Plainsboro Public Library – October 2017 – This October, the Gallery at Plainsboro Library will exhibit a collection of illustrative journals by Plainsboro artist Paula Ridley. Created over a period of more than ten years, the sketchbooks are filled with drawings and commentary on everyday life and objects, and as the artist states, “leaving behind a tangible legacy for my children.” The exhibit will feature several of these journals, each accompanied with a page-by-page display. An art reception will be held Sunday, October 1, 2 – 4 pm, where Ridley will lead an informal chat about her work. The exhibit runs September 30 through October 25.

Using simple, portable materials – pens, watercolor kits and wire-bound notebooks – Ridley records more than images (as we tend to do with our smart phones). She records her thoughts, leaving the memories in a form that is accessible and inviting. Her interest was inspired by her father.

“One day, as a child, I was intrigued when I found an old thin hand-bound journal with drawings and song lyrics that belonged to my Dad. I remember tracing the lines of each drawing with my eyes and feeling like this find was a treasure. It was a look into my Dad’s favorite songs and drawings. Ultimately, I wished that whenever I had children, I’d keep a sketchbook for them ‘to find.’ “

Ridley’s father noticed her interest in drawing and taught her the basics – perspective, angles, shading, and scale. Other than those basics, she is self-taught. Most of her journal sketching uses the technique of blind contour drawing.

“I used to draw from photographs with attention to scale and perspective but now I use the blind or semi-blind contour technique. Blind contouring sketches are drawn without ever looking at the piece of paper. When you draw this way it forces you to look at an object or scene closely because you are studying every shape and edge with your eyes as your hand translates these details onto paper. Semi-blind contouring is when you glance at the object maybe once or twice during the process of drawing. I prefer drawing this way because I like the ‘wonkiness’ of the finished drawing as opposed to the more realistic sketches that I used to draw. Also, drawing this way teaches me to slow down and pay attention to the actual details versus what you expect the picture to look like. Along with my sketches I almost always keep a written record of my current thoughts and any details of the drawn person, place, or thing that I want to remember in years to come.” 

Journaling and art took a back burner while Ridley attended college and began her career. She received a BA in English, and began working as an educational director and teacher. It was after she married and became a stay-at-home Mom that she was drawn back to her art.

“In an attempt to find a hobby and a way to record my son’s milestones, I tried scrapbooking. After continuously being frustrated by not getting quality photos printed or not having them available when the mood struck, I decided to look for another way to record memories. I always perused the Art section of bookstores and one day I discovered Danny Gregory’s book “Creative License” and was inspired to begin drawing again and, in the process, record memories in sketchbooks of raising my son and our everyday lives.”

Ridley’s journals remind us of the value of recording our memories, and present us with a format that we can all use, as well as the inspiration to try.

“In a day of technological advances and social media, photographs of special memories or objects of our lives are shared but they are almost never tangible. Photo albums of our past are almost obsolete and photos end up as files on our hard-drive, rarely being printed out to be enjoyed. Writing in journals have now become blog posts or not even done at all for many. Years ago I decided to make keeping sketchbooks my form of memory-keeping. For one, it reconnected me to a passion I once had as a child. Art has always been a source of happiness for me and I’ve found that finding time to draw puts my life into perspective during the process. Also, I draw in sketchbooks because one day I would love to open one to remind me of how something like my coffee table looked like years ago or what my children’s favorite toys were or what my thoughts were at the time. Lastly, I draw in my sketchbooks in hopes that one day; my children might find them and be intrigued by what I recorded – just like I was, the day I found my father’s old journal.”

The Plainsboro Library is located at 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro, NJ. Hours are 10-8:30 Monday – Thursday, and 10-5 Friday – Sunday.  For more information, call 609-275-2897.



Donna Senopoulos
Plainsboro Public Library

Paula Ridley