I use my sketchbooks as a place to look, study, be present, and free myself up. The pages of the sketchbooks are typically heavy, textured watercolor paper. I work on both the front and back of the page. This means that there are no wrong marks in the sketchbooks, only opportunities to integrate all marks and colors into a finished page and book. No page can be ripped out because there is something on its back which relates to another image. Therefore, the challenge becomes incorporating all marks and all media together.
The pages of my sketchbooks grow over time, ultimately to become a unique book which records visual images I have explored. I sometimes complete one page of a facing dyad and wait until an image which compliments the first is clear to me. An example: two facing pages in my sketchbook are labeled ‘The icons – Katahdin and Monhegan’. The sketch of the lighthouse on Monhegan was completed in July; the sketch of Katahdin was completed in September. For me the two together were a statement about Maine.
I use permanent ink, watercolor, colored pencils, and graphite in the sketchbooks, anything which encourages me to play. Some pages are doodles developed while listening to something in my environment. Some pages are intentional drawings. With the sketchbook, I take the opportunity to center myself, be present in a silent place, and focus on line, form, color, value, and energy. This later informs larger works, not as replicas, but as a way of being present in the work.
I have carried a sketchbook and a pen every day for many years. Frankly, I feel a little lost without them. I prefer pen, because graphite smears when pages rub, so pencils and charcoal are for sketch books that stay in the studio.
And every day, I take out my sketchbook and enter something: a name, address, portrait, landscape, invention, a to-do list, a scribble or a watercolor, a wish, a regret, a collage, a feather or butterfly wing.
My sketchbook is one of my intimate places, where I experiment, dream, observe,think, pretend, be free, fail, shape up, break it all down, remember, and forget. I keep stacks of them, often with an intention to return and dig into ideas that don’t exist anywhere else. Often, I do return to these ideas and they become something else; often the ideas stay right there and never see the light of day again. Any way it goes, each morning it’s keys, change and knife on one side, wallet on the other, with sketchbook and pen in their own pockets. Then I’m ready to face any wicked day.
“Gallimaufry” is a great old 1500’s word meaning, “a confused jumble or medley of things.” Often a stew or hash. My sketchbooks are my gallimaufry: a potato here, chunk of lamb there, carrot, onion, tomato in a sauce, spicy and savory, at least to me.
Alan Crichton and Abby Shahn collaborative sketchbook
This is a collaborative book, a kind of mutual sketchbook that Abby Shahn and I made a few years ago.
She and I describe our process and some thoughts about making this book.
Abby – I think that the thing I like most about this process …. about making these folded books.. about collaboration … is the way that one is forced to give up plans… to forget about intentions… because the other artist will obliterate them with a single stroke.
I’ve made these books with several different artists … it’s a nice way to visit a friend.
Al – A brand new open book, open door. Fresh, heavy paper, accordion-folded and blank, ready for a conversation you can see. No rules. Start anywhere with anything interesting and send it back, let the book and friendship build, see what happens. Pages start distant, move towards each other, then overlap and layer. Always a surprise, from one friend’s hand, through many postmen’s, to the other. Real play in real time.
Abby – You got a new book coming this way? Hooray!
Al – Great idea! I’ll send a new start with the new year!