Sketchbooks for Specific Places

An old friend in Australia reminded me after the last post that she was so happy to have one of the Common Thing books I talked about. Gloria Alport, who hosted me on several early teaching tours in the Sydney area. I smiled when she mentioned having the little book. The memories of being in her home and walking to her garden stepping on sample squares of upholstery textiles. They made such a lovely path, like magically marked slate stones embedded in the grass.

I also think of Gloria each time I attempt to draw something in a sketchbook. She took me to the Art Gallery of New South Wales and we drew things together. She told me that I made lines around the things I was drawing and to remember that those things were objects in a space, part in sharp detail and part fading away into the blur of edges. I remember that every time and remind myself to not just look at the outside edges but see what is happening in the space it takes up.

So I took along a sketchbook that I bought in New York City when Gwen Diehn and I were touring museums. It is a replica of one that Van Gogh used…..or so they say and of course i needed to have it. Here are a couple of drawings with Gwen done in that new book and the book itself.

Gwen has always been the fastest pen sketcher I know. It took some doing to keep up and get the ideas down quickly to use as reference later for my work about men in graduate school.

And here are the pages I was drawing with Gloria a short while later.

See what I mean?

Mostly I used this book only in museums and tried to get as much information as I could to take back home with me.

Here was my introduction to Bea Maddock, an Australian artist, print maker, and user of earth pigments. I could have stayed in front of this massive piece about the land of Tasmania and its Aboriginal history for two days and not seen all it had to offer.

Over the years that followed I had many more opportunities to see her work. And the only book about her that I have is more about her time as a print maker.

Later on I found myself in Vancouver at a museum without this little Van Gogh book so had to buy another small sketchbook in the museum store. It was an exhibition featuring the works of Emily Carr, Georgia O’Keefe and Frida Kahlo. I evidently did not bother to make my way to Kahlo’s work. I was too busy looking at the trees of Emily Carrs, reading her words and Georgia O’Keefe’s.

“What is that vital thing the woods contains?”  Emily Carr

“It is the unexplainable things in Nature that make me feel the world is big, far beyond my understanding. I attempt to understand it by trying to put it in form, by finding the feeling of infinity on the horizon or just over the next hill.”  Georgia O’Keefe

I found this book I made to explain about altering images of fine quality inked magazine pictures and then using those in your own work once they are way beyond the original artists work. It was a National Geographic aerial view of someplace arid, changed using a cleaning solution after a few hours of making marks with gesso and clear glue.

I was also giving a lesson on coptic binding used on this book and not wasting paper by folding the too long parts back into the book rather than cut and toss.

I like the feel of this book in my hands. It is about 4.5 x by 5.5 inches x 1.5 inches thick. I wrote how the book was made on the inside front page, then being influenced by Emily Carr I did a wash of trees over the ball point ink writing.

I think I will use this for just thoughts…the kind you just need to get out. No drawings allowed.

Here are six days of drawings a day…even went a day ahead just to finish off this sketchbook. It was number one of four made to use this year. Now I can start on number two day after tomorrow.

A pink flowered shrub

was planted meandering

throughout the landscape.


Bright yellow wild weed

helps itself to the outer

untended fringes.

Honeysuckle vine

has crawled all over every

available tree.


Little blue-eyed grass

can’t decide whether to be

a grass or flower.

Tiny lavender

flowers on delicate stems

on spaced out leaves.


So called creeping thyme

actually moves along

at the rate of time.

Okay enough for now….taking a break and going to read.

til later.


A Simple Little Book – Common Thing

I made a small edition of this book in graduate school. There were three little books like this. The other two were just a bit bigger. All had black cloth hard covers. I was dealing with intimate thoughts and wanted all three books small to be held in two hands to be opened slowly with a close eye to the way I chose to illustrate those thoughts and words.

It was the words of Thomas Wolfe that spoke to me. This one sentence while I was working out ideas of how to present the men on the corner and our relationship to one another, spoke volumes. I was firmly planted on what I referred to throughout my time in graduate school as “the threshold of the familiar.” Just what is it that makes us feel so “right” in this spot? What do we see beyond the threshold that makes us know we belong there? It is the familiar…the comfortable….the “I know this place….these people.”

Anyway Thomas Wolfe was asked questions about “creativity”…and that was back when the word meant more than gluing pleasing bits of things together. The author was asking his subjects what it was that sparked their creative minds.

Wolfe talked about being in Paris, I believe it was Paris, and when coming out of the door of where he was staying, he saw the chipped paint on the hand railing, a hand railing he grabbed every day.

But this day when he saw the railing, he did not see that one, but the one from home….and he saw that one in great detail.

And he said this:

“And this utterly familiar common thing would suddenly be revealed to me with all the wonder with which we discover a thing we have seen all our lives and yet have never known before.”

I know, reading it over it is a bit wordy….but he was a writer don’t forget. And I loved this sentence, this way of seeing and I still do.

It was the perfect length for a small book with illustrations of the familiar things between the men and myself….clothes hung on a line.

Here is the entire book, page by page, that is 4.25 x 5 inches by .25 thick.


I thought I would sell these books but never liked the idea of selling someone else’s words so I ended up giving most of them away. But only to those who I thought would really get what he was saying. That “discovery” of the familiar. It can take your breath away when you experience what he was talking about.

And you know what else I love about this book besides the simple illustrations of tiny cut blocks of stamping material (something so low tech)? It is that I stitched the illustrations before tipping them into place. That homeyness and universal familiarity of the stitch.

I also have to tell you that the font printed with my computer was called “Betty’s Hand”. My mother’s name. Over the years and different computers, this particular font did not make the transition and was lost along the way. I have a similar one called “Bradley Hand”. I used to spend so much time researching free fonts to download. Fonts that had a certain “look”.

Anyway I am trying to work myself back into the studio to design another book as soon as I get the Bush Book and the Stoat Book finished. Thank you to those who have asked me to hold them a copy of those books.

Now I am heading back in there to cook up some paste to put all those birds and animals and insects together….very carefully.

By this next week I should have them finished.

Til later.


More Wildflowers, More Drawings a Day and More

Silly wrens build these fragile nests inside the garage and then have no way of tending their young if they get locked out in the evening. So I got this one in time and moved it outside to a safe place but still close to the house as that seems to be what the little lady wanted.

It is amazing how light and loosely put together these nests are. Wrens must be in such a hurry to start laying eggs. I hope she or another bird finds it and puts it to good use.

I did have some spare time to go back to those wildflowers in the six way book. Still no improvements on this front. Dragging a brush across the gesso makes it muddy and less intense in color. But I do like doing them.

Some day this book will seem like quite a find in the documentation of the natural world. I hope to get it finished before I can’t even remember what I was doing with the book. What in the world possessed me to make the pages out of such thin paper and then having to gesso each page to make it usable. Why couldn’t I just use decent watercolor paper pages in the first place and a lot less of them to make the same size book. Always making things more difficult than they need to be. Well no one else would have a book like this. No one else would think nothing of filling their studio with thin papers gessoed on both sides and waiting days for them to dry to be folded into folios so they could stitch endlessly putting it all together only to be faced with having to use it! Maybe dementia is catching.

And here are the latest drawings a day.

Yellow succulent

with pale green leaves meanders

along the sidewalks.


Some interesting

grasses along the driveway

are now being drawn.

Very graceful grass

with spaced out bamboo-like leaves.

Good for tickling!


Late forsythia

blooming among dark green leaves

left from early blooms.


I worked out how the Stoat Book will be put together. Getting the fore edges to all match up with no white spaced in between images required rethinking how the text was to be laid out. Now I have all eleven pages saved in the computer just waiting for me to figure out which Epson printer to use. I also need to design a cover for it….graphite on an old contact print that has the same dull colors, a stoat tucked in somewhere. And “The Stoat Story” sounds a bit daft but after all that is the best I can come up with…because without him the old woman would still be in bed!

But I am not going to even start to print those pages for a very limited book edition without first finishing the Bush Book. I got tired of cutting all those 160 pages precisely so just quit for awhile. Well that does not get them finished so started back on them the other day when the caretaker was here. Now only forty more to go and I can start gluing them all together in order. Only ten of those books thank heavens! The problem is finding a long enough clean space in the studio to lay them out as I glue down the line.

Then it is perfect scoring and folding, adding the identification papers to the back of each page before making the covers and sleeves.

I really do need to get things finished and stop being distracted.

After both of these books are finished I would like to do a bit of writing….not much….to go with a layered concertina. Another book in black and white with a bit of red maybe. It would go with the other ones I am trying to do to keep up with my friends in Australia who are all making different bindings to go with different stories.

God forbid I get caught lagging behind!

That said I am off to cut up those forty pages.

BUT just before I go, here was my day today….clean up for the cleaning lady, do the drawing a day, make sure Lee and I had breakfast, hide down in the office with Lee doing a workout and watching the last of a cop series on Roku, then lunch, then facing the recall letter on my garage refrigerator, pulling it away from the wall to find the model and serial numbers, and then relocating everything in its freezer and frig sections to other places, making a call that puts one on hold til someone gets to you, scheduling an appointment to have it repaired rather than accept a measly rebate toward a new one, agreeing to wait til the part is mailed, getting the repair people’s call and make a tentative appointment to fix it, but being told that I have to give them all road names to get here because they do not trust GPS in the country.

Cutting forty papers on four sides each seems like a nice soothing thing to do. But sometimes I sure as hell wish there was someone else here who could lend a hand when needed.

Enough! The board shear waits.

The Rest of the Story and a Bit More

    Here is the last two days of drawings a day with haiku.

A bright yellow weed

with shiny waxy petals

and parsley-like leaves.


This was from a bush

that I always thought might be

wild huckleberry.


Now onto the rest of the Stoat Story.

      By now she knew the stoat would patiently wait for her as she stood transfixed to something she saw. It was hard to imagine where the things came from. And where was the parade going as it all passed her going back the way she and the stoat had come?

     The old woman laughed more than she had in years. It must have been the things she was seeing go by on her trip. The stoat certainly wasn’t saying or doing anything funny. He was taking his job quite seriously…. getting the old woman from where she came to where she was going.

     She found herself dawdling more each day. Maybe it was the worry that this would all be over soon. And the old woman did not want it to end. She grew dependent on waking up each morning knowing that there would be more of these extraordinary sights that brought back memories every day.

     When they got to where they were going would the parade of magical things be over? And for that matter would she have to give back the magic basket? Would she have to say goodbye to the stoat?

One day she thought she heard the stoat talking to someone over behind a big maple tree.

….”will she be ready soon?”

And  …”we are getting close.”

     The old woman could hardly believe that someone else was there with them. And she worried that things were going to change….and soon.

     It was at that moment of anxiety that it occurred to her to do something she had not done since she was child.

     A thing she did when she was afraid things would change and never be the same. And she wanted to hang onto what was there right at that moment.

     She stood very still, held her arms close to her sides, closed her eyes tight, and breathed in as deeply as she could. Breathe in everything around her. Breathe it so deeply that it pushed against her skin from the inside.

     Then hold her breath for as long as she could to keep it all there. There inside when she needed it again. When she missed it so much.


What seemed like a few days later, but it could have been longer because the old woman had lost all track of time, they came to a fork in the road. The stoat stopped and looked up at the old woman.

                 “We have come a very long way, you and I, haven’t we?”

     The old woman answered that they had indeed and asked the stoat if they could just keep going on like this forever.

       “I am afraid not, my dear.” 

        She did not want to be alone without the stoat and tears welled up in her eyes.

        The stoat started off in one direction and called back,

           “You will not be alone.”

                      And just then a grinning red fox stepped onto the other path.

         “Hello child. Follow me.”

             And this time she did.


                      The End


I am actually sorry to see the story end. Several things the old woman remembered were my memories. I still tend to hold my arms close to my sides, close my eyes and breathe in the things I don’t want to lose.  My grandmother made the best buckwheat pancakes. She did it with a springer spaniel named Freckles following her around the kitchen with his head just under her dress. If he couldn’t see anyone then no one could see him while he waited for her to drop something. Silly dog.

The stoat has been good company indeed.

Now I am laying out the images two at a time with the appropriate text to figure how to make a more manageable book. I don’t think I will bother to make a cover for the original one, but design one to make copies of for the new, larger version. The pictures will stay the same size and the text printed below….making it a book about 8 x 10 inches. I will arrange the fore edges to connect all images together but keep the concertina attached to the front and back cover with a spine connecting the covers. So the book could be turned a page at a time or pulled out into a circular tale.

I will post pictures of how that goes.

Til then.