Behind the Scenes with Diana Balmori and Her Notebooks

Remember this lovely little book? Reviewed here: Diana Balmori Notebooks

When I posted about it a couple of months ago, I’d never heard of Diana Balmori, and found myself very intrigued by this unusual little book, as it presented the pages of her notebooks almost in facsimile, without any commentary about what the drawings represented or meant. I never thought I’d have the chance to learn more, but via the magic of the internet and social media, I was given the opportunity to interview Diana by email, and even share some exclusive photos of her notebooks behind the scenes!

NS: How long have you been keeping notebooks/sketchbooks? Do you save them all when you are done with them?

DB: Consistently for about 15 years. Before that I had all sorts of loose papers, notepads, drawing books, in which I drew, mainly when I was traveling. I save them all.

DB Figure 1


NS: Do you use one notebook at a time, or many? How long does it take you to fill one?

DB: No, I grab whatever notebook is around. Sometimes it is blank, sometimes it has some drawings, sometimes it is nearly full, I draw in whatever blank page there is. This causes a problem as to dating because I seldom date the drawings and then you look at a notebook and it has drawings over a long span of time. I’ve been more consistent lately about putting dates on the sketches.

NS: Can you tell us a little bit about your habits of using notebooks? Do you carry one at all times for sketching when the mood strikes? What purpose does keeping a notebook serve for you?

DB: I carry a notebook regularly. My jackets, most, have an inside pocket in which I carry a small Moleskine notebook. Purpose: to see. When you draw, you observe in a way that cannot be compared with just looking or with photographing. It is like getting inside what you are looking at, or better, you are becoming one with it. And you form an attachment to it.

DB Figure 2

NS: The sketches in your book are very loose and don’t have that “architect-y” sharp, finished  look that some artists and designers strive for even in sketchbooks.  Do you draw differently in notebooks than you do in other parts of your work?

DB: Notebook drawing is esquisse, or sketch, drawing. It is quick. Minutes. Drawing with a black 6B pencil it is an outline, and an interpretation of what you are seeing; and a synthesis. I have come to like the rawness and incompleteness of these drawings much more than the polished, completed drawings I have done with more time, and for other purposes. They get closer to something that I am trying to capture in the representation of landscape as a whole. That it is capturing the space and not the objects in it. Objects should not occupy one’s time, nor be belabored in the picture.

NS: Are the drawings in “Notebooks” directly related to particular projects for your firm? The book is presented without any explanatory text– can you talk about why you decided to publish it in that form?

DB: No, they are not directly related to projects in the firm. They may trigger a form for a project. But they are all related to the work in the office on how to represent landscape. I had no intention of publishing of these drawings, but in speaking with Matthew Stadler at Publication Studio, I thought it was a good way of looking at ground covered. Also, the very informal way in which it could be published attracted me, and it fitted the contents to a tee.


NS: Do you have favorite brands of notebooks and drawing materials that you use?

DB: Mainly Moleskine notebooks, I use the unlined small ones, in portrait and Japanese album forms. The accordion resolves the problem of the portrait format, because I can unfold the book and have a very large landscape format. As my ideas of landscape representation have evolved, I have become most interested in this horizontal format and the possibility of extending it laterally. Landscape is an art of the periphery. That is, it depends on peripheral vision for its power. It took me quite a while to discover that. And working with a vision scientist I also learned how reluctant we are to represent what we capture in our peripheral vision, a vision which only captures the most obvious traits, no detail, which is why these drawings, esquisse-like, represent for me landscape better and in a more modern mode.

As to materials I use a 6B pencil, or graphite bar, and if using color, Prismacolor pencils, they have the degree of softness I like.

DB Figure 3 DB Figure 4

NS: Do you enjoy looking at other people’s notebooks/sketchbooks? Are there any in particular that have inspired you?

DB: I love looking at other people’s sketchbooks/notebooks. I like the notebooks of anthropologists, to them notebooks are colossally important. I was surprised at how little drawing there was in them. I have looked at single notebook drawings mainly, as there are very few published collections of notebook sketches, more should be published.

NS: I’ve used the terms “notebook” and “sketchbook” interchangeably here, but your book is called “Notebooks.” Do you think of “notes” and “sketches” as being kind of the same thing, or does each mean something different to you?

DB: I’ve used the word notebooks and not sketchbooks because my drawings felt as notes on seeing. They are visual notes in looking and seeing. I am not sketching or drawing for the pleasure of drawing –– and for me it is a pleasure –– but also for helping me see, they are visual notes.


I am very grateful to Diana for answering my questions and sharing these photos. It’s so interesting to hear a creative person’s thoughts on capturing ideas, and she’s really nailed an important distinction between visual notes and other kinds of drawing.  I’m also fascinated by this idea of peripheral vision and the role it plays in landscape representations! I will definitely be checking out Diana’s next book to see how she expands on this topic: Drawing and Reinventing Landscape (to be published April 2014).


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