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Julie Baugnet Erica Bohanon Jacqueline Kielkopf Jane Lieber Mays Patricia Olson

A few years ago, I became fascinated by the medieval inquiry of alchemy. It seemed a perfect metaphor for the creative process—taking ordinary materials, subjecting them to an intense process, and ending up with the pure gold of a new thing.
So I sought out books and other materials about alchemy and soon was mystified by the strangeness of it all: it was nothing if not esoteric and opaque. But slowly the words and drawings (especially the drawings) revealed themselves, and I began to appreciate the wisdom and occasional silliness of the different approaches.

Over the years, I’ve been privileged to view the private sketchbooks of artists and designers. Their sketchbooks have always struck me with the same wonderment as that first encounter with alchemy—an introduction to a private, magical language intended for no broad audience but the artist herself. Here is where the secrets of their creative work are revealed. Like the alchemical drawings, the pages of sketchbooks have a pure, aesthetic appeal, being beautiful objects in themselves. At the same time, like alchemical treatises, they reveal the inner workings of the creative process to those who would take the time to look and see. A deeply personal, visual language is being nurtured here, a unique vision coaxed into view.

Each artist and designer has her own process that will change over the course of her career depending on her circumstances and her projects. The five artists and designers who have generously agreed to reveal their sketchbook struggles, and the resulting final pieces, all have specific ways of using sketchbooks that work for them.

Patricia Olson, curator