ANCIENT SCRIBBLERS


“WAVE ACTION” Handmade paper by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Drawing is a primal urge. Caveman depicted what he saw by drawing on rock walls. Children, from the earliest years, draw on anything made of paper, but drawing only became a standard art form when paper became available. At the beginning, paper was of poor quality and expensive, and parchment was too difficult to erase. You couldn’t dash off a quick sketch and it had too low a standard to use for serious art. But by the the 15th century, paper quality had improved to the point of opening the possibility of the sketch.

Renaissance artists sketched out their work before they drew, painted or sculpted it. This new ability to plan and toy with an idea raised their art to a new level not known before the Middle Ages.

Just as today, artists came with varying degrees of skill. Leonardo da Vinci was legendary for his skills as a draftsman. Michelangelo was equally brilliant, and many art historians consider him to have been the greatest draftsman who ever lived—though most of his drawing was scribbled chaotically on sheets of paper not intended for public view. The story is told of a sketch by Michelangelo that was displayed in the Palazzo de Medici for art students to copy. Since the sheet, like most of Michelangelo’s sheets, had a variety of sketches on it, students started tearing off pieces of it and they became scattered over many places. Those fortunate students who ended up with a remnant, treasured it.

Michelangelo used a great deal of paper–and almost any piece of paper he used contained a great many sketches. Only a few are finished drawings. A stunning drawing of the resurrection of Christ is also marked with a shopping list. Masterful drawings were folded up with notes of his neighbors comings and goings on the other side. Michelangelo may have been the first to jot down ideas for himself. Letter writing is another practice that blossomed with the widespread use of paper.

Leonardo was notorious in his lifetime for his inability to finish projects. Fortunately there was paper to capture his genius. Though he is usually thought of as a painter, only fifteen paintings, some unfinished, have been found, along with two damaged murals. He also attempted some sculpture, though he never finished one piece. But he left behind thirty bound notebooks. Unlike Michelangelo, he did want people to see this work on paper, including the notes he made in his mirror-image script a curious response to being left-handed. He left drawings depicting all kinds of inventions, and notes on literature, arts, mythology, anatomy, engineering, and more of all nature.

Leonardo also left behind four thousand sheets of drawings of staggering beauty. He was the first artist to be recognized for his drawings on paper. Leonardo’s work became the standard for art in Renaissance Florence. Studying art now meant working on paper, learning to draw. Leonardo had learned art that way himself, in the workshop taught by Andrea del Verrocchio. Artists have been trained on paper ever since.

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VISION SEEKERS


Vision Seeker
“The Vision Seeker” Molded Plastic, leather, fur, feathers and beadwork by KSR

We are all vision seekers. We seek knowledge of the past; hope for the future. The Native American may have gone into a secret place to commune with the unknown. We go into the world of books.

My passion for books came into being at such an early age that I presumed that it was an intrinsic quality, much like having brown hair. There were no books to read at my grandmother’s house, save her Bible and church literature. When my father was not at sea, his reading matter was far more interesting to me. He was an inveterate reader of fast-paced detective stories, as well as complicated naval manuals.

On the occasions in which I lived with Auntie and Uncle Phil, I headed immediately into their small library, which held all the old books from their daughter’s childhood, as well as reading material of interest to themselves. A small sunroom led off from the library, which formed a secret hiding place for me to sit with a book or two. The two of them had two comfortable chairs in the middle of the living room with table and lamp in between, where they spent their evenings reading before retiring at eight p.m. sharp.

My favorite places in the world are book stores, both new and used. As an only child I lost myself in the life and times of other people and places. Since we moved frequently at the Navy’s behest, books were a familiar and loved escape. The direction to the local library always came shortly after we settled into the new place, and a library card of your own was a treasured possession.

The delight of used bookstores came much later. Sadly there aren’t a lot of them around anymore, and the large chain bookstores seem to have disappeared with the advent of e-books. Fortunately internet shopping and the Half Price Book chain give us access to the world of books both old and new. There is something quite special about rummaging about in an old book store. There is always the possibility of finding something rare, or of finding a long-searched for book you can’t live without.

Both San Francisco and Seattle once had large old bookstores which carried not only books but old maps and prints. Dr. Advice once felt terribly proud to bring me a complete set of Dickens as a birthday gift. My granddaughter, an inveterate reader, shares my love of books, and I know I can always find something in an old bookstore she will love as well as I do.

There are so many people reading on their Kindle or computer these days, and Amazon and other companies make it simple for them to download a book immediately. Personally I would miss the feel and the smell of a book, plus the pleasure of passing it along to someone else. Browsing through friend’s homes to see what they keep on their bookshelves becomes another way to know them. I have one friend who scours thrift stores for old cookbooks. My home bookshelves are crowded with all sorts of books and we have shelves in every room in the house including bookshelves in the garage. A friend of my daughter looked around once and asked shat we did with all of them. “We read them of course”, I said, and them read the very good ones over again.

Dr. Advice had a knee replacement a decade ago, and since he only read the newspaper sports news up until that time, I wondered what he would do with all the long hours long during his recovery. The TV offerings can’t keep people fascinated for very long. I suggested he take up reading, and now he is never without a book in his hand. Louie Lamour, the author of many Western style books, was self-educated, and it is said he always had a book in his pocket. I have a number of friends I know to be great readers, and a normal greeting would be “What are you reading?”

Part of the excitement of an old bookstore is the smell which seems to have been absorbed into the woodwork. A combination of old paper, ink, and probably a lot of dust. A friend once stood in the doorway of my living room and announced that she “loved the smell” of it. It is a room we seldom use, and has the usual wall overflowing bookshelves. I asked her if she thought it might be like the smell of an old bookstore, and she went through a “Eureka!” moment before saying “That’s it!”