Sketching a dream Artists share their creative process in Sketchbook at Beals & Co.
ANartist’s sketchbook is by nature a private space, a visual journal, and an intimate, judgment-free zone in which to think through ideas. Yet sketchbooks are coveted by art lovers as well as other artists, all of whom thrill to see the inner workings of the creative mind or gain insight into another’s process. Carried in a beaten satchel or stuffed in a back pocket so that, should inspiration strike, the artist could conceivably stop anywhere to make a quick drawing, sketchbooks can take on the significance of sacred objects. They are rarely entirely devoted to actual sketching or laying the groundwork for future projects. There are no rules dictating what a sketchbook must be used for — other than the practice of recording some aspect of an individual’s artistic life on a set of blank pages — so, in addition to preliminary drawings or ideas, an artist is just as likely to jot down random thoughts, appointments, and internet passwords as he or she is to press a used palette’s worth of paint, plant life, desiccated insects, or other bits of inspirational ephemera between the pages.
Superstition abounds when opening a brand-new sketchbook. It is common practice to turn past the first blank page because of the potential for making a mess right out of the gate. “A lot of the time the first few pages are ripped out because you don’t want a crappy drawing to be the first thing someone sees when you show them your sketchbook,” said Frank Gonzales, a Phoenixbased artist who is participating in Sketchbook, a group exhibition opening at the Beals & Company showroom on Canyon Road on Saturday, Nov. 5. The other artists in the show are painters David Santiago, Petecia Le Fawnhawk, A. Nigh Herndon, and Tim Kenney; photographer Justin Britt; and sculptors Upton Greyshoes Ethelbah and Tammy Garcia.
Gonzales, who paints brightly colored, slightly surreal portraits of birds, with and without flowers and cacti, said presenting a sketchbook alongside a painting required making himself vulnerable, because he is used to showing finished pieces, not unsuccessful forays into possibility that create their own history as they are worked, overworked, and often abandoned for a fresh page. He admits he does not keep a sketchbook as religiously as other artists, and he tends to use his to store ideas and interesting seedpods from his local botanical garden — but getting involved with the show at Beals & Company has stimulated a desire to work in his sketchbook in a more disciplined fashion. “I want to feed off that energy so that even when I’m not in the studio, I’m still working, still producing ideas and putting something out there.”
The artists in the exhibition are ostensibly including the sketchbook they kept before the generation of their finished piece, though that guideline has been loosely interpreted. Gonzales has worked diligently these past few months to fill the heavy pages of his hand-bound sketchbook, but some of it remained blank when he shipped it off to Santa Fe. “My hope is that whoever buys it, that they can contribute to it as well,” he said.
A. Nigh Herndon approached the project from the opposite end of the spectrum. His sketchbook is more accurately an artist book, a medium that is explicitly created to be a finished piece of art, with content that adheres to a specific subject or theme. Herndon’s sketchbook is a one-of-a-kind collection of poetry that will never be available in any other form. The Moleskine-brand sketchbook, made with Japanese accordion paper and titled topiario, is filled with original writing by the Mexican poet Ismael Velázquez Juárez, hand-lettered by Herndon in the Helvetica font. The accompanying images are 35 mm photographs Herndon took with a Soviet-era Russian knockoff of a German Leica II camera. “It looks just like a Leica, and it was super cheap, but the lens is awful. It’s like a piece of glass with bubbles in it,” he said. The resulting images are darker than they should be, the colors all wrong.
Herndon, who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Mexico City, lived in Santa Fe during the summer of 2016 in a studio on Buffalo Grass Road, on the south side of town. He spent 12 to 13 hours a day working, which is typical for him. “I got into art to have a lot of alone time; my isolation in Santa Fe was self-imposed,” he said, describing the 11-by-14-inch diptych he made for Sketchbook. One panel is a stretched piece of Belgian linen, and the other is a photograph taken with the Russian camera of the Santa Fe sky at night, printed on raw, unprimed canvas and covered by a window screen.
Herndon’s work rests in subtle gradations of gray and tiny nuances of light and texture. He began his career as a portrait artist but came to realize he wanted something else. “I think the human form is easily accessible, easily recognizable, and gives the viewer instant gratification,” he said. He decided to follow in the aesthetic footsteps of one of his favorite painters, Agnes Martin, and changed the direction of his work. “But as of late, none of my paintings have a single drop of paint on them, so I guess they’re not paintings anymore,” he said. “They’re almost sculptural.” He rejects the “mixed-media artist” label because materials are too important to him to collapse them into a catch-all phrase. “It’s like being a chef and seeing a recipe that says, ‘Add a bunch of stuff.’ Have you made cookies or rump roast? I’d