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An American Master's Drawings and Sketchbooks
By GJ Gillespie, artist and founder of Leda Art Supply

Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) was one of the preeminent American artists of the 20th century, renowned for his abstract and figurative paintings that synthesized cubism, expressionism, and representational painting into a unique style.

But before Diebenkorn created his large-scale finished canvases, he honed his craft through drawings and sketches, filling dozens of sketchbooks throughout his career. These intimate sketchbooks provide a window into Diebenkorn's artistic process and development.

Born in Portland, Oregon in 1922, Diebenkorn began developing his artistic talents from a young age. He served in the Marine Corps during WWII before enrolling at the California School of Fine Arts in 1946 to study under luminaries like David Park and Hassel Smith. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Diebenkorn participated in the Bay Area Figurative Movement with Park and Elmer Bischoff, moving towards expressive figurative painting.

By the mid 1950s, he shifted towards abstraction, creating his iconic Ocean Park series combining abstraction with landscape. Over his long career, Diebenkorn taught at universities, received numerous honors including a National Medal of Arts, and saw his works acquired by major museums. When he passed away 30 years ago in 1993, he left behind an invaluable trove of sketchbooks spanning decades.
Diebenkorn’s sketchbooks reveal his rigorous observational drawing abilities and constant experimentation with line, color, and composition. They contain landscape studies, life drawings, abstract geometric designs, sketches made while traveling, and preliminary studies for major paintings.

Diebenkorn believed in drawing from life, stating “I draw to see” and to understand his subjects on a deeper level. He carried sketchbooks wherever he went and drew daily, using the sketching process to distill scenes into essential lines and shapes. As he put it, “Drawing is working your way out of the nest of details and into the clarity of the statement.”

Many sketches in Diebenkorn’s books capture his native California, with repeated studies of the same landscapes and buildings rendered with economy of line. Other sketches are more finished works, like a colored pencil still life study sold at auction for over $100,000. Throughout his career, the sketchbooks served as repositories for ideas and as a place for Diebenkorn to experiment freely without artistic constraints.

He advises artists, “Get in the habit of drawing, keep a sketchbook...start anywhere and let your hand wander over the page.” His wife Phyllis called the sketchbooks Diebenkorn's "most private works" encapsulating his creative essence.

Today, 29 of Diebenkorn's treasured sketchbooks containing 1,045 drawings are digitized and accessible online for free public viewing through Stanford's Cantor Arts Center website. Visitors can marvel at Diebenkorn's technical skill and immerse themselves in his artistic journey.

At Leda Art Supply, our premium sketchbooks are ideal for emulating masters like Diebenkorn. Available in pocket, medium, large, extra large, square and landscape sizes, these durable, bookbound journals feature 160 pages of smooth, acid-free paper with slight tooth, perfect for pencil, ink, light watercolor and more.

The paper takes wet media beautifully without being overly thick. The stitch-sewn binding allows the books to lay flat when open. Capture life's beauty through drawing as Diebenkorn did, knowing a Leda sketchbook will be your creative companion on your own artistic journey.

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