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.
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.
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!