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The R&D Lab of Creativity: Inside the Sketchbooks of Beloved Illustrators and Designers

A memory warehouse… a means of detachment… the perfect place to document daydreams.

As an unapologetic voyeur with a soft spot for the notebooks and sketchbooks of famous artists, designers, and other creators, I was instantly enamored with Sketchbooks: The Hidden Art of Designers, Illustrators, and Creatives (public library) from British publisher Laurence King, who brought us the fantastic series 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design, 100 Ideas That Changed Film, 100 Ideas That Changed Architecture, 100 Ideas That Changed Photography, and 100 Ideas That Changed Art.

From sources of inspiration to process, the collection offers a rare glimpse of how 42 of the world’s most exciting illustrators, artists and designers think and create. Alongside each visual entry is a short essay by its owner, detailing his or her relationship with keeping a sketchbook.

Spanish book cover designer Pep Carrió sees his notebook as a kind of creative R&D lab:

For me, a sketchbook is like a kind of a portable laboratory, a space to mark with references, to capture the immediate, to experiment; a memory warehouse to which I can return whenever I am searching for an idea or when I simply want to remember an instant, a time in the past.

Pep Carrió: Sketchbook ‘Visual Diary Untitled,’ gouache

Legendary British designer Peter Saville, best-known for his iconic Joy Division album covers, sees his notebooks as an oasis for conversing with the self amidst an overwhelming landscape of other people’s creative problems:

I started keeping sketchbooks in my mid-teens so they were mainly pop culture oriented. It was the early 1970s and the first concert I went to was David Bowie supporting Blind Faith, and he was as much about image as bout music. My interests became focused through pop, and the relationship between music and imagery.

In the 1980s, as a graphic designer, I was dealing with the visual problems of others alongside my own interests. My drawings showed the visual problem I had to solve, whereas my notes were predominantly discussions with myself.

[…]

Within the sphere of communication design and graphic design, we do not have a professional vehicle for our own thoughts and proposals. The job involves finding solutions to other people’s problems rather than solutions to our own. one of my greatest problems for the last 20 years has been what to do with my own ideas, my notebooks.

Peter Saville: Pencil on paper sketch, 1982
Peter Saville: Pencil on paper sketches, 1999 (top) and 1996 (bottom)

The wonderful Oliver Jeffers, whose children’s books never cease to delight, approaches his sketchbooks like Anaïs Nin did her diaries:

I have kept sketchbooks continuously since I was 18. I think there are around 23 so far. My sketchbooks are mostly paint, ink, paper and concepts that need working out.

Oliver Jeffers: ‘Mister,’ a study painting from 2006; ‘Accomplished,’ googly-eye collage; ‘Things of Interest,’ one of many lists made in 2007; ‘Easy,’ collage on found advertisement

Spanish illustrator Pablo Amargo offers his system of managing creativity:

I like to work on two sketchbooks at the same time. One is for work, with lots of little drawings, ideas for postcards and books. The second one is for pleasure, with collages, my thoughts, people I admire, quotes from books, news and film reviews, that sort of thing. … My sketchbooks are not a removed, strange or chaotic place; they’re actually quite ordered and are a natural extension of my published work.

Pablo Amaro: Birds
Pablo Amaro: The Whale
Pablo Amaro: Fishes
Pablo Amaro: There Are a Hundred Reasons to Buy a House

Soho-based Parisian illustrator Serge Bloch shares his poetic relationship with newspapers:

I like drawing for newspapers. I like newsprint. I like the grey of the text, the black of the titles, the elegance of the compositions. A page of newspaper is like a wall or a gallery where hundreds of thousands of people can visit, without being prevented by shyness from entering the gallery. You can be on a train, in bed or on a sunny bench. But that exhibit is ephemeral because, the following day, there is nothing left, just a piece of paper to dry your boots with or peel vegetables on.

Serge Bloch: Except the bird and the sticker (found in a Paris flea market), these are sketches to find an idea for the New York Times’ science section on the subject of why we like pets
Elephant; Head found in an old book of anatomy by Serge Bloch
Serge Bloch: Birds for McKinsey magazine

Celebrated artist and graphic design educator Ed Fella uses his sketchbooks as both escapism and reservoir for combinatorial creativity:

For me these books are a means of detachment. They are a discharge, a continuation of form studies based on my 30 years of work as a professional illustrator and graphic designer. They are mostly non-objective or ‘deconstructed’ form drawings, decorative and embellished with techniques I learned in my commercial art illustration practice. They reference a history (late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century) that was before my time, but one that I find rich in possibilities for reworking.

Ed Fella: Four-color ballpoint pen with white and yellow prismacolor pencil on paper from a 2004 sketchbook
Ed Fella: Collages from a 1983 sketchbook
Ed Fella: Three collage pages from a 2002 sketchbook (Moleskine Accordion Fold). All fragments of posters from streets in Melbourne, Australia.

For London-based Japanese illustrator Fumie Kamijo, the sketchbook is a physical filing cabinet for the lived experience that feeds creativity:

Everything I have experienced goes into my sketchbooks, the things I have seen, eaten, heard, felt, and, perhaps most importantly, they are the perfect place to document my strange daydreams.

Fumie Kamijo: ‘Rabbit’s Family Tree,’ pen and ink, 2007

Complement Sketchbooks with Drawn In: A Peek into the Inspiring Sketchbooks of 44 Fine Artists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers, and Cartoonists, then revisit Joan Didion’s timeless piece on keeping a notebook.

BP

How to Use Your Turkey Leftovers: 13 Ideas from F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Not one but has been tried and proven — there are headstones all over America to testify to the fact.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald (September 24, 1896–December 21, 1940) — literary legend, master of the muse, deft hate mail responder, star of early book ads, and one wise dad — was also an unsuspected gourmand.

After those favorite recipes by favorite poets and Marilyn Monroe’s stuffing recipe, here come thirteen irreverent ideas for how to use your turkey leftovers from The Crack-Up (public library) — a terrific posthumous collection of Fitzgerald’s essays, notebook excerpts, and letters.

Under the heading “TURKEY REMAINS AND HOW TO INTER THEM WITH NUMEROUS SCARCE RECIPES,” he writes:

At this post holiday season, the refrigerators of the nation are overstuffed with large masses of turkey, the sight of which is calculated to give an adult an attack of dizziness. It seems, therefore, an appropriate time to give the owners the benefit of my experience as an old gourmet, in using this surplus material. Some of the recipes have been in my family for generations. (This usually occurs when rigor mortis sets in.) They were collected over years, from old cook books, yellowed diaries of the Pilgrim Fathers, mail order catalogues, golf-bags and trash cans. Not one but has been tried and proven — there are headstones all over America to testify to the fact.

Very well then. Here goes:

  1. Turkey Cocktail: To one large turkey add one gallon of vermouth and a demijohn of angostura bitters. Shake.
  2. Turkey à la Francais: Take a large ripe turkey, prepare as for basting and stuff with old watches and chains and monkey meat. Proceed as with cottage pudding.
  3. Turkey and Water: Take one turkey and one pan of water. Heat the latter to the boiling point and then put in the refrigerator. When it has jelled, drown the turkey in it. Eat. In preparing this recipe it is best to have a few ham sandwiches around in case things go wrong.
  4. Turkey Mongole: Take three butts of salami and a large turkey skeleton, from which the feathers and natural stuffing have been removed. Lay them out on the table and call up some Mongole in the neighborhood to tell you how to proceed from there.
  5. Turkey Mousse: Seed a large prone turkey, being careful to remove the bones, flesh, fins, gravy, etc. Blow up with a bicycle pump. Mount in becoming style and hang in the front hall.
  6. Stolen Turkey: Walk quickly from the market, and, if accosted, remark with a laugh that it had just flown into your arms and you hadn’t noticed it. Then drop the turkey with the white of one egg—well, anyhow, beat it.
  7. Turkey à la Crême: Prepare the crême a day in advance. Deluge the turkey with it and cook for six days over a blast furnace. Wrap in fly paper and serve.
  8. Turkey Hash: This is the delight of all connoisseurs of the holiday beast, but few understand how really to prepare it. Like a lobster, it must be plunged alive into boiling water, until it becomes bright red or purple or something, and then before the color fades, placed quickly in a washing machine and allowed to stew in its own gore as it is whirled around. Only then is it ready for hash. To hash, take a large sharp tool like a nail-file or, if none is handy, a bayonet will serve the purpose—and then get at it! Hash it well! Bind the remains with dental floss and serve.
  9. Feathered Turkey: To prepare this, a turkey is necessary and a one pounder cannon to compel anyone to eat it. Broil the feathers and stuff with sage-brush, old clothes, almost anything you can dig up. Then sit down and simmer. The feathers are to be eaten like artichokes (and this is not to be confused with the old Roman custom of tickling the throat.)
  10. Turkey à la Maryland: Take a plump turkey to a barber’s and have him shaved, or if a female bird, given a facial and a water wave. Then, before killing him, stuff with old newspapers and put him to roost. He can then be served hot or raw, usually with a thick gravy of mineral oil and rubbing alcohol. (Note: This recipe was given me by an old black mammy.)
  11. Turkey Remnant: This is one of the most useful recipes for, though not, “chic,” it tells what to do with the turkey after the holiday, and how to extract the most value from it. Take the remnants, or, if they have been consumed, take the various plates on which the turkey or its parts have rested and stew them for two hours in milk of magnesia. Stuff with moth-balls.
  12. Turkey with Whiskey Sauce: This recipe is for a party of four. Obtain a gallon of whiskey, and allow it to age for several hours. Then serve, allowing one quart for each guest. The next day the turkey should be added, little by little, constantly stirring and basting.
  13. For Weddings or Funerals: Obtain a gross of small white boxes such as are used for bride’s cake. Cut the turkey into small squares, roast, stuff, kill, boil, bake and allow to skewer. Now we are ready to begin. Fill each box with a quantity of soup stock and pile in a handy place. As the liquid elapses, the prepared turkey is added until the guests arrive. The boxes delicately tied with white ribbons are then placed in the handbags of the ladies, or in the men’s side pockets.

There I guess that’s enough turkey talk. I hope I’ll never see or hear of another until—well, until next year.

Complement with the Lost Generation’s favorite recipes, then revisit Fitzgerald on the secret of great writing and his endearing boyhood diary.

BP

Fiona Apple’s Stirring Handwritten Letter About Her Dying Dog

“I wish we could also appreciate the time that lies right beside the end of time.”

The love of dogs has produced its fair share of moving literature and art, but little comes close to the stirring four-page handwritten letter that Fiona Apple sent her fans as she cancelled the South American leg of her tour to be with her dying dog, Janet — a 13-year-old rescue pitbull with Addison’s Disease and a chest tumor.

Apple writes:

I know she is coming close to the time where she will stop being a dog, and start instead to be part of everything. She’ll be in the wind, and in the soil, and the snow, and in me, wherever I go.

I just can’t leave her now, please understand.

[…]

These are the choices we make, which define us. I will not be the woman who puts her career ahead of love & friendship.

I am the woman who stays home, baking Tilapia for my dearest, oldest friend. And helps her be comfortable & comforted & safe & important.

Though profoundly different in nature and sentiment from Christopher Hitchens’s meditation on mortality, Apple’s is a counterpart of unparalleled sincerity and humanity:

Many of us these days, we dread the death of a loved one. It is the ugly truth of Life that keeps us feeling terrified & alone. I wish we could also appreciate the time that lies right beside the end of time. I know that I will feel the most overwhelming knowledge of her, and of her life and of my love for her, in the last moments.

I need to do my damnedest, to be there for that.

Because it will be the most beautiful, the most intense, the most enriching experience of life I’ve ever known.

Full transcript below.

It’s 6pm on Friday, and I’m writing to a few thousand friends I have not met yet. I’m writing to ask them to change our plans and meet a little while later.

Here’s the thing.

I have a dog, Janet, and she’s been ill for about 2 years now, as a tumor has been idling in her chest, growing ever so slowly. She’s almost 14 years old now. I got her when she was 4 months old. I was 21 then — an adult, officially — and she was my kid.

She is a pitbull, and was found in Echo Park, with a rope around her neck, and bites all over her ears and face.

She was the one the dogfighters use to puff up the confidence of the contenders.

She’s almost 14 and I’ve never seen her start a fight, or bite, or even growl, so I can understand why they chose her for that awful role. She’s a pacifist.

Janet has been the most consistent relationship of my adult life, and that is just a fact. We’ve lived in numerous houses, and joined a few makeshift families, but it’s always really been just the two of us.

She slept in bed with me, her head on the pillow, and she accepted my hysterical, tearful face into her chest, with her paws around me, every time I was heartbroken, or spirit-broken, or just lost, and as years went by, she let me take the role of her child, as I fell asleep, with her chin resting above my head.

She was under the piano when I wrote songs, barked any time I tried to record anything, and she was in the studio with me, all the time we recorded the last album.

The last time I came back from tour, she was spry as ever, and she’s used to me being gone for a few weeks, every 6 or 7 years.

She has Addison’s Disease, which makes it more dangerous for her to travel, since she needs regular injections of Cortisol, because she reacts to stress and excitement without the physiological tools which keep most of us from literally panicking to death.

Despite all this, she’s effortlessly joyful & playful, and only stopped acting like a puppy about 3 years ago. She is my best friend, and my mother, and my daughter, my benefactor, and she’s the one who taught me what love is.

I can’t come to South America. Not now. When I got back from the last leg of the US tour, there was a big, big difference.

She doesn’t even want to go for walks anymore.

I know that she’s not sad about aging or dying. Animals have a survival instinct, but a sense of mortality and vanity, they do not. That’s why they are so much more present than people.

But I know she is coming close to the time where she will stop being a dog, and start instead to be part of everything. She’ll be in the wind, and in the soil, and the snow, and in me, wherever I go.

I just can’t leave her now, please understand. If I go away again, I’m afraid she’ll die and I won’t have the honor of singing her to sleep, of escorting her out.

Sometimes it takes me 20 minutes just to decide what socks to wear to bed.

But this decision is instant.

These are the choices we make, which define us. I will not be the woman who puts her career ahead of love & friendship.

I am the woman who stays home, baking Tilapia for my dearest, oldest friend. And helps her be comfortable & comforted & safe & important.

Many of us these days, we dread the death of a loved one. It is the ugly truth of Life that keeps us feeling terrified & alone. I wish we could also appreciate the time that lies right beside the end of time. I know that I will feel the most overwhelming knowledge of her, and of her life and of my love for her, in the last moments.

I need to do my damnedest, to be there for that.

Because it will be the most beautiful, the most intense, the most enriching experience of life I’ve ever known.

When she dies.

So I am staying home, and I am listening to her snore and wheeze, and I am revelling in the swampiest, most awful breath that ever emanated from an angel. And I’m asking for your blessing.

I’ll be seeing you.

Love,

Fiona

“Dogs are not about something else. Dogs are about dogs,” Malcolm Gladwell wrote in the introduction to The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs — and what more poignant attestation than this?

Letters of Note

BP

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