The Sketchbooks of Hiroshige

The Sketchbooks of Hiroshige (2001) by Daniel J Boorstin (foreward) and Sherman E Lee (introduction)

[Transcript of video below.]

I recently discovered this at a used bookstore. It’s a reproduction of two sketchbooks by a Japanese artist by the name of Hiroshige, which are currently held in The Library of Congress.

There are two editions. One is perfect bound and the other, this one, opens out like an accordion, which is similar to how classic Japanese literature were bound. In the perfect bound edition, you don’t get to see the sketches all the way to the edge. While, after a brief forward and introduction, [this edition] immediately gets into the plates and you can open up each volume in its entirety. Each page flowing into the other page.

I don’t personally keep a sketchbook, because the size of the surface area I know has an influence on what I draw… where the lines go, how big my gestures are… as do the color of the surface and what kind of medium I’m using.

I do enjoy looking through the sketchbooks of other artists as well as the drawings they create on free leaf, because you get to see the way an artist thinks and not just the ideas as abstract ideas but something that has already taken form… and how the artist thinks in a specific medium.

To quote Daniel Boorstin, in his foreward, “The economy of these pages, like the simplicity of the Japanese garden, reminds us of the Zen paradox of the redolence and fullness of empty space.”

So again, the color of the background is important, and I’m glad it’s all uniform, because Hiroshige is utilizing the negative space as a major feature, so it’s really easy to see and appreciate the simplicity of his gestures and strokes, which somehow depict a scene in a very vivid and meaningful way… and it’s not just the gesture of a single, central subject. It’s an entire scene and where they stand in relation to each other.

In only a few strokes, you know these are two people here and two more here carrying a load of some kind together… and here are some shrubbery… and back to the color again, which suggests it’s a certain time of day, in which you’re catching a glimpse of the work they do in the early morning hours.