Tuesday, February 16, 2010

An Illustrated Life

I've always had a problem keeping a sketchbook. I'll make a few notes and knock out a few very loose thumbnail sketches (usually legible only to me) before I start working on a project. Once in a while, I'll get a detailed drawing down on the page, and then transfer it to whatever material I'll be painting on. But, I usually save that level of sketching for commissions or freelance work. My own drawings never make it that far. I buy lovely blank books, and then can't bring myself to ruin them with scribbles.
Back when I was in college, I studied in France for a month. We were made to keep a sketchbook for one of our classes. One classmate bought beat up vintage hardcover novels, painted some of the pages white, left others with the print visible, and sketched over those textures. Others glued French candy wrappers, tickets, and pressed flowers into their pages. I loved looking at everyone else's books - you had a feel for the journey, you got a peek at who each person was. My sketchbook was tentative - one or two carefully considered sketches on each page...half of the book remained blank while my classmates filled up two or three.
Years later, some things haven't changed...I still can't cut loose when it comes to sketching. And when it comes to people with interesting sketchbooks, I'm absolutely green with envy.
I recently bought a book called An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers by Danny Gregory.

It contains scans and photographs of the sketchbooks of 50 illustrators and designers - ranging from Stefan Sagmeister to R. Crumb. Each individual has a chapter about them, their work, and their creative process. It's well worth a look.

Danny Gregory's intro alone is worth the read. His philosophy about sketching was inspirational and felt really empowering.
Eleven years after that trip to France, I find myself once again made to keep a sketchbook for school. This time, for my graphic design classes. (Though they call them "process journals" now...it's all the same to me). I figured I have to stop making the actual sketchbook a sacred object. So, I bought a few small Moleskine notebooks, plopped stickers on the cover and have been trying not to care what scribbles go in there. So far, it's been good for mind mapping and layout ideas. I'm still a little tentative, but I'm hoping that by carrying them around all the time, I'll start to get into my own groove.


  1. Great post Nicole - I've heard great things about that book, but never picked it up. Must do so! I have the same problem as you. I go through phases of sketching often, then embarrassingly long stretches of sketching nothing. I don't think it relates to talent, but I know I FEEL better when I'm in a good sketching groove. Thanks for sharing your sketchbook pages - and what a great idea to just let go, and go with it. Keep it up!

  2. Gina, thanks! That book is great - you get to peek inside the sketchbooks of all these renowned illustrators and designers. School interferes with my personal sketching, but maybe my school-related sketches can train me to maintain my own sketchbook. We'll see! (:

  3. Great post, I definitely would like to get this book. I love keeping sketchbooks and journals---been doing so since college also. I am always searching for the perfect one---pages for writing, different types of papers for different mediums all in one book---haven't found it yet...

  4. Jane - my sister and mother do book-making. Maybe you could create your own ideal sketchbook? Otherwise, you could always find something hand-made on Etsy. They have a big selection.

  5. Nicole - I Know what you mean about feeling tentative. When I bought my first Moleskine, it took me a while to start drawing in it. But as Gina mentioned it is a good feeling to be in that groove. Glad that your class is making you get into the groove!:)

  6. Nicole--you're right, I should make my own book, but then I'd be really tentative to mess it up!