Lili Schuch realized that her sketchbook had at some point become the artwork.

Lead Image: The small format of a sketchbook provides portability and allows speed, and the use of a spread of pages gives Lili Schuch the space to capture a wide view, as in this scene found outside of Budapest.

If plein air painting is about capturing the moment, Schuch’s landscape-format sketchbooks are an embodiment of the idea. If the Hungarian artist can carve out 20 minutes, she can create one of her “foldable landscapes.” Armed with a Moleskine sketchbook and a relatively small palette of watercolors, Schuch looks to depict both the atmosphere of the landscape and the activity that enlivens it.

Schuch says she was keen to capture the atmosphere of the beach as well as the activity in the café in this scene from Greece.
Schuch says she was keen to capture the atmosphere of the beach as well as the activity in the café in this scene from Greece.
Trikala, Greece
Trikala, Greece

“When I bought my very first pocket-size watercolor sketchbook, I didn’t think I would get so much pleasure and inspiration from it,” recalls the artist. “It started as a sketchbook for details for my larger paintings, but then I discovered the advantages of the compact size and shape. Soon it turned out to be my tool in plein air painting; I bring it everywhere I go and look for landscapes that would fit in these two lengthwise pages. At first, when I sat down at a beach to capture what I see in a page, I found my book too small. But then I thought, Why not use both pages and create a whole in two separate pages? The result turned out to be very interesting: a landscape unfolding in two pages, something that becomes understandable if you open the book fully. When I’m ready, I just close it up, put it in my pocket, having a new artwork and one more memory from another location.”

The small format allows the depiction of quickly changing weather, such as this approaching storm.
The small format allows the depiction of quickly changing weather, such as this approaching storm.
Another of Schuch’s “foldable landscapes”
Another of Schuch’s “foldable landscapes”

Indeed, the sketchbook quickly outgrew its use as reference.

Lake Balaton
Lake Balaton

“I look at it as an individual collection of artworks, not just a secondary, forgettable sketchbook, although I’m planning to go back to some of the locations and paint the same scene once more in a bigger size,” explains Schuch. “This sketchbook is also great to get some experience and confidence for painting larger watercolors. I particularly enjoy painting scenes with water; I just sit on the beach near the sea or at a lake, enjoying the atmosphere and the sound of waves, and sketching. I’ve never been the type who likes spending long hours painting every detail. This is why I love watercolor; it can be so quick, fresh, and spontaneous, yet very expressive. My ‘foldable landscape’ paintings usually take 20 minutes to complete, and when it’s done I take a photo including the painting and the landscape I painted, allowing others to see the real site and my point of view.”

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