Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What's going on here?

Book clubs befuddle me, but I'd join a sketchbook club in the next heartbeat.

Groucho got it right: I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member. The corollary trumps it: No book club would have me as a member — sitting snarky and sullen in the corner, muttering imprecations about why we're reading the same book at the same time and telling our synchronous thoughts in real time.

Besides, not three people in an hour's drive would read what I read, all how-to books and historical nonfiction. What's more, I'm a slow reader. A monthly book club would kill me. I'm not built for a book club.

A sketchbook club would be different. Instead of one book about which a group discusses, a sketchbook club would embrace each participant's book, and others would peruse your work as you discussed it with them.

It would have to have rules, mainly for me:
  • No judging. The mission of a sketchbook club would be for members to come away from each meeting inspired and encourage by each other.

    For a brief while, the defunct Art Directors and Artists Club in Sacramento tried an illustrator's guild which quickly became the Vito Corleone School, its motto: "Keep your friends close but your enemies closer." It comprised illustrators from a wide range of experiences and backgrounds, from hobby scribblers to commissioned painters. The latter kept tabs on the former, decided they had nothing to worry about, and the guild soon collapsed.

    I'm aware of Sketch Bombs, and that Sacramento has one, but I prejudge them by not quite knowing what they are and whether I'd be intimidated, the resident old guy who needs validation. Somebody take me by the hand.
  • Meet at least one new person each time. No cliques here; community.
  • You could draw too, but draw with someone else drawing, and talk about what you're drawing, your media and method and madness. 
  • Start the conversation. Our purpose would be clear: I'll show you mine if you show me yours.
So we'd sit on comfortable chairs or couches or at nice old dining room tables with a lot of warm lighting. We'd swap one of your sketchbooks — I recommend an old random one — and take turns looking at and talking over pages.

Just a few pages. You wouldn't have to go through the whole portfolio. Simply open up a few pages and ask:

What's going on here?

There would begin a conversation about process and creativity and failure and change of mind and more creativity. It's not your thinking, it's someone else's, but it would inspire you to think different and new about your next project and problem. Maybe someone else's creative process is so alien to yours you can't relate. That's OK; it would cause you to sharpen your own process.

All of this came to mind stumbling across the page above while looking for something else.

It's from an early, early sketchbook, a touchstone of transition in my life. I had not yet cut the tether of working for someone else, but I was close, doing small writing and design and illustration jobs, getting my name out there.

Soon I would be loosed from the security of a full-time job and go through a full-on "What the hell have I done?!" phase, driving the town without aim, watching with longing the delivery trucks whizzing past, thinking that might be a good occupation instead.

At this point and on this page, all was warm and safe. So much going on here:
  • A dentist whose initials are W.M. wanted an identity and possibly a business system (card, letterhead, envelope).

    Here I'm playing with the letterforms as molars — even as fangs. Ultimately the solution evoked the architecture of his office, no teeth.

    It wasn't until sketches were made, solutions were approved, cards printed and paid for, that the dentist decided he didn't want it after all.

    Some clients are like that.
  • The next Envision conference, Envision 22, was coming up and I was helping organize it; we'd eventually enlist a real designer to come up with the identity, but this is me, wonderng what I'd do with the opportunity.

    Envision was a lovely event run by a lovely club, the aforementioned Art Directors and Artists Club, which were halcyon days for me but dying days, it turns out, for the club.

    Leading design publications stormed their way into the design conference market, crushing our little club and our shoestring efforts (though we made an amazing much out of frightening scarcity), and the graphic design industry fragmented and democratized into what it is now, with no real center.

    I checked the ADAC Website in search of information for this post, and learned the club of which I had been president is now no more than the Website page announcing its board's decision to dissolve.

    Few traces remain of anything ADAC, which is a great sadness. It would be nice to have an online archive of ADAC Envision and workshop posters, to mark a time when the club made strides in advancing visual communication. At one time the club had a physical archive of shelves I helped build, heaped with a great history of material.
  • A subsidiary where I worked at the time hired me to make line-art illustrations of agricultural safety practices, including demonstrations of the consequences for unsafe work.

    I think that's what's going on with this sketch of feet on a ladder rung. It's the only such sketch on this page, and more detailed drawings didn't show up until many many pages later in the book.
  • I was still working on a name for my upcoming business, which became somerset words and pictures co. Among options such as Tyrant Design and Industrial Cumquat, I liked the idea of Banana Bone. This is as far as I got on that.
  • The rest of the sketchbook page is a guess. I played with the word "exhibitionist," and the only reason I can think of is that for a couple of years I ran ADAC Envision's Exhibition, our word for the conference trade show; maybe I thought it would be cool to brand the event separately.

    I was designing some kind of portfolio, with a hunky Tab A for Slot A thingie. It never came to pass, whatever it was.

    Now with the miracle of the Internet I can see a lot of illustrators' sketchbooks in the isolation of my office … sketchbooks that in themselves are works of great art, some with fully formed illustrations that spill from page to page like sequential art — nothing like my randomness.
But it's not the same as a club, a time and place every rare often to share and think aloud and dislodge, person to person.

If you're nearby and have a sketchbook or two, let's talk.