Monday, July 12, 2010

Book Review: A Life in Hand

Hannah Hinchman's A Life in Hand: Creating the Illuminated Journal is a beautiful, inspiring book for the beginning or advanced journal-keeper.  Hinchman's journals are those that contain both writing and drawings; she writes that in her journals, "drawing and writing began as distinctly separate activities, but that boundary has been breaking down over the years."

Throughout A Life in Hand, the emphasis is not merely on developing your writing and drawing skills, but on careful observation of the world around you.  When Hinchman offers simple prompts to start you on your journaling practice, the exercises both show how drawing and writing can complement each other, and encourage you to "observe and describe carefully."

For those of us who believe that we can't draw, Hinchman tells us that we can, and all we need is "persistence, and a willingness to set vanity and ego aside," as well as to set aside our preconceived notions around drawing.  She offers tips and exercises for those who are learning both to draw and to find their own voice and style in their writing.  Her instructions are very simple, nontechnical, and unintimidating.  I found the section on drawing more helpful than the section on writing, but perhaps that was simply because I am more comfortable with writing than with drawing.

I also enjoyed her chapter on materials for journaling, particularly this opening line: "I have come across only one close-to-perfect hardbound journal, and as far as I know it is no longer available."  She briefly discusses blank books, pens, pencils, and paints, encouraging personal experimentation in finding the tools that work best for you.

The book is illustrated throughout with Hinchman's own black-and-white sketches, of the type that look nearly effortless on the page but that no doubt represent years of drawing and sketching experience.  Her drawings show that you can draw anything - from trees to coats hanging on the wall to sleeping cats.  They also offer examples of how to integrate writing and drawing on a page.  The last fourteen pages of the book contain full-colour journal pages, which I probably could spend hours drooling over.

However valuable A Life in Hand is for practical journaling techniques, its greatest value is as a call for you to get away from the computer, take a pen and journal in your hand, and begin observing the life that is around you.  Your journal then becomes "an accumulation of moments of true wakefulness."  I would recommend A Life in Hand for anyone for keeps a journal or thinks that they would like to.

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