Sketchbook Surprise: Just Add Water

When I walk in the woods, I carry a tiny sketchbook. There is a particular spiral-bound one that has a special place now on my shelf, and in my heart. It showed me the way—a surprising way—on the Appalachian Trail in Killington, Vermont. I was with my family. We had found a secluded but easily accessible spot next to Kent Brook, with a canopied array of falling water, stepping stones, and a log along the riverbank for sitting and drinking it all in. Picnic perfection. 


Captivated by a contorted tree, my sketchbook and I ventured out to the middle of the stream, balancing on rocks to find a better angle. I leaned… wobbled… and closely avoided a plunge into the water.


My sketchbook did not.


In an instant I scooped up the dripping pages and proceeded to splay them out on a boulder to dry in the sun, knowing they would be forever changed. And the instant I started flipping through them, so was I.



It was a watershed moment. Literally. The water-soluble ink I often used had run through the pages creating ghostly impressions throughout, taking ‘coloring outside the lines’ to a whole new evocative level. I was no longer in charge of this little book—it had a mind of its own and was going places, telling me to tag along and learn something.


Back home after my sketchbook’s bath, I got busy being more playful in the studio. I messed around with laser print transfers and did weird, watery experiments.





This process gave me a language I didn’t know I needed to learn, and I now have a growing library of ‘watershed swatches’ that I use for my collage art. Digital iterations of this one (above) can be found in the backgrounds of the two top illustrations here.



I now seek out Paper Mate’s Flair® felt pens because of the way the ink bleeds and weeps when wet. Call me contrary. The company’s website has this description: “Quick-drying ink resists smearing and won’t bleed through paper—so you’ll always have neat notes.” Well… there is ‘neat’ and there is ‘neat-o!’ In any case, I hope the company keeps making my favorite pen forever. And I’ll just keep adding water.


There is much to be said about living intentionally. Which for me includes being more intentional about unintentionality—the spills and surprises that are bound to happen no matter how we orchestrate our days. By making space for making a mess, clean-up can be a joy, and a great excuse to rearrange, change, and grow.


More to come around the bend…

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