The practice of keeping a journal gives us the ability to go back in time to revisit places and experiences. Here, from 25 years ago, is a map I drew of Hong Kong and its environs, showing the ferry route I took from Central to Sok Kwu Wan on Lamma Island. From there I walked an hour and a half to Yung Shue Wan, where I sketched the scene below.
Category Archives: Sketchbooks
A Creative Process
Like sketching, composing each page of a journal or sketchbook is an extemporaneous act. We may have a plan for how to organize the drawings and notes on a page before we begin, but we should also be open to altering the plan as each element is executed.
For example, we may find that having executed a drawing, its size, shape and proportions may differ, as so often happens, from what we originally intended. By carefully considering the visual shape and weight of the drawing, we can re-balance the page or give it a more dynamic quality with the placement of the next graphic element, whether that element is graphic or verbal in nature. With the addition of further graphic elements, we continue to encounter this opportunity to re-compose the page.
Changes over Time
The several times I had the privilege of teaching in the University of Washington’s Architecture in Rome program, I asked my students to keep a journal during the semester to record and document their history walks, field trips, and design studio work. To try and set an example, I kept my own sketchbook along with them. Here are a few sample pages showing how my drawings changed due to the passage of time as well as how my trusty Lamy fountain pen interacted with the different types of paper I used.
In addition to the imagery of drawings and sketches, the pages of our journals can also include other elements that contribute to the making of memories. We can paste clippings and memorabilia onto the pages; we can draw maps of our journeys through towns and across the countryside; and we can write down notes to supplement the images we draw. And adding these elements to the page is a balancing act in composition.
Notebooks, sketchbooks, journals… whatever one chooses to call these bound collections of pages, they all provide a physical sense of permanence and chronology and, in use, they become a repository of images and writings capable of reminding us of where we have been, what we have seen, and what we have experienced. But even as we acknowledge the pleasure of perusing these collections, we should also appreciate the process by which they are made. No single page in a journal is precious; not all pages must be perfect. In the act of making visible our experiences, reflections, and discoveries, we become more sensitive to and connected with our surroundings, expand our visual memories, and stimulate our imagination.
Starting a New Sketchbook
Having filled one sketchbook, I pulled a new one off the shelf to do this drawing. In beginning, I was instantly reminded of how the change from an absorbent surface to one treated with sizing affects the quality of lines from a fountain pen. Where I was used to being more tentative with thicker lines in my last sketchbook, I had to be more insistent with the thinner, lighter lines on the Moleskin paper.
This view is typical of the shipbuilding and related industries fronting the Ship Canal in the area between Fremont and Ballard, which some people are calling Freelard. I decided to begin with the barbed-wire-topped chain link fence and blackberry bushes that separated me on the street from what I was viewing, a ship under construction. The drawing ended up being more of a vignette than I had intended but that is the nature of sketching. Like a conversation, the drawing process can often lead to unexpected results.
Stillman & Birn
The Argentina Experience
The focus of my visit to Argentina was giving two talks and having the opportunity to work with students from Argentina, Peru, Paraguay and Brazil. I really appreciated the enthusiasm of the students and their willingness to draw without inhibition.
It was an emotional time for me when I saw the students’ work exhibited in La Plata. The students had drawn in accordion-fold sketchbooks, which you can see hanging vertically in the background of this photo. Seeing the display in this manner reinforces the idea that no single drawing is as important as an entire body of work, whether it be a single sketchbook or a whole series of sketchbooks. It was very heartwarming and gratifying for me to see how proud the students were of their work and I hope they will continue to enjoy drawing with increased confidence.