On Sketchbooks and The Sketchbook Show at the Nave Gallery

I love sketchbooks. As a tool readily available to anyone, sketchbooks are important in documenting the growth and development of an artist; they allow for experimentation and exploration of ideas that may or may not produce a completed or more meaningful work later on. Sketchbooks are the subject of an exhibit at the Nave Galley Annex and as one might expect from an exhibit of this nature, there are some sketchbooks and then there are pages torn out of sketchbooks. As the sketchbook enthusiast that I am, the latter hurt my eyes, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Curators Ellien Laramee-Byers and Rachel Mello write in their curatorial statement that “what distinguishes sketchbook work from other artist’s works is the sense of a thought being puzzled out, a problem being explored.” I agree in that most, if not all the work in a sketchbook give one a sense of the ideas that emerge out of the creative process—ideas that haven’t yet blossomed into something worth presenting to the public. I’d go as far in saying that much (for the most part) of the work in a sketchbook may not be ideal for exhibiting or even selling, but as I wandered through the exhibit on two different occasions, I kept asking myself, “why would someone sell a page torn out of a sketchbook if it’s something so personal and close to the creative process?” My answer, of course, lies in the call-for-work, which specifically asks those submitting to the exhibit to remove pages from their sketchbooks because “sketches will be displayed statically; visitors will not be able to flip through books.”

That observation out of the way, there are some outstanding sketchbooks in this show ranging in size and quality and some coming from artists with diverse practices.

Gary Hawkins, Sketchbook Drawing, Ink and Washi Tape. Image Courtesy of the Artist.

Five in a series of eleven sketchbooks by poet and artist Gary Hawkins are on view in this year’s show and they’re all very impressive. Hawkins documents his daily 15-minute drawing-and-writing practice, resulting in a wonderful juxtaposition of text on one page and drawings—all done with ink and washi-the traditional Japanese paper (tape in this case)—on the facing page.

Catherine Aiello’s accordion-like sketchbook is another swoon-worthy work. Completed in 2011 while on a 10-day trip to Cuba, Aiello sketched her way through Havana and Pinar del Rio using ink and watercolor, capturing the colors and energy of a country at the verge of another social and political change.

There are twenty-five artists in the show and from what I could tell, many submitted pages from multiple sketchbooks. Among some of the artists whose work I wish I’d seen in a sketchbook rather than on pages torn out of it include Daria Theodora, Bryan Ramey, Lisa Kraase and one of the show’s curators Rachel Mello. Illustrator Daria Theodora’s work recalls the flowing, elegant and graceful lines characteristic of Art Nouveau aesthetics as well as Japanese woodblock prints.  Using fountain pen, colored pencils and ink, Theodora’s highly stylized flowers, gingko leaves and animals appear to burst out of the page.

Bryan Ramey’s work—like Theodora’s—is also characterized by fluid, elegant lines, however Ramey executes his lines with much more restraint, capturing the surreal and dream-like tendencies his drawings often convey.

Lisa Kraase’s sketches are some of the most colorful and most memorable in the show. At times spilling over two pages, the repetitive cosmic-like diagrams on view are in Kraase’s own words, “borderline obsessive.” I’d love to flip through one of Kraase’s sketchbooks and obsessed over her drawings.

The sketches of Rachel Mello depict much of the artist’s surroundings wherever she may be at a given point in time. Using ink, watercolor, pen and sometimes graphite, the artist takes her viewers on a stroll around the neighborhood, zooming in on architectural details of houses or zooming out on a section of a street or public square.

View from the Morrisville, VT Hospital, watercolor & brush pen on paper; 7″ x 5″ Image Courtesy of the Artist.

There are so many more sketchbook pages worth drooling over including those by Hannah Earley’s and her incredibly detailed studies of MBTA passengers as well as Tony Astone’s stunning comic book renderings—many left in pencil and others inked in, allowing the viewer to peek into his process.

Going back to my comment on pages torn out of sketchbooks, I understand that last year’s sketchbook show was curated and hung the same way as this year’s show, but what if a different approach in exhibiting sketchbooks is taken? More specifically, I am referring to The Sketchbook Project in New York City and how they organize and exhibit their more than 30,000 sketchbooks in their collection. The Sketchbook Project gives people the opportunity to browse and flip through an artist’s sketchbook cover to cover truly gaining a broader sense of an artist’s work and process. I find this approach much more fulfilling in that I can walk away with a better understanding of who the artist behind a certain sketchbook is and how they tackled a certain challenge or problem page after page. But that is just me, your approach in looking at a sketchbook may be different from mine and that is OKAY.

The annual Sketchbook Show is on view until March 03, 2016 at the Nave Gallery Annex, 53 Chester St in Davis Square (next to Redbones).

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Rachel Mello says:

    Hello! I’m so pleased you enjoyed our show– and sorry about the pangs of pain at the pages pulled out. I’d love to take a moment and address that point, if you’re interested. Most of all, though, I’m delighted you enjoyed the show!

    I do get it, of course. I have a 30 linear inches of bookshelf dedicated to filled sketchbooks… and I never take them down to look at them. But I have a pile about 14″ high, sliding all over a work table, of pages I’ve pulled out from my more recent books. I mine that pile every few days for ideas and details for my larger projects. More and more I’m letting the binding go, finding that the loose pages are actually *more* about working and process for me than the books are. But that’s not why we choose to do the show this way.

    What I appreciate most in a group show, in contrast to a one-person show, is seeing the work of different artists juxtaposed in ways that reveal something to me about them, that their own work alone doesn’t show. We especially enjoyed the different way that Laura Scheuerell and Catherine Aiello approached their travelogues, or the difference between how Aiello treated an accordion folded book and Heather Balchunas did, creating one, singular image. Seth Berkowitz and Yvonne Troxell Lamothe, both plan and plot their landscape paintings in very structural ways, which show their similarities and differences at the same time. For me, and, of course, this my be my more personal experience, I especially learn and appreciate the most when I’m able to look at the approaches several different artists take, together, juxtaposed, and to discuss with someone else, pointing and saying “see, like she does, there, and he does over there…” I find that exciting.

    I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing the Sketchbook Project work in person, though I look forward to doing so. It’s a very different kind of experience, I’m sure. One way it’s different is that they manage their variables by assigning all of the artists a specific book and a specific topic. Each (of that year’s? if I understand correctly), will be to the same theme, or subject, and all of them will be in the same physical format. That sounds terrifically exciting, too! And easier to hold one to another in one’s head, and discuss even when you can’t look and point at more than one at once. It’s just a very different project than looking at how individual artists choose to approach their own personal working processes without the externally decided constraints.

    If we do this show again next year (and I hope we will!) we may consider a name change. Something more broad that indicates that many approaches to sketch and sketch processes will be shown together. Or we’ll keep the name the same and let the understanding of what a “sketchbook” can be broaden to meet us. Too soon to tell, now. In the mean time, I am delighted that you enjoyed our show, and very much appreciated reading your thoughts!

    -Rachel Mello

    1. Anulfo Baez says:

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation Rachel. The Sketchbook Project does not require people to submit a sketchbook based on an assigned theme. You are the artist and you use the sketchbook however you want to use it. Those themes you see on their website are tags that relate to what is found inside a sketchbook, so any given sketchbook can have multiple tags or not.

      A few years ago, I reviewed an artist book show at the Library at the Museum of Fine Arts and all the books were laid out on tables for the duration of the exhibit. People were allowed to sit down and browse through books without moving them to another location. It worked well and those books that were too precious to handle without gloves, white gloves were provided.

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