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Drawn Thought: Artist Sketchbooks

“Drawn Thought,” the title of a teaching art exhibit now on display in Rock Springs, is something of a misnomer.

Many — maybe half — of the sketchbooks exhibited contain little to no drawing. In others, drawing might be only one component of the sketchbook.

These books present an intimate spill of whatever catches the artist’s mind at that moment: a scribble line drawing of a horse, a ticket to a museum, a phone number, the landscape observed and remembered. The artists, as curated by Florence Alfano McEwan, are sharing their “time to play, to fail, to wonder” as Diana Baumbach says in her statement.

Patrick Kikut watercolor, pen (Camellia El-Antably)

Pat Kikut contributed various small paintings of the landscape extracted from one of his books, along with a book displayed on a pedestal. His contributions contain few words — a place name, perhaps, or a date. The images show a preoccupation with capturing strong elements of the landscape such as buttes. And yet, his statement suggests that his other books might contain quite a lot of words “…ideas, poems, thoughts, phone numbers, maps and notes from visiting artist lectures.” Kikut later told me he found it a challenge to decide what to send.

Leah Hardy mentioned that she was careful in her selections because her sketchbook is very personal. In that sense, the entire show is an exercise in voyeurism. 

Leah Hardy mixed media (Camellia El-Antably)

Ashley Hope Carlisle’s book was leather bound in Italy and comes with its own carrying case. It reads more like a scrapbook of her development as an artist over time, starting when she was in graduate school nearly 20 years ago. Small sketches, quotes, thoughts about her life and ephemera create a trail only the artist can see.

Two artists contributed travel sketchbooks to the exhibition. Doug Russell’s exquisitely detailed drawings appear like finished miniature images, which he uses as an aid to memory instead of photographs. Linda Ryan is a sculptor; while she has a few very quick sketches, her book is primarily a written journal with ephemera pasted into it. 

Doug Russell mixed media (Camellia El-Antably)

Jennie Kiessling’s sketchbook also contains primarily writing. She notes in her statement that the “content has changed over time. Sometimes I worked with drawing, other times including notes…(now) mostly writing about everything from daily life to project research.” Small drawings, lines, shapes, and shading appear throughout, tiny and pale against the white paper.

John Giarrizzo sepia pencil (Camellia El-Antably)

Other sketchbooks show the effort of daily practice. John Giarrizzo draws figures, mostly nudes, with sepia pencil and his dog with blue pencil, in a large book. I found it interesting that as a teacher he recommends that students have a sketchbook “surgically” attached to themselves while his own sketchbook suggests regular but not daily use. Perhaps he maintains multiple books at once, like Jean Gumpper. Gumpper sent multiple books; one is a messy and fascinating compilation of drawings, writing and inserted photographs, and another where chosen images are pasted in neatly, but intentionally overlapping so they are folded when the book is closed. Sue Sommers binds her own sketchbooks and fills them with colorful images from the world around her. She builds her own sketchbooks to include multiple mini-books within the cover that can be interwoven and interact with each other. 

Sue Sommers mixed media (Camellia El-Antably

Matt West included the tools he has made for drawing in his sketchbook. The bamboo contraptions are two feet long or longer with beaded hangers at one end and a brush or pencil at the other. His book is the largest in the exhibit, a necessity for the exuberant paintings that loop across the page. Where West’s drawings are abstract, Mark Ritchie uses a similar looping line, almost a scribble, to create horses. 

Matt West mixed media (Camellia El-Antably)

McEwin commented that this is very much a teaching show. She conceived this exhibit after observing her students struggle with seeing the value of a sketchbook. Lacking experience, they do not perceive immediately the intimacy and the thinking process that a sketchbook can offer. Many of the artists have made guest appearances at Western Wyoming Community College, so they are people who might be familiar to the students, which increases the impact. She was pleased with the variety of approaches to sketchbook-keeping demonstrated by the show, hoping it might break open student perceptions of what a sketchbook “should” be.

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The line-up of artists is impressive. It includes many of the University of Wyoming professors, including Ritchie, Carlisle, Kikut, Baumbach, Hardy, and Russell. There are three artists from out of state: Lillianne Milgrom from the East Coast, and Kiessling and Gumpper from Colorado, both teaching at the college level. Wyoming’s community colleges are represented by West from Cheyenne, Giarrizzo from Cody and Ryan, recently retired from Casper, as well as McEwin and her teaching partner Bart Fetz. Finally, a few practicing artists working outside the college system in Wyoming: Sommers of Pinedale; Maria Rose Wimmer of Casper; Shane Steiss, an art teacher at Green River High School; and E. K. Wimmer, the curator at the Nicolaysen Art Museum.

Drawn Thought runs through Feb. 22 at the Western Wyoming Community College Art Gallery in Rock Springs, and is open to the public daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Camellia El-Antably is a visual artist and co-founder of Clay Paper Scissors Gallery in Cheyenne. She curates the Studio Wyoming Review.

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One Response to Drawn Thought: Artist Sketchbooks

  1. Lennie Poitras February 13, 2018 at 6:46 am #

    Nice post and great subject matter. It is inspiring to see the development of an artist and their artwork through their sketchbooks. I hope to get to Rock Springs to see the exhibition.

    Lander, Wyoming

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