Lately, I have been trying to pay a lot more attention to my artworks’ contents than just how technically good they are. This approach means spending more time on the concept stage, deciding what to put in the piece, and translating the things I want to say into the visual medium of illustration, comics, or paintings. I find that more than finished, polished works — sketches, roughs, concept arts, or storyboards can reveal a lot more about other artists’ decision processes. Especially the early stages are very illuminating!
I also just like sketches a lot — pictures that are unconstrained, done for pleasure, but at the same time, somehow finished and complete. A sketchbook is a half-magical object where all the thinking or recording of thoughts and images takes place. It’s a safe place for creativity to happen.
Somehow it seems that I started collecting books that are reproductions of sketchbooks. I already have a few of these. Some are very close recreations of the original sketchbooks, and some are just small albums collecting the sketches. Still, all of them somehow managed to preserve this initial, raw moment of creative thought.
I have here some of my favorite ones:
「時には昔の話を」 Let’s Sometimes Talk About the Past — Hayao Miyazaki and Tokiko Katou
This is a strange little book — not precisely a sketchbook, but a small album containing sketches by the Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki and song lyrics by Tokiko Katou. If you saw the Porco Rosso movie, you might remember the nostalgic ink and watercolor sketches used in the movie’s end credits. This book gathers these into a small, elegant hardcover book with really high-quality print.
Even though the illustrations are quite simply drawn and colored with flat, almost monochrome washes, looking just like old photos, they pack a substantial nostalgic “punch.” Somehow I can imagine that these people were alive somewhere around Italy, maybe at the beginning of the 20th century when the aviation revolution started. These are not exactly happy scenes but have a lot of depth and feelings in them.
TIME01 — Sterling Clinton Huntley
I supported this sketchbook reproduction project through Kickstarter, and I’m so glad I did! Even though the book’s pages follow the sketchbook format and all the images started in one, the contents are closer to what I would put in the Art (with big “A”) category. The mostly pencil drawn images were done in multiple sessions, which caused this unique, multiple-exposure-photo look. This approach works so well in showing the passage of time and how we, as humans, actually perceive things. Looking at the drawings feels like watching someone’s memories — a bit scrambled, a bit blurry, always moving like looped fragments of a glitchy movie.
I’m lucky to have one of the first 400 copies, which has a manually-printed (with paint) page inside. I don’t think this is a good choice if you are looking for references to help you draw or paint, but if you love sketchbook Art, it’s definitely for you.
Sketchbook collection – 2015 — Jared Muralt
The illustrator and comic artist Jared Muralt has a whole collection of sketchbooks available in his online store. These are all beautifully crafted reproductions of his Moleskine notebooks, down to the hard black covers and slightly cream-colored paper. Maybe because he decided to leave in all the weird scribbles, notes, and journal-like entries in their original form (and then add a translation at the end of the book), you feel like you are just browsing through the original sketchbook. I love it! Also, of course, the drawings are just gorgeously done. These are great books for anyone who wants to see and maybe study some technically top-notch quality pen renderings of people, nature, and architecture too!
The Third in Line — Mattias Adolfsson
Mattias Adolfsson is another artist that elevates the Moleskine sketchbook drawings concept. Even though it does not have the black leather-clad form, this book gathers fountain pen and watercolor drawings done in a Moleskine sketchbook. Every page is a delightful little scene to explore and an explosion of ideas and creativity. You are plunged into a unique world of bizarre machines, robots, animals wearing cowboy boots, and fantastic architecture. Everything is drawn in a unique, crisp, and easy to understand style. I think this book would work even on those who claim they don’t like or “get” the whole art thing.
I’m betting that at least some of the illustrations had been seeded by a real-world event or person and what we see on the pages is the effect of the artist’s mind translating those things into his universe, which makes the whole book even more fun.
Portugal Sketchbook — Cyril Pedrosa
I was fortunate to get my hands on this sketchbook. It seems that there are only Portuguese and Polish (?) versions of this book. The Polish edition (featuring text translations at the end) was printed in a limited run of only 500 copies. But this beautiful reproduction is well worth it, even if you can’t read the original scribbles that sometimes appear along with the pictures. The small book looks and feels like the Moleskine sketchbook used by the comic artist when he was sketching ideas that would later end up in his comic “Portugal.” It even has a rubber band! The whole book reads like a picture journal or a travel sketchbook. There are a lot of great ink (ballpoint pen?) and watercolor drawings of city scenes and people that, even though rough and simple, capture the character and atmosphere of those places and people in a very realistic way. I always admire artists who can do that without making their pieces too detailed and stiff.
I take a lot of fun, inspiration, and most importantly — artistic comfort from these books. I recommend having a look and will certainly search for more sketchbooks for my collection!