Saturday, September 9, 2023

Diebenkorn’s 4-Color Bic


The cover of the huge, 4-pound book is a facsimile of 
one of Diebenkorn's sketchbook covers.

After his death in 1993, painter and printmaker Richard Diebenkorn’s widow Phyllis donated 29 of his sketchbooks to Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center, where the sketchbook collection was digitized. Richard Diebenkorn: The Sketchbooks Revealed (a huge, 4-pound volume; I regretted having walked two miles to the library to pick it up) contains reproductions of a selection from each sketchbook. One book is reproduced in its entirety as a facsimile.

According to one essay in the book, “drawing was a steady preoccupation throughout his life” (Steven Nash), which is obvious in the prolific collection. Other than his “Ocean Park” series of abstract paintings, I was not familiar with most of Diebenkorn’s work when I learned of this book. It’s fascinating to see the huge number of life drawings, portraits, and other studies he made from observation that are so different from his abstracts (though scholars see the relationships). The California resident was also an urban sketcher, especially when he traveled, so of course I love seeing those sketches. I’ve often found that the sketches of painters reveal a candid and even vulnerable rawness that finished paintings do not – and I appreciate seeing evidence of that vulnerability here.

Travel sketches, 1980 (Diebenkorn) (It looks like he gave some parts of this sketch a wash, which surprised me because I didn't think ballpoint ink was water-soluble. Of course I tried it, and on some papers it will wash, but not much. He must have used another ink on the trees.)

Diebenkorn’s scholars are eating up the sketches, which are providing illuminating insight into the artist’s thinking behind the finished works. Although I’m not qualified to comment on the sketches from that perspective, there is one thing I think I may be qualified to comment on: Diebenkorn used a Bic 4-Color pen to sketch with!

Travel sketches, 1980 (Diebenkorn)

In 1980 Diebenkorn traveled to Athens, Malta, Sicily, Tunis and southern Italy, and all of his sketches from that trip were made in Sketchbook 4. Unfortunately, only a few pages from that book are included, but most of the sketches shown were done with black, blue, green and red ballpoint inks. For life drawing and other studies, he used many types of media. But it’s quite obvious to me that he wanted to travel light with simple materials, so he took along a 4-Color that he could easily pull out of a pocket while in a museum or while standing on a riverbank.

From Diebenkorn's travel sketchbook

Maybe it’s just my humble way of trying to identify with this artist, revered as “one of the premier American painters of the postwar era” (Wikipedia), but I am tickled and even moved that the lowly Bic was a sketching tool of choice.

If a 4-Color Bic is good enough for Richard Diebenkorn, it’s good enough for me.

9/5/23 Bic 4-Color in Field Notes sketchbook; Earthsworld reference photo
(I wonder why this guy has a piece of tape on his head!)

9/5/23 Bic 4-Color in Field Notes sketchbook; Earthsworld reference photo


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