Of Sketchbooks and Runes

For Christmas my sister gave me a Hand*Book Journal Co. Travelogue sketchbook, and on New Year’s Day I decided to test the old superstition – that whatever you do on the first day of the year you will continue to do all year long – as a way to bring this creative part of my life back into practice. I began working on a painted collage page, using the tools I worked with while creating the Alchemy Notebook over a decade ago.

In the past I exclusively worked with Moleskine heavyweight sketchbooks, and I still enjoy working on that paper, which is similar to a hot pressed watercolor paper. The Hand*Book sketchbook paper is lighter in weight, but it has a nice tooth, and holds up very well to the light application of watercolor that my technique involves. They also make a watercolor sketchbook with heavier pages that I am looking forward to trying out at some point.


It has been very enjoyable doing this kind of creative work again, and the result has been that I have pulled out all of my old paints and pens and ephemera and have continued creating more of these painted pages in my sketchbooks. I am enjoying the change of pace, working on these pages between stages in the wood carving process. It has me thinking of ways to incorporate this kind of creative work directly with my wood carving process at some point down the road, which I find a very compelling prospect.

This first completed page has led to a two-page spread in my Moleskine large sketchbook, shown below.  This one incorporates more collage than the first, and so the heavier paper is helpful to support the additional paper elements. The colors in this painting are a little bolder than the first, and the overall feeling is a bit more complex, due, I expect, to my getting comfortable with this old medium anew. And since I am talking about comfort, I have also noticed the return of the experience of ‘flow’ that this artistic process provides, and it feels like an old friend that I haven’t visited in too long a time.


One difference between these paintings and the pages I created in my Alchemy Notebook in years past is the incorporation of the invented rune alphabet from my carvings into this written form. Because runes were designed to be carved and inscribed, incorporating clear straight lines to facilitate that process, I expect as I continue to work with this runic alphabet that it will undergo some adaptation from carving tool to pen. These runes are not historic runes, they are something I invented to incorporate into my artwork, to give an ancient feel to my work, and as a way to incorporate hidden messages.

All of these things feel wonderful – the familiar mixing with the feeling of newness, the discovery that is actually rediscovery, and the comfortable sense of homeyness I find in the tension these juxtapositions reveal. I read a wonderful article on Brain Pickings the other day about Eudora Welty that included this quote that gets at the heart of this process for me:

The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order, a timetable not necessarily — perhaps not possibly — chronological. The time as we know it subjectively is often the chronology that stories and novels follow: it is the continuous thread of revelation.

As I pick up where I left off, maybe a dozen years later, I am glad to read this – that the creative thread is continuous even when the timeline itself is not. I see this creative process as being like a gloriously painted deck of tarot cards, shuffled, whose order only makes sense when it is disrupted. As the cards are laid out over time the pattern is constellated, and only then is the thread of meaning revealed.


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