I love collecting notebooks. I have a mini planner where I write to-do lists and homework and a catch-all spiral notebook where I keep all my class notes. Computers are great for organizing as well, but there’s something that feels more satisfying when I open my planner and check off a task with a pen. Even as a child I had this strange fetish with notebooks. When it came to back-to-school shopping, nothing was more thrilling than picking unique designs at the stationary store. That’s why I was so excited when my professor announced that we would be choosing fabric and sewing pages to create our own journals.
Taught by Professor Scott Rawlins, who leads most of the scientific illustration classes, the course HN390 A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words hopes to teach students the importance and the craft of record keeping in discovery. The final project is the presentation of our handmade journals with documentation through notes and art of our chosen journeys. Since I travel to Philly for my internship this semester, I decided to capture my mini adventures having lunch at Reading Terminal Market and exploring the city.
This upper-level honors class is filled with students ranging from Biology to English to Psychology majors. None of us have any art experience. I thought this class would be a nice therapeutic experience compared to the rest of my senior-year course load while also balancing internship and work.
It was liberating to work with my hands, using the sewing needle to pierce the tough pages and affixing the fabric on the cardboard that would act as the hardcover. With graphic pencils, colored pencils, pastels, and water color paints on hand, Professor Rawlins gave us a crash course in Fine Art 101. My classmates and I giggled at each other’s mediocre drawings, but as the semester continues I notice our sketches are improving.
Along with practicing art techniques, we read about great scientists and explorers, such as Charles Darwin and Sir Hans Sloan, and how sketching and documenting species led to major insights. Through illustrations of the finches found on the Galapagos Islands, Darwin noticed the different variations in their beaks, which eventually led to his theory of evolutionary adaption and natural selection in his book On the Origin of Species.
When I sketched a sandwich I had for lunch at the Reading Terminal Market for my journal, I began to notice the tiny details within the ingredients. The process of sketching the texture of the bread made me think about the sponginess and how that enhanced the flavor. I also noticed how ingredients were layered, and how that contributed to overall taste. Even though my drawings weren’t great, the practice of slowing down and capturing each detail gave me an enhanced understanding of the flavor palettes behind that sandwich.
I will never be a professional artist. But making art has taught me how sitting down and sketching something can unveil a new discovery. This can be an especially useful technique to apply when I’m writing journalism articles when I often have to describe people or atmosphere and review foods or events. Plus, the knowledge of crafting handmade journals will be a practical skill once the holiday season rolls around.