For our optional World Watercolor Month prompt of “Favorite Scent,” I wasn’t immediately sure I actually had one particular favorite. Indeed, any scent that triggers wonderful memories is always at the top of my list. Then I thought about the scent of old books. Not the kind of the mildew variety, but simply rather old with that familiar scent of aged wood with hints of vanilla, conjuring up so many stories from the past. As a kid, I’d spend entire summer afternoons in the library, flipping through book after book, often unable to choose the ones I would be taking home with me on that trip. I did love the smell of the new books that arrived with their crisp clean scent of fresh ink and promise of adventure. But, the older books had a history and a story beyond just what appeared on the pages. Some books had been donated and there would sometimes be a signature in the front cover. A simple “this book belongs to” or even simply “love, Mom” might appear there. These weren’t just old books. They had been well and truly loved.
Today, I still have many books from my childhood that are now probably older than some of the books I thought were old back then. Yet, there are some I still remember that I don’t have anymore. For example, I remember having a set of pocket-sized hardcover books in a little cardboard box called The Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak. I’m not sure I clearly remember the stories, but I just loved that the case had an illustration of a little boy at a table with a lion and they were both reading books. That was just super cool. And the idea that a person could both draw pictures as well as write a story was endlessly fascinating to me. I now remember vowing that I would grow up and do the same one day. I forgot that vow for years and my life didn’t go in that direction at all. But, it’s never too late to rewrite one’s own story, or indeed, fulfill a decades old promise made by a little kid with big dreams. As long as there’s a bit of time left, there’s always a chance to make that dream come true.
Though I still read books on a regular basis, they don’t all have pictures in them these days. But, I still read and love the ones that do. It’s like getting two stories in one. Art has a way of conjuring up its own unexpected ideas, no matter what it’s meant to illustrate. And that’s why I still remember all of those drawings that accompanied the stories of my youth. It’s been wonderful to make my own along the way as I recall those times I thought I might have forgotten. Sure, stories today often come in a digital format and I do appreciate the convenience. Yet, those stories don’t become objects of memory. They don’t sit on a shelf, hoping to be read again one day, while taking us back to that particular adventure whenever we gaze upon them. So much of life has become virtual these days, and that just makes the tangible things even more dear. Those physical reminders that life isn’t just rushing forward, it’s still part of a rich and treasured past, filled with impossible childhood dreams, priceless memories, and the smell of old books.
About the Doodlewash
Da Vinci Paint Co.: Gold Ochre, Quinacridone Red, Opus (Vivid Pink), Vermilion, Cobalt Turquoise, Terra Cotta, Ultramarine (Green Shade) and Indigo. Lamy Al-Star Safari Fountain Pen with black ink in an A5 Hahnemühle Watercolour Book. Want to purchase a print of this doodlewash? Send me a note with a link to this post, and I’ll add it to my shop!