The publication of a new painting or sketching book from Cathy Johnson is always an happy and exciting event for me. Johnson is one of my art heroes. Like many other artists I was first aware of her work through her how-to-articles in The Artist Magazine as well as the fabulous drawing and painting books she did with the Sierra Club. (Those links are from Amazon only because I could find them quickly. I’m not connected to Amazon.)
Of course I love Johnson’s straightforward and clear directions, her step-by-step demonstrations which take you through her process, but even more what I love is seeing a fabulous range of her sketching work.
While she works in a variety of media as it suits her needs, she primarily sketches in ink and watercolor. Her sketches always have a painterly economy that transcends the sketchbook (I’d be happy to have any journal page on my wall). Her work creates an easy balance between design and artistry. You always know when looking at her sketches what her focal point is and what she is attempting to convey to the reader.
This is important role modeling for all artists who seek to go out into the field. Too often artists go out into the world and let nature, or an urban setting, fluster them. Johnson stays focused.
But as I so often like to say, “But wait there’s more…”
For me Johnson’s work has a sincerity and honesty that comes from actually working in the fields and byways for decades, not months. This is a practice she’s had in her life, a path that she has walked, experimented on, and has been reporting back to us about long before this current trend in urban sketching took fire.
The depth of her practice shows in her work and her approaches—solid advice and sound practices.
Like many sketching and visual journaling books published recently, this book includes work from other artists besides the author. It’s great to see the variation of approach each artist brings to his or her work, but my eye keeps coming back to Johnson's spare sketches—the vignetted landscapes, the views into the forest, the vistas across bodies of water. These speak to me of the patient and observant eye that recorded them. These weren’t one-off adventures, meant to impress by their unusual view or subject matter. These are quiet and respectful conversations with Nature and her surroundings. (Disclaimer—I’m very pleased to have some of my page spreads included in this book with the work of so many artists whose work I also love.)
One of the great gifts that comes through any Cathy Johnson book is the clear statement that when you set up your practice and follow through, showing up day after day in any season, in any weather, with any distraction, that connections to the small or even mundane become revealed as marvelous in their own right.
Johnson’s books remind the sketcher that if she looks closely, and keeps her mind open, she needs never be bored, she needs never be at a loss for a sketching subject. I think this is an important message. It reminds the artist to listen to herself and not the fads of art all around her clamoring for attention.
So whether or not you’re an experienced plein air or urban sketcher, or you are someone just starting out with a sketching habit, I think this new book is a great resource. If you’re experienced the book will remind you of how rich a visual vocabulary you will be able to develop over a lifetime of showing up to do your practice. It will remind you of the richness of taking a second, third, or fourth view.
And if you are just starting out in your sketching life you will be receiving sound advice from an artist who has shown up to do her work and still has the capacity to delight us, and so much more to show us.
You can read more about the book and order it directly from the author here.