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19 April 2017

Lost, Found, and Made

On Sketchbooks

I RECENTLY MISPLACED A SKETCHBOOK. Not one of my more precious ones, it was small and pocketable enough to bring with me without a backpack and a pack of sanguine pencils. A paper Moleskin, I treated it as less precious, which is why I drew in it with ordinary graphite, which I always have in my pocket. Not that I was cavalier about it, and misplacing a sketchbook is, for those of us who rely on them, a constant background fear. So not finding it on a day when I wanted to take it with me, I rifled through my two backpacks, jacket pockets, piles of books, to no avail.

After a week I’d gotten used to the idea that I’d lost it; or maybe it was stolen, certainly not for its own sake but because pickpockets are rife in Rome. But coming to Lucca for Easter I put on a warmer jacket for the Vigil mass, and there it was, grazie Dio. I then remembered that I’d brought it to show the shop where I was having a new leather-bound sketchbook made. Several years ago, before we bought an apartment in Lucca, I was in town with my students and found a leather shop that made beautiful books with handmade Amalfi paper. After working in it for years mostly in sanguine, occasionally adding black chalk, it was nearing its last pages and I was ready for a new one.

How wonderful, in this plastic, mass-produced or outsourced world, to have something like this made for you. Officina della Pelle is a thriving shop, actually three, in Lucca that makes a variety of leather goods. When you begin using a sketchbook I would advocate using an un-precious one, so as not to be intimidated when drawing, afraid to make a mistake. But when the habit becomes a pleasure, and the work in the book reaches a quality that merits it, a lovely book is actually a spur to drawing even better—and lately, for me, more adventurously.

The food world has been remarkably successful in the last few decades at promoting local and organic food—from produce to cheeses. In the arts we’ve been less good at supporting paper makers, book binders, and other craftspeople who make the “ingredients” artists need to measure up to the past. So, if you know one, indulge in spending a little more to have a book made, to use handmade paper, or work with traditionally-made oil paints. If you don’t, they will most surely be lost, and much harder to recover than my lost sketchbook.

A recent plein air watercolor from Lucca at pleinairitaly