr Manxi, Bench closeupIt is also, after all, the central reservoir of Leonardo Da Vinci’s fertile mind, and more recently the place that the father of Indiana Jones drew his maps and figured his findings.

I have a more liberal view these days than when I was a student so jealously guarding what identified me to the world. I would allow, these days, a sketchbook in every hand! In the hope that wonderful thoughts, the bon mot, the botanist’s heart would find fulfilment on the magical pages awaiting their ideas. bonbonI would allow the song writer, the poet, the rocket ship designer a welcome into what was once mine and my fellows alone.

And to all, I suggest, in my more generous and kind older age, go forth and get you a sketchbook. And a pen. Or a pencil. And keep it with you until the one day and moment you see or think something you absolutely cannot afford to forget. DSCF4301And remember with a light heart and total delight that there is a sketchbook in your pocket ready to record it.

To develop it. To hold the fine treasure of your thoughts.



**(End Note about “Angels Dancing on Treetops”:  This is a perfect example of the benefit of sketchbooks. I was having a rough go, living with friends, and all of us on edge from it. I drove to Garland Park in Carmel Valley, warm sunny day and I wanted to be alone.  I sat in the front seat of my big ancient suburban, relishing the privacy and looking at the view.  The trees in front of me were moving in the wind.  I looked closer.  They were moving vertically, not horizontally swept by breeze but rather in a kind of bounce from the top! What on earth, I thought.  Then I realized, obviously angels dancing on the treetops, pushing the branches up and down!  I did the sketch, shown above, I didn’t ever want to forget it. Four years later after moving to Big Sur I painted it from the sketch, and from the stirred memorty. Thanks, Oopsjohn.)


10 thoughts on “ODE to the SKETCHBOOK

  1. Thanks so much for reminding me – in my case not as an artist but a writer – of the sacred journals I have tucked away back in Florida. Such companions are precious indeed to the creative individual. Oh how lovely “Angels Dancing in Treetops” is, did you ever paint it? Welcome back!

    • Yes, writers have every right to journals, I may have even thought so in my youth. I have managed (but it was a close shave) to remember the perfect opening sentence until getting home and penning it down. But the certainty of recording it on first flight across the brow, yes, even better.
      And I did paint Angels Dancing on Treetops, and used the sketch I posted for reference. I’ll post that now, too.
      Thanks John, for everything.

  2. Ah, me love … Glad to see you posting, again, and such a one as this – treasure trove of inspiration. When I got divorced, long ago, in a far-away landscape of thought, I got a large sketchbook and titled it The Discovery Journal. I cut out pictures, made collages, sketched, wrote, and went on a journal of self-discovery to redefine myself as single. I still pull it out sometimes to surprise myself! Maybe I will take it up again to find the retired me, lost of the busyness of looming deadlines. I love that each day holds a new and distinct promise. Glad you are up to sharing your wonderfully creative world with us, again. Much love, hugs, and joyful life, my friend!

    • Thank you, good pie, for your every word and making me teary to read it.
      I didn’t expect so much resonance with this, and it’s a marvelous discovery. I think we are all too easily embarassed by our own originality, and the truth is nothing in the world counts as much, and maybe it’s easier to put in a book between covers. It really is a resource for discovery, for re-discovery, for defining and witnessing and learning. Love to you in bunches, and I’m glad to be back, too.

  3. Oh my! Because of you, I do have that sketchbook from a few years back. This year I also, walked up & down the aisles to find a new perfect one. I brought it home & tucked it away. Because of your descriptions, I have pulled it out to use & make daily memories.
    Me thinks pumpkins, dressed goblins & the autumn garden would be perfect subjects.

    • How lovely, Bette, I’m so pleased! This is wonderful to see such a great response and people either going out to get or being re-united with sketchbooks! Hoorah! And yes, a good holiday with much to offer. You have a wonderful touch with pen and ink, and should not stop the doing and learning.

  4. Wonderful post! thank you for reminding me. Once I am out of the gypsy mess of moving I’ll resume the drawing – and will carry a sketchbook thinking of you. Will you or have already published one of yours? Ciao. Vera

    • Thank you, Vera. Yes, sit a minute and draw, excellent meditation. I’m starting a new collection of short stories, and it will be called Sketchbook and Starlight. Mostly about adventures in wild places. So good to hear from you. Stay well.

  5. YOU are such a poet. Sketchbooks! I never thought much about them, but you have shined revelatory light on a concept so humble yet precious. A keeper of visions, of light bulb ideas and meaningful moments. I will have to get one today. Seems like there should be a solemn ceremony to consecrate it in to such a whole and holy purpose. Thanks for the inspirational writing. You are such a joy in my/our life. Does the name Barbara mean bright light?!! I think so. Love ya, Nola


    • Well if I inspired all that gorgeous prose out of you I am very proud indeed.
      And that’s a fabulous idea, a ceremony to go along with the gaining of a sketchbook in a life. And when you go to get one, walk through the various aisles and shelves and pick them all up and see how they feel in your hand to get the right one.
      Thank you, bright light in my life.

Your opinions are welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s