Richard Diebenkorn’s Sketchbooks at the Cantor Museum

Jesse Rimler reports on the Richard Diebenkorn Sketchbook show that hung at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University last summer.


The painter Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) is probably best known for his abstracts, especially his large Ocean Park series. He also painted from life, and is included in the group of artists now known as the Bay Area Figurative movement, along with Elmer Bischoff, David Park and Joan Brown, among others. These painters moved in and out of abstraction while never abandoning the figure and landscapes as subjects.

The Cantor Museum recently acquired 29 of Diebenkorn’s sketchbooks. My favorite works by Diebenkorn are his prints and drawings, so I was excited to see these up close. Plus, as someone who keeps a sketchbook and has spent the last several years trying to learn how to draw better, I’m always curious to see anyone’s sketchbook and raw drawing style.

It turns out there isn’t much difference between Diebenkorn’s sketchbook drawings and his etchings – he had a lively, spontaneous line and an unfailing sense of composition no matter the medium or size. Here are few of my favorites from this great collection:







Though these are worth seeing in person, one cool thing is that the Cantor has scanned all of his sketchbooks and put them online HERE.

This exhibit made me think about the general use of a sketchbook. Diebenkorn called his sketchbook his “portable studio,” and it’s clear he took drawing in these beat­up spiral­bounds as seriously as he did etching on a copper plate or painting on a canvas. I think some comics makers, myself included, tend to treat their sketchbooks as something completely different from their final art. The idea of closing the gap between the two is appealing to me, and Diebenkorn’s example is inspiring.

On the practical side, I liked how Diebenkorn used fairly inexpensive sketchbooks, often with a low page count. He felt free to glop on gouache or use heavy ink washes, and so almost always used one side of the page. This was exciting to me, as I’ve found the use of a pricey, bound, moleskin-style sketchbook to be a little inhibiting. It’s nice to work with a pad with few pages – if you dislike the run you’ve been on in your current sketchbook, you’re not tied to it for very long. I also love the look of the old Strathmore books.


I went out and got a bunch of Strathmore drawing pads. The covers aren’t as nice these days but the size and lack of pretense freed me up a bit. These little ones are 4 bucks and have pretty good off-white paper. At 24 pages, I filled several up pretty quickly. Satisfying! Here are a few of my recent sketches:





Jesse Rimler makes comics in the Bay Area. You can see more of his sketches and comics by following him on Instagram – @rimblecomics. His submission to the Comics Workbook Composition Competition can be seen HERE.

Share this page:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *