Killing the Sketchbook from Hell

A sketch I did with my favorite indigo blue pencil while sitting at the Ridgeway pool in South Philadelphia this summer. This was the first satisfying sketch I did in the dreaded Sketchbook from Hell!

I got this sketchbook back in 1987 from a Philadelphia art supply shop where I used to work. At the time, desktop publishing was shaking up the world of graphic design, but it was still mostly an analog world with people drafting, painting, cutting and pasting all by hand. The store I worked in catered to the professional and student arts trade and was packed to the rafters with a wondrous assortment of art supplies. They always kept an eye out for what was new, and when this gray, paperback, perfect-bound sketchbook hit the shelves, it caught my eye. I bought it immediately. It was a mistake.

One of the selling features of this pad was that it had perforations for supposedly easy and clean removal of the pages. None of the ragged edges left from pulling a sheet from a wire-bound pad. Did you make a drawing that you wanted to frame or give away? It pulls out neatly. Or close to neatly.

There was something that wasn’t right about this pad. One thing was that it did not lay flat which was really annoying. That shouldn’t be an impediment to art or at least my scribbling. It’s a poor craftsman who blames the quality of his work on his tools. But something about this pad wasn’t working for me. I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s hard to intellectualize. I hated everything I drew in it. It was cursed. I would start some half-baked drawing in it and abandon it for another pad.

I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. It had perfectly good blank pages in it. So I hung on to it and it moved with me between three apartments and one house.

The pads I’ve had the most success with are wire-bound pads measuring 9″ x 12″. I’ll burn through these in between 6 months and a year. I have dozens of them.

A finished wire-bound sketchbook

Generally, I’ll sketch and doodle in these things searching for an idea or a visual joke or an interesting pose for a character. In the old days, I would get out a piece of tracing paper to transfer my work to a larger piece of paper. Some of the energy of the original drawing would be lost in the transfer as the vibrant original was carefully traced, but that was the way it was done. Now I scan my drawings and assemble them with other sketches to refine the work towards a digital finish.

Another type of sketchbook I’ve used are the hardback, journal type. People think they are precious and look like something that you should commit only your most important ideas and sketches to as if it was going to be as important as the notes of Lewis and Clark. Your brilliance will be contained on acid-free pages that will last through the ages, and your descendants will covet it like a precious heirloom.

The attractive but annoying hardbound sketchbook

Me? I hate them. They don’t lay flat which sometimes makes it tough to juggle in the lap during a commute or impossible to scan. The corners get dinged in my backpack diminishing the whole precious heirloom look. They are also heavy which adds unwanted weight to a traveling bag full of crap. However, I have done drawings I’m happy with in them unlike the gray sketchbook. Annoying but not cursed!

So I made up my mind over the summer to kill the Sketchbook from Hell! I decided to take it with me wherever I went determined to fill it’s pages with drawings and hopefully dashing off something halfway decent thus lifting the curse from this pad that had resisted every attempt to commit something of quality to it’s pages. I mainly worked on sketches for Monkey & Bird which I will reveal as they are published to CO2 Comics, but I also did the angry fellow at the top of the page. It’s not a masterpiece, but it was fun and satisfying to do.

After a couple of weeks, I finally finished it off. It’s finally done.

Sketchbook from Hell
June 25, 1987 – July 27, 2012

I can retire it knowing that it has no more blank pages to taunt me!

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10 Responses to Killing the Sketchbook from Hell

  1. kemostudios says:

    HA! I love it Joe and I can totally relate!…I have not been able to keep a ‘Sketchbook’ since college…I promise myself EVERY year that I’m going to commit to putting down all my precious little ideas and concepts in some sort of perfect bound book to pass down to my descendants to marvel at…what a fucking joke.

    Haven’t been able to do it, it’s psychological I think. The idea of drawing in a bound book of any kind makes it permanent and scares the shit outta me…so I sketch on scraps of paper, whatever I find lying around…and reams and reams of white copy paper. Nothing but the best materials for this guy! So needless to say I have THOUSANDS of loose leaf papers cluttering up my area, stuffed in envelopes, hidden in stacks on shelves, forgotten in boxes and under the bed…

    …it works for me.

  2. kemostudios says:

    …nice sketch by the way! Keep’em coming.

  3. Joe_Williams says:

    Thanks, Ken! I’ve always carried sketchbooks although I haven’t filled them with brilliance. I’m mainly fishing for an idea or a position of a character without too much concern whether I’ll make a great drawing or not. It’s brainstorming. I don’t draw my surroundings or people on my commute (I’d probably get killed if I was staring at somebody too long on the subway.)

    Part of the reason I draw on the train is self-preservation. I put on heavy metal or something thundering so I can drown out the beyond obnoxious cell phone conversations, and keep my eyes on my drawing so I don’t see something I wish I didn’t see. Fat women headed towards 69th Street don’t really care how much ass crack you can see. There’s no brain-bleach for that. Just concentrate on drawing!

    My favorite paper to draw on is a cheap, 20 Ib, garbage stock that is lying around work in the form of rejected office pads. I had a load of these floating around, and I realized they were getting lost. So what I do is carry a glue stick with me. If I scribble something I like, it gets pasted into one of the sketchbooks.

  4. Joe_Williams says:

    Another thought occurred to me – back when I bought the Sketchbook from Hell, the store sold sheets of goat skin parchment. Well, let’s not say sold because I never remember selling a single sheet, but they did carry them. The reason being is that the parchment ran $65 a sheet! And it wasn’t very big! I could never imagine ever using something like that.

    Comparatively speaking, sketchbooks are dirt cheap. Get one and scribble!

  5. Tina says:

    Stop drawing on backs of receipts, get a sketchbook Ken!

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