“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.”
“The older I get the more comfortable I get with the idea that it’s all life and it’s all art.”
Mandolyn Wilson Rosen
Mandolyn Wilson Rosen has a deep, rich history with sketchbooks. Their pages are a creative resting spot. They are also important visual and written repositories of daily life, containing calendars, lists, notes about conversations, as well as documenting momentous events like 9/11 and sheltering at home during the pandemic. Her sketchbook teems with the day-to-day of both art and life.
She first learned that sketchbooks could be a “source” to generate ideas -- and that ideas could “come from dreams, songs,” and the like – in her 9th-grade art class. All areas of her life became ingredients for sketching.
In college, her sketchbook was a travel companion. That book “was about recording all the amazing art I saw around Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio” during a semester abroad in Italy. A trip to Paris in 2018 lifted her out of her day to day, transporting her to an environment where time was suspended. On this trip, too, her sketchbook was a recording device.
Like many artists, she experiences ebbs and flows working in a sketchbook. Her last sabbatical from keeping a sketchbook lasted about six years, during a transition from New York City to upstate, as she began to raise her family. Her sketchbook practice reignited around 2013/14.
Like Amy Talluto, Mandy thinks about the future, when her children will be looking at the books’ filled pages. “I think about it as making a record for them. It’s not just to capture and hold on to an active life and an art practice but a repository and document for our family.” She’s mindful about sharing them. For several years, her art practice wasn’t visible to her children because her sketching and studio time occurred when they were sleeping or at school. “It was the only way I could get some head space. Now, they’re getting older and I can share it with them.” One of the loving experiences Mandy shared is a drawing collaboration (pictured)with her daughter, Wanda. Like Beth Humphrey’s interventions in her father’s sketchbooks, Wanda’s participation in Mandy’s sketchbook is invited -- and sometimes a bit unexpected. Mandy embraces the exchanges because it records their dialogue.
Early in the pandemic while her family sheltered at home, her sketchbook served as a ledger of new language and imagery. She drew small, selected areas of her home. She made a practice of observing what was “right in front [her] and capturing a range of values.” As time progressed and restrictions loosened, the needs of the book shifted. “Most of my interactions with artists have been on Zoom: teaching, drawing, conversations where people talked about things I should be looking at. I like to listen to podcasts while I draw, so the books include notes from what I was listening to.”
The sketchbooks are not just future records for her children. They’re also a repository for Mandy. “I’m very conscious about forgetting the past. I was always so impressed by those who had an archive. I feel I have a terrible memory. So I date my sketchbooks and try to be diligent noting the where, the when and with whom.” She refers to her older sketchbooks to make connections with her current work and, at times, to take inventory of where she’s been and of her interests. “I go back to review and notice. There might be a lot of hairdo drawings or stripe drawings. So maybe I should make a painting with stripes and a hairdo. I see a pattern emerge and that helps me figure out what’s next.” Spending such thoughtful time in review helps her identify these lineages in her thinking.
Mandy’s sketchbooks offer a very important place of creative freedom, especially when she has little time. They are also foundational to her art practice. A sketch can serve as a plan for her art, or the art can develop as a response to the sketch. She also sketches to figure out problems as she’s making pieces, often midway through a painting.
Mandy recalled wisdom imparted by artist/professor Taylor Davis during her time in the MFA program at Bard College: She said something like: ‘You seem to be talking a lot about what you have permission to do as an artist and you need to just let go of all of that. You need to figure out what you really want to do, the kind of art you really enjoy and delve into that.” Those words freed Mandy to make her work “for the pure pleasure of it.”
Would you like to know more
about Mandy and her work? Visit her