The Sketchbooks of Hiroshige

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

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.

Flipping through the pages of any sketchbook, you get to see the way an artist thinks visually and not just the ideas as abstract ideas but something that has already taken form… and how he thinks in a specific medium. Moreover, you see how he made use of a specific size, color and type of surface, which can limit where the lines go, how big the gestures are and the effectiveness of a given color and 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.”

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, whether it’s looking at a single, central subject or an entire scene and where where multiple figures 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. Looking at the color of the sketchbook pages, I notice there is a choice not to give it a wash but to rather make use of it to suggest it’s a certain time of day, in which you’re catching a glimpse of the work they do in the early morning hours. The color of the pages help to set the tone of the entire sketchbook.