Elizabeth Awalt

The Dive Book Sketches are from a series of underwater sketchbooks. I scuba dive in coral reef environments in the Caribbean and draw underwater to record the reef and fish I am observing.

Why sketch instead of photograph when I’m scuba diving?

I draw in a small waterproof sketchbook while immersed in an indescribable universe under the surface of the sea. Drawing from life cements what I am observing into my memory and captures the moment I am in. Drawing slows me down and allows me time to connect with my subject. Underwater everything is moving, including me! Through drawing I can record the movement of the plants, fish, and water in ways my photographs can’t. I’ve been drawing in waterproof notebooks since my first dive in 2018 and my five notebooks are indispensable when I am in the studio painting the reef. Unlike my photographs, each page brings me right back to the moment I was in when I made the drawing. I also photograph underwater for later reference in the studio, particularly the color and light that the drawings don’t capture.

Awalt 2 Cacaphony

Elizabeth Awalt, Cacophony, waterproof pencil and paper, 7 x 8 in., 2018.

Awalt 3 Belize

Elizabeth Awalt, Belize, waterproof pencil and paper, 7 x 8 in., 2019.

Awalt 4 Bonaire

Elizabeth Awalt, Bonaire, waterproof pencil and paper, 7 x 8 in., 2022.


Kathryn Shagas

Shagas 1 three plein air sketches

Kathryn Shagas, Three plein air sketches, ink on paper, 3.5 x 11 in., 2023.

“The whole universe is humming. Actually, the whole universe is Mongolian throat singing. Every star, every planet, every continent, every building, every person is vibrating along to the slow cosmic beat.” —Adam Frank, The Atlantic, 6/29/23

Plein air sketching brings me into myself and into the moment. I walk in a forest or on Maine’s rocky shoreline and let the music of wind and water calm the neural waves in my brain. I work in small sketchbooks with ink pens, using all my senses to absorb rhythmic energy around me. Alternating between gesture and blind contour drawing, sometimes with eyes closed, I occasionally glance at the sketchbook but am not concerned with accuracy or “making things right.” I’m creating a feeling, memory of place.

In the studio, the sketchbooks stay closed but the drawings find their way into non-objective paintings, not just as an underlayer but woven into the fabric of the work. I’ve also started a series of large-scale drawings (up to 42 x 66 in.), using my plein-air fine-line ink pens. I think of my work as finding stories hidden in nature’s rhythms.

Shagas 2 plein air sketch

Kathryn Shagas, plein air sketch, Ink on paper, 5.5 x 8.5 in., 2024.

Shagas 3 plein air sketch

Kathryn Shagas, plein air sketch, Ink on paper, 5.5 x 11in., 2023.

Shagas 4 plein air sketch

Kathryn Shagas, plein air sketch, Ink on paper, 5.5 x 8.5 in., 2024.


Laura Dunn

Among the best things I learned as a student in art school was keeping a sketchbook/journal, which has been a constant for me since deciding to pursue art as a major in the early 90s. Keeping a journal/sketchbook is an act of solitude. I treasure my interior world, and having a way to talk to myself and tap into my observations and who I am as a human being is imperative. I generally have several journals going at once. I call them my archives because I save everything, anything that will spark a memory from the tiniest most inconsequential scraps to botanical specimens to notes scribbled in haste on a separate page, then later glued in. The books become fat over time with all of this ephemera. The pages pictured here span several years and locales. To be able to return to the places/spaces/history in my mind via these journals is a gift that informs my identity as an artist and as a person. I am able to re-center, remember, reminisce and return to myself.

Dunn 1 Life in Taiwan

Laura Dunn, Life in Taiwan, ballpoint on paper 11 x 6 in., 1999.

Dunn 2 Utah Wilderness Studio

Laura Dunn, Utah Wilderness Studio, ballpoint and Caran d’Ache on paper, 12 x 7 in., 1994.

Dunn 3 Flower constructions

Laura Dunn, Flower Constructions, graphite on paper, 12 x 8.5 in., 2009.

Dunn 4 chainsaw carvings

Laura Dunn, Chainsaw Carvings, graphite, found objects, and ephemera on paper, 12 x 8.5 in., 2023.


Image at top: Elizabeth Awalt, Sponges, waterproof pencil and paper, 7 x 8 in., 2018.