Open Sketchbook: Josie Iselin

Josie Iselin - Open Notebook

Josie Iselin brings the ocean to life with her flatbed scanner. The San Francisco-based artist and author of several books agreed to share some fresh scans of her notebooks and tell us a bit about how she uses them.

Josie Iselin

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PLUMB: What do you use notebooks for? How do they fit within your process of making your images?

Josie Iselin: I use notebooks to basically hold my life together. I am a photographer but also a writer and bookmaker. I design visually-driven books and the process means pulling together disparate elements in just the right combination. So notebooks are a place to hold the raw material of some of those pieces. Ideas, resources, designs for installations, bits of poetry, bits of text that will be expanded into larger pieces, resources to research, and just plain old lists of what needs to be done go into the notebooks. I also use notebooks as a holding pen for all those notes scribbled on loose sheets that I need to store somewhere.

Josie Iselin - Open Notebook

PLUMB: What kind do you prefer? With what kind of pen?

Josie Iselin: I like a gridded page, so I tend toward the Claire Fontaine notebooks or something similar.  I used to have this favorite pen that was bright orange. It wrote with a smooth black line and could be found easily amidst the mayhem of my studio. But it ran out of ink and right now it’s whatever brand of pen I happened to have picked up at Target. My favorite pen for signing artwork is the Pilot Precise V7, and then I use Sharpies of all sorts to sign books.

PLUMB: What do you do with the notebooks when you’re done?

Josie Iselin: The notebooks tend to accumulate on my desk where I keep other reference material like my tide log, an enormous dictionary, the outdated supply catalog, and other partially-useful items that tend to stay there for years.

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PLUMB: Have you ever lost one?

Josie Iselin: No, I haven’t lost one. What I have lost is that turn of phrase, or bon mot that I did not write down in the notebook and cannot, for the life of me, recall. My daughter, who is an architecture major in school, recently lost a sketchbook at Home Depot and you could feel the anguish it caused just by talking about it. I have been lucky and not had to feel that. But I will go back up my computer right now.

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PLUMB: Under what conditions do you make your best work?

Josie Iselin: Good question. Right now I am frustrated with running my studio by myself, and having a bit of success means that things get very busy and overwhelming. And when do I find time to get real work done—i.e. images made, real writing done, proper design work figured out? It is often late at night. I come back down to my studio after cleaning up the dinner dishes to turn off my computer and then I say, well I might as well get this little thing done . . .  And then I have a second wind late at night and am not so tired. It hits me the next morning, especially as I age. I have a radio that I can’t read the dial of, so I leave it on the same station. It’s kind of ridiculous. A bit of background noise helps me work. Caffeine always until noon. And then it’s the 4:30 p.m. cup of tea that keeps me going.

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PLUMB: What’s your relationship to the Internet?

Josie Iselin: I use the Internet as most do, I suppose. For researching my books, it’s invaluable in conjunction with real sources. Also, for buying plane tickets quickly. I’ve recently rebuilt my own website so that it would be viewable on a phone as well as the computer screen—I’m relieved that there’s a place people can go to get information about my work. I try to have a Facebook page as a good author should, but I’m about to abandon it; I don’t see the return on effort there. Because all my children and my husband—who works in LA right now—are all on Instagram, that is the way we share tidbits of our lives. I love it. I do a daily scan of Instagram to see if there is a tiny square nugget of a peek into their world. I am often rewarded with a morsel. (Couldn’t resist doing so as I write this. Rewarded by daughter #2—big laugh, brighter day!)

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PLUMB: What’s your favorite Plumb notebook so far?

Josie Iselin: The Paper Options notebook by Jason Polan looks totally fun! I like different paper options. I generally like the spiral-bound ones that can sit flat and get turned inside out, so my second favorite is Linda Geary’s Spiral Notebook.