Friday, September 9, 2016

A Landscape Retrospective

7/20/12 The first sketch in my Pentalic landscape sketchbook.
If you’ve kept up with my blog over time, it might seem like I’ve tried a lot of different sketchbooks and switch around frequently, but in fact, except for occasional dalliances, I’ve been stable for quite some time. I do simultaneously use a number of different sketchbooks and notebooks, but that’s because each has a different purpose. And while I choose from a variety of sketchbooks when at my desk (different papers, sizes and formats for different needs), all of the on-location sketches in my ongoing series of handbound, daily-carry sketchbooks are made and kept in chronological order. That chronological continuity appeals to me. The books have become a metaphor for life – each page turned is like one day following the next.

7/25/12 Starbucks
The one exception to that chronology is a landscape-format Pentalic watercolor sketchbook that I began about a year after I started sketching. At the time, I knew that a lot of watercolor-using urban sketchers preferred it, so I had picked one up, but frankly, I didn’t know enough about watercolors to take advantage of the fine quality paper in it. It turns out I didn’t know much about landscape-format books, either.

The very first sketch in it, dated July 20, 2012, was made at Phinney Farmers Market on one side of the page spread (top of post). Another sketch made a few days later is in ink only, again on one side of the spread (above). In a sketch dated Jan. 3, 2013 (below), I dabbled with a straight-to-watercolor technique in a sketch of a pickup truck – yet again not taking advantage of the landscape book’s format.
1/3/13 Green Lake parking lot

When open, a landscape-format book can be awkward and unwieldy to hold, especially while standing, and I realized that it didn’t make sense to use it unless I was planning to take advantage of a full page spread. In addition, the Pentalic 140-pound paper is relatively toothy, so if I wasn’t planning to add watercolor, it wasn’t a pleasing surface for fountain pens. Eventually I figured all of this out and decided to save the sketchbook only for times when I anticipated being in a place where broad landscapes and skylines or tall narrow objects might make the format useful. I also always bring it with me when I travel.

6/28/13 Seattle skyline

In June 2013 I used the Pentalic for a skyline view of downtown Seattle from Jack Block Park. In 2014 we went to Cannon Beach for the first time since I began sketching, and the landscape format came in very handy. A year later in Arles, France, the Pentalic was ideal for an obelisk I sketched in a town square. A few months later I went to the West Coast Sketch Crawl in San Diego, and the landscape format was required for the commanding size  of the USS Midway. In November that same year, the Tokyo Tower, too, demanded a long, skinny page.

5/19/14 Cannon Beach, Oregon

8/9/15 USS Midway, San Diego

I finally came to the last page spread in the Pentalic while I was in Bath, UK, and the tall-spired St. Michael’s Without Church was just right for it.
5/13/15 Arles, France

11/7/15 Tokyo Tower
Unique among my many sketchbooks, the landscape Pentalic has become a retrospective of four years of sketching all in one volume – the only book that covers a span of that duration. As much as I appreciate chronology, I love looking through this slim, 48-page sketchbook and seeing the various scenes I’ve sketched, places I’ve visited and especially how my sketching skills and style have grown.

I just bought a new landscape-format book – this time a Stillman & Birn softcover Beta. As before, I’m going to use it only when the format is called for, so it will take a while to fill. Someday I’ll have another retrospective volume.

Updated 6/21/18: Here's my retrospective of the landscape-format Stillman & Birn that I just filled.

8/10/16 Bath, UK


  1. It does seem a shame to use certain sketchbooks when you aren't using it to it's advantage. Most of my sketchbooks are also pretty chronological, but there is always that odd one that I start and don't complete for a few years. I didn' know S & B has a landscape format one. I wish there was somewhere at home that carried them.

  2. I set a high premium on the chronology thing too, but confess that I typically have 3-4 sketchbooks in progress because I like different formats/sizes available to me.

    One thing that's made a lot of this easier for me is to carry a thin board or coroplast. I have a 9x12 in my small bag and a 11x14 in the larger one. With this I can clip and sketchbook, even those landscape books, and I get to hold a single 'sheet', generally stuck into my belly and I have a very stable drawing platform, whether sitting or standing.

  3. Oh...forgot to say that I really liked all those long/tall sketches.


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