I just did something I swore I would never ever do. I cut the drawings out of my sketch journal. I used a sharp blade but it hurt anyway and I could have sworn I heard that book weep. A sketch should stay in the book, period. Larry Barth, a bird sculptor whose wonderful sketchbooks I’ve been privileged to examine, once told me, “sketches are your tools”. And so they are. And so, in the end, that’s why I took them out of the book- so they would be useful.
I keep a hardbound sketchbook for a special purpose. It measures 81/2″ x 11″, is filled with white paper, saddle-stitched in a khaki-green cloth cover. It’s been going to the tropics with me since 1998, on my second trip to Panama’s Barro Colorado Island. It was there I began filling its pages with ink drawings of the intricate, glorious tropical rainforest environment. With nothing between me and the forest floor but a plastic trash bag to keep me dry and moderately chigger-free, I would spend hours cross-legged rendering tree-fall gaps, vine-covered buttressed trees, bromelliads, confusion and complexity. Sorting out the visual madness and chaos, I would edit, crop, relocate trunks and branches, and emphasize ferns, termite nests and lianas as I went. No pencil underdrawing, just plain ink on paper (with a number 0 rapidiograph), starting in the foreground and working my way back to infinity, and drawing until the afternoon rains began and the sketchbook was put away in a plastic bag. In the rainforest, ziploc is your friend. I could get wet, but the book had to stay dry.
Over the years, my tropical sketchbook has become more and more precious as it’s been filled, page after page. I had become a little nervous about even taking it out of the house. You know, when something is that precious it ceases to be useful. I have let a few drawings go here and there, one to be published and then given as a gift to the author of a book on BCI, Egbert Leigh, and another framed for the exhibition, “Focus on Nature” at the New York State Museum, and subsequently traded for an amazingly beautiful plein air oil by my friend James Coe. So I haven’t been exactly a purist about keeping the integrity of my sketch journal. And now I want to turn my drawings into etchings. To get them flat on my scanner, they had to come out of the book.