Introduction to the book: Illuminated Sketchbooks: Susan Newbold

Inscribing the Landscape

Patricia Miranda

Newbold is a pellegrina of landscape. Her hand-bound sketchbooks, only a small selection of which are represented here, record her peripatetic travel over years and continents. They are situated within a tradition of travel journals, from Eugène Delacroix to Françoise Gilot publishing her travel sketchbooks at age 96, to the recent work of José Naranja. The books trace a winding path from place to paper, drawing a map across the terra of our round planet in pencil, pen, ink, and watery color. We walk beside her, fellow travelers, as she narrates her encounters with water and soil, sky and rock, and always, water.

In the intensity of her gaze all is found equal, the diminutive pictorial space built from attentive observation, inch by inch, moment by moment, the crack between a branch as fundamental as the volume of a tree. The kinetic of her lines move over a terrain like strokes of rapid eye movement. Lines alternately describe a form, or coalesce into text in a diaristic micrography that wraps around, retitles, recounts, and ruminates on place before dissolving again into a path, a building, a bank of trees. Images stream from the page in animated polychrome motion. The books are akin to personal illuminated manuscripts, tiny text encircling, enclosing, interweaving image.

At times the drawings describe vivid detail, at others they are dreamlike floating forms, felt more than seen, reflecting location in geography, temperature, and atmosphere. Books from Maine are big sea and sky, craggy rock, jagged sharp trees; California is watery and open, colors airy and light, vegetation lush and precise. Colorado is stern and wintry, lines of bare trees cutting shapes into the sky. France reflects the ancient tilled soil, geometric shapes of farmland and baroque houses in pale ochres and curled lines, while Egypt is a record of objects in sharp focus, photos and drawings a taxonomy of pattern.

Richard Long made a line by walking, treading a thought through a field, a temporal diary left in the grass. He inscribed a path, as if to locate himself on the planet through the bottom of his feet. Looking at his work the curve of the earth is made visible, while still tethered to the dirt underneath, evidenced by his small footprints placed upon its roundness.

Susan Newbold inscribes her footprint in the intimacy of the handheld, the handmade book. She tethers our feet through the interiority of a diary, a private form that unfolds and re-forms with each encounter. To observe requires permission and participation; we are voyeurs and collaborators as pages unfurl under our hands, close to our body, near to our heart. Through meandering these pages our feet touch earth in a rhythmic path, pace by pace, dreaming.

Patricia Miranda

July 2021