Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Romance of the Sketchbook

Like many people, I have always been fascinated with the talent of artists to render the world around them in drawings and paintings.  And so when I opened up this gift from a lovely friend it struck a chord in my imagination.  At first I wasn't sure what this object was.  There was an enticing tag from the company that made it:   

 "Our many free-spirited travel adventures and time spent admiring the splendours of nature has inspired us." 

When I untied it and spread it open, I discovered that it was a sketchbook with a dozen colored pencils.  The little silver object at the end of the tie is a pencil sharpener.  Looking at it made me smile.  I thought about travelers in the past who would sketch the wonders they saw on their travels in a sketchbook such as this.  I thought about the lost art of drawing which was typically taught to young people in the nineteenth-century.  Many young men and women at that time could actually draw fairly well.  I  also thought about many of the books I have read with characters who did not venture further than their small village, but because they learned how to draw and paint would spend hours sketching a lovely view or members of their family.   This seems to occur regularly in the novels of Jane Austen.

I remembered a book filled with sketches by Queen Victoria that I owned and I pulled it off my bookshelf to have a look.  I flipped through the pages and saw many charming drawings and watercolors done by Victoria throughout her life. Here was a young woman who learned how to draw and paint and immortalized many events and scenes in her life, including travels to her beloved Scottish Highlands.  She was a passionate recorder of everything around her.  We learn a lot about her from a book like this; her sketches show her delight and pleasure in the ballet and opera,  her coronation and wedding, her ever-increasing family, and her travels abroad.  In her case keeping a sketchbook was just another way of keeping a diary.  And she was a prolific writer of diaries throughout her lifetime.  Here are a few images from the book: 

On the right is Lord Melbourne shown at Victoria's coronation in Westminster Abbey 
On the left is the view of Westminster Abbey from Buckingham Palace 

A family scene at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight where Victoria lived with her family 

Ardverikie Lodge in Scotland with the dramatic scenery that Victoria loved

Her children dressed in Highland costumes

This sketchbook also made me think about the great artists such as John Singer Sargent and their romantic fascination with travel to places such as Italy.  Sargent had a lifelong love of Italy where he was born and he painted many watercolors there out of his passion for Italy's people, land and culture. 


Thinking about those who would chronicle their daily life and record their travels in drawings and watercolors has made me think about the quickness of everything we do today.  The camera is the tool  that most of us choose to record the moments we want to preserve.  But wouldn't it be fun to travel to a country we love such as Italy or Scotland and take art classes, learning how to draw and paint landscapes or other scenes   It would be a luxury to take the time and sketch the things we see.  To draw and paint our world would require us to really look at things.  I would imagine that we would be more connected to the beauty all around us if we tried to capture all those moments that really touch us through drawing or painting.  

"The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible." 
--  Oscar Wilde 

"True life is lived when tiny changes occur."
--  Leo Tolstoy

Here's to noticing the beauty all around us and doing something new.  Is there an art class in my future?


  1. Beautiful thoughts. You remind me to revisit my great Aunt's, writings, sketches, and watercolors. Born early last century, steeped in liberal education, a lovely reflection of less technologically-ravaged times.

  2. Sunday,

    What a special gift to receive from your friend! And the sketchbook of Queen Victoria, I love it. I must locate one for myself.

    It is so interesting to me that most women were taught art, drawing, water color and music. I myself am not artistic, so I often think what would have been my talent in Regency England or the Victorian Age?

    I hope you have a great weekend. Looking forward to Downton Abbey and to what happens with Mr. Bates.


  3. I would say yes -- an art class is in your future! They don't really sketch on Downton Abbey do they? I wonder why that is...?


  4. What a great gift. I must be the only artist I know who never uses or carries a sketchbook. Not sure why, but I've often wondered about it. I've also never kept a journal. I too often, feel in a hurry, and I really want that to change. I hope you have fun with your sketchbook, and I love that it has the sharpener attached.

  5. I want to tell you that I really love your blog and so enjoy your posts. To me, your blog is a sort of sketchbook of your life, but I can understand your desire to take a slower and more intimate approach to chronicling your travels. I've often wondered why art and music aren't basic skills for today's children like they were in centuries past.
    Thank you again for your lovely blog!

  6. Your blog is beautiful. At Christmas dinner, last year, the daughter of one of our friends mentioned LA in Bloom - and today, while viewing your daughter's (LA In Bloom) newest entry, we found your blog. Talented Mother - talented daughter! In 2010, we also began a blog as part of our architectural business. It's not only about our work (periodically), but also about the things we enjoy and appreciate: art, dance, design, creative problem solving, etc. If you have a moment, take a look:

    Hope you enjoy our view of things - we will look forward to future posts from you!

  7. sketching appears to be a lost art - and, I agree, what a wonderful way to slow down and really look at the sites that inspire you. I have researched art programs in Italy and France (through local cultural institutions) and found an abundance of offerings there. The Sargent book looks fantastic...!

  8. stunning how wonderful you are... I am not sure why people have not discovered this blog

  9. I thought that learning to draw would be nearly impossible for me, but I took a class anyway. I felt like living proof that ANYONE can learn to draw. I am still a novice, but I have found drawing to be so relaxing. It makes me notice the smallest details in ways that I wouldn't have before. When I draw, I completely lose track of the passage of time.

    This is a beautiful post. You're right; we should slow down long enough to notice that there are intrigues all around. I hope you enjoy filling up you sketch book!


  10. I had forgotten about Queen Victoria's sketchbook! One of the professors I worked for at OU had a copy--it was absolutely marvelous and I remember wishing at the time that I had an opportunity to delve into it. I'll have to see if I can scrounge up a copy for myself.

  11. I have never seen Queen Victoria's Sketchbook - so charming. I gave that exact same set to my daughter for Christmas - love it!!

  12. What is the brand of the sketchbook/colored pencil holder? Thanks!