I first started keeping a diary at the age of 12, after I read the diaries of Anne Frank. It had a huge impact on me! These were primarily written diaries, but I did occasionally doodle in them, and of course at the back of my school notebooks. These evolved into visual journals with my early sketchbooks being simple ruled notebooks while at design school. I then got really excited about binding my own books with whatever paper I could find. I mostly recycled old paper, and made my covers out of discarded cardboard cartons and all the thrown paper I could find. I particularly liked torn edges, and went out of my way to keep my books raw and rustic. So I did make a lot of sketchbooks during my student days, there was a phase when I would actually burn the edges of the paper in my books that would give it an old, organic feel! I then went on to make sketchboxes, wooden boxes, tiffin boxes, pan boxes....with watercolour paper in them. I would stitch leather or cloth pouches to house my watercolour paper, I've made all sorts of books!
Nowadays my sketchbooks don't necessarily have a theme. Sometimes when I'm travelling to a new destination, I know that the sketchbook will capture the essence of that place. So I do have a Cuba sketchbook, a Paris sketchbook, a Vietnam sketchbook and so on. But very often, my sketchbooks simply document a period of time in my life. They are not really planned! They have recipes and phone numbers, chronicle pain and illness, document people and places, songs and stories, dreams and ideas, and so it's always evolving. I don't really classify my books, but some of them do take on a theme like travels, seasons, or a new motif that I'm artistically exploring. I have over 300 of my sketchbooks and they are strewn all over my home in Canada, on bookshelves, under my bed, or whatever space I can find! Most of them do have a date, so that helps!
I've been gifted a lot of sketchbooks these days, and so they come in handy at opportune times. I try to use them irrespective of the paper, and figure out ways to make it work. But otherwise I usually scout around art supply stores in Toronto, and pick up inexpensive books when my eye catches a fancy to something.
I've lost a few sketchbooks and it really did make me feel upset. My first sketchbook when I landed in Canada mysteriously disappeared after I cycled to a park, but one in particular was a lesson in letting go. I had spent a week camping alone in Moosonee, north Ontario, where I saw the northern lights for the first time. It was a magical journey and I chronicled that time on loose watercolour sheets that I wanted to do an exhibition of in Toronto. So when I returned I was carrying them in a binder to show to galleries, and I left it at a sushi restaurant, and it was gone....!
My sketchbooks have certainly helped me make new friends. Danny Gregory has become a wonderful friend through sketchbooks. I remember seeing a drawing of his of the pens that he used, particularly Rotring pens. I used to use Rotrings too, and so Immediately sent an email to him, telling him how much I liked his work. He replied promptly saying that he liked my work too, and asked if he could include my work in his next book. Since then I've been featured in several of his books (An illustrated life, An illustrated Journey), and am also faculty of an online Sketchbook Skool that he started with Koosje Koene, which has opened up a global audience of sketchbook keepers.
My sketchbooks have definitely lent itself to interesting projects. In 2009, a friend asked if he could fly me down from Canada to document his wedding in Assam in a watercolour sketchbook as a gift for his wife! It was super interesting chronicling an event live, and trying to capture the essence of what was going on through my watercolours while I was there. Since then I've documented several weddings through my sketchbooks in Normandy, Colorado and more recently in Bombay and Agra. I must say it's not easy trying to finish a sketchbook in 3 days when there are so many ceremonies and events to be captured in an Indian wedding! I never sell any of my own sketchbooks, and so when I'm commissioned to document a wedding in a sketchbook these become 'art objects' that I hand over to the couple.
I'm not sure how many sketchbooks I fill in a year. It all depends on the size of the book, or where I'm at. Sometimes I whip through a book in a week or 10 days. And if I'm travelling alone, I spend much more time with my sketchbook. I'd say on average I'd have 5 or 10 new books in a year. I don't really spend much money on my books. I do love books that are bound personally for me, I go out of the way to spend on such books. There was a wonderful man Mr. Peter Menezes who would bind books at the Fontainhas area in Goa. His book binding set up was in a little room, with piles of books everywhere. He was such a lovely man, and I'm ever grateful for getting a book bound by him. I remember tearing my watercolour paper to size while having a beer at the Panjim Inn, and handing it over to him. A few months later, when I went back to get another book bound by him, he was evicted from his little room, and I haven't seen him since. It was really sad! But every year when I go back to NID to teach, one of my students Vishwa binds me a new book, that she exquisitely personalizes for me, she'd been doing these for a few years now, and I've filled up those books that I cherish dearly! I'm also grateful to the many kind souls who gift me such beautiful books that become treasure troves of my life's adventures.
My home in Canada houses my sketchbooks. They are not in one particular room, but actually fill up my house in several rooms. There are bits and pieces everywhere. If I was to have an exhibition of my sketchbooks, I'd like to display it as if in a cozy house, in several different rooms, with my artworks hanging on the walls, and armchairs where one could leisurely peruse through my books. And sit at a desk to see my work in progress. My sketchbooks are the closest extension of my art, it is the purest outpourings of my state of being, they are my best friends. My sketchbooks are ever evolving, and are not just memoirs of my personal histories, but also can be healing and great teachers.
- Prashant Miranda
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