Friday, May 5, 2017

A Life In Hand by Hannah Hinchman

Image result for a life in hand

This is such a pleasant book to read straight through, skip around in, meditate on, and practice with. That's asking a lot from one volume, but A Life in Hand by Hannah Hinchman ticks all those boxes. 

Don't be alarmed by the second part of the title: Creating the Illuminated Journal. This is not one of those ubiquitous art instruction books with glossy pages and a multitude of exercises that, to be honest, one most likely rarely attempts. (Or maybe that's just me...)

Ms. Hinchman is a fine artist who is dedicated to deeply exploring and observing the world around her, especially the wild outdoors of her home in Montana. This book was published in 1991 and I do believe I once looked at it long ago thinking it was solely about keeping a written journal and I was thrown off by the sketches that she included. Now that I have discovered sketching and watercolors and art journals and lettering, oh my, this book has proven to be quite a find. 

First of all, it is the size of a 'normal' book and is easy to hold. Her sketches are rendered in pen and ink, are simple and clean, and cover subjects from a sleeping cat to a paint brush to her desk under the eaves. There are branches and birds and bugs — just everyday inspirations found outside the window or on the windowsill.

Even if you aren't interested in drawing, her thoughts on writing down what you see and feel, your memories and imaginings, are thought provoking. In just a few pages (150 to be exact), she offers instruction, advice on tools, a few exercises, and insight into the mind of an artist.

What really appeals to me is the way her drawings are presented right out of her sketchbook with no elaborate backgrounds and I find myself practicing using her examples. She also makes brief notes about what she has drawn that become part of the sketch itself. She shows the reader a non-intimidating way to capture the small details that make up a life. It is relaxing to be in her world.

the warm coat corner - HH

I have filled dozens of sketchbooks in just the few years since I took my first watercolor lessons before a trip to Paris, Florence, and Tuscany. Opening the sketchbook that I carried with me and looking at the awkward pencil drawings I made on that trip takes me right to the cafe or city street with its sounds and smells and hum of conversations. I wish now that I had spent more time recording with words what I was seeing and doing. I was so intent on not writing and just keeping a visual record of the trip that I failed to write at all. 

Be that as it may, A Life in Hand is a timely reminder that keeping a journal - whether written, visual, or both - is a worthwhile endeavor. 

ink bottles - HH


  1. I meant to comment on this post when I first read it, but I had to go check my shelves to see if I have this book and got sidetracked. I know I've read it, but I couldn't remember if I own a copy. I do, and I enjoyed reading it very much and it was part of the inspiration for me to start sketching in the first place. Isn't it amazing and cool that even our awkward sketches can still bring to mind a past time and place?

    1. Hi, Kathy. You are lucky to have a copy of this book. Mine is from the library and is due back soon. It was recommended in a YouTube video by Danny Gregory. Are you familiar with him? His book, Art Before Breakfast, encourages you to draw what is in front of you - the toast, the cereal, the cat, the pencil sharpener...well, you get the idea. His style is 'urban sketching' if that makes sense to you. Pen and ink and a dash of watercolor.

      I have been trying to sort and organized my art supplies this weekend. I have piles of sketchbooks hidden away and would like to get them at least on a bookshelf so I might every now and then pick one up and be amazed or horrified. Awkward would describe most of my 'art' but occasionally there is a gem! So I'll keep plugging along.

    2. Yes, I'm familiar with Danny Gregory and have read a couple of his books. One of them, The Creative License, was my first introduction to the concept of "everyday art." I haven't read Art Before Breakfast, so I'll add it to the list, along with Shut Your Monkey, another of his titles.

      Good for you getting your art supplies and sketchbooks organized. Every little step out of clutter helps!

    3. I had just checked out from the library The Creative License. It is difficult to read because of the handwritten font and my aging eyes. Art Before Breakfast (also from the library) has some handwritten-looking text but most of it is regular type font. Whew. I think that is why I never caught on to comics - the handlettering style annoyed me.

      I wish I knew what to do with my sketchbooks. Right now many are piled on the kitchen table, I discovered a few more in a little cabinet, and a at least three others (travel journals) are on a bookshelf. This is the downside of certain hobbies - more stuff to store. Sigh.