I put together my first sketchbook in 2008. It was a hodgepodge collection of unrelated scribbles and drawings. I’m sure that I gave away more than I ever sold.

There are still a handful of copies floating around but they are only worth looking at as a curiosity. There’s no theme, it’s not even titled, and there’s no indication I’d ever do another one.

And yet, the next year I found myself again with a collection of unrelated drawings (and some paintings) that were all over the place. And I thought about making another sketchbook. I wanted to make a kind of benchmark. Something to show that in the year 2009 this is where I was and this best work that I did for myself. And then in 2010 I did another sketchbook.

It wasn’t until 2011 with The Hidden People that I managed to approach the thing I had been after. A collection of new, original work all centered around a theme.

I always wanted to revisit the world of The Hidden People and my new 2017 collection, The Walking Hills, represents a fulfillment of that, in part. Because what ends up happening is the longer you look at one idea, the more it seems to split like light in a prism. The ideas begin to unfold like a map spreading in every direction. You try to follow one path and can’t help but become enchanted by another and so on.

Thus far I’ve had the good fortune to follow that map into many curious places and I’ve been immensely grateful for the experience.

Here’s a brief video tour of some of the 60 page collection (my largest sketchbook to date)!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=676IE15yeJs?rel=0&showinfo=0]
So, why sketchbooks? Why a series? I’ve got three quick thoughts that I want to share.

One, ideas.

I touched on it earlier, the notion of ideas folding out like a map. What I’ve found is that by giving yourself a theme, a framework to think within, prompts new ideas. It forces you to stick with one overarching thought and you end up turning it over and over in your mind trying to see all the sides. Instead of moving on the next thing that pops in your head, working with a theme helps to develop creative discipline.

That said, I never want to pick a theme that’s so rigid that I have no flexibility. The theme can be malleable. I want to be able to loosely interpret it and make some adjustments as the new ideas present themselves, because they will. You must always spend ideas to get new ones.

Above, Getting new ideas.
Two, productivity.

All of my personal work (and in fact, most of my client work as well!) stems from my sketchbooks. Let me unpack that piece by piece. 

It’s usually the beginning of the New Year that I settle on the theme for that year’s sketchbook collection. Ultimately, my personal work will fall into three main facets: sketchbooks, prints, and originals. Once I complete the sketchbook, I set it aside and go back to make paintings and prints from all the new work. That then gives me a whole new series of originals for collectors. What it all amounts to is a kind of dedicated yearly portfolio refresh. And when it’s working right, not every time, but when it’s working right you’re then attracting the kind of client work you want to do.
As for that client work, what I mean is I can usually trace a very direct line from most of my major projects to which editor or art director saw what particular piece from which sketchbook. It’s why, no matter how busy my years gets, I place an incredible amount of importance on completing a new series.

And three, finding your voice.

I’ve discovered no better way to finding out who I am and the kind of work I want to do than by pursuing an annual series of sketchbooks.

In 2008 when I began collecting drawings together in my first sketchbook, I remember that I was pleased to see everything together but something was missing. It took years (and a couple more sketchbooks) for me to be able to put my finger on it but what was missing was a voice. A drawing here, and scribble there, that’s not going to work. You’ve got to throw yourself into the deep end and for me, that’s looked like planning out a yearly series of new work on a theme and collecting all the sketches, studies, and drawings that go into to making those new pieces in a sketchbook. It’s done immeasurable good for me creatively and professionally.

So here I am, after 10 years worth of sketchbooks. I hope you’ve been able to enjoy some of the trails that I’ve walked and some of the things I’ve documented along the way.

If you’d like to take a closer look you can find The Walking Hills on my store!