Unbound sketchbook

What do you do when you find a 15-year old sketchbook with at least two dozen blank pages at the end of it? This sketchbook was something used many years ago to compose page layouts ideas.

It may be that as a young graphic designer I required the use of pen, ink, and paper to organize thoughts and ideas before turning to the digital tool of computer and software to complete a magazine page layout. Or a book layout. Or whatever design project it was that I was working on at the time.

Even back then, a lot of creatives were skipping the hand-drawn phase of graphic design and moving to digital sketches. I was one of those designers too. It did not take long to adapt to digital sketches using Quark Xpress or PageMaker. External and internal clients did not understand these hand-drawn sketches. I quickly understood that these initial sketches were best served between fellow creatives. A form of pictorial shorthand.

Sketches using human figures engaged clients. A point of connection. Composing advertisements and editorial layouts was enjoyable. Even when it was poorly drawn it was pleasurable. It was exciting to explore and play out ideas on pages. To balance text and image. To push the elements toward asymmetrical tension.

Sometimes referred to as “mock ups” or “work ups,” these comps (jargon for compositions) often featured ad copy or editorial headlines that I wrote. I preferred writing my own copy rather than using dummy copy, greeking, or some other form of gibberish used to represent where text was to be placed in design compositions.

These sketches bring back a lot of memories. Projects completed. Projects that never were approved. Abandoned. Like the craft of sketching designs and ideas.

I needed something to prop up the office laptop computer in order to avoid a kink in my neck as I work on print and web design tasks. MacBook Pros are not ergonomically designed. An old keyboard was located. And then a Kensington trackball mouse. And an old, unbound sketchbook. That did the trick.

This work-from-home solution is not ideal. There are days when my children see that I spend most of the time reading and replying to emails, joining video conferences, and moving file icons across the desktop to various folders synched to cloud-based servers. Graphic design looks so different from the point at which I joined the trade. It is less tactile.

The national safe-at-home quarantine allowed me to build a wood desktop and a wood stand-up-desk solution for the laptop, keyboard, trackball workplace arrangement. And the 15-year old sketchbook? Well, paging through the collection of ideas and designs. . . after a long hiatus, I began sketching and drawing on the empty pages at the end of the book.

Dry transfer lettering and the human touch

Dry transfer type

From the graphic design history archive… Anyone remember doing advertising or editorial mockups using dry transfer lettering? Or the fact that mockups were expected to take several days. Not hours.

At the university where I received education in the art of design, I spent a lot of money purchasing packets of dry transfer lettering and Pantone triple nib markers. And I spent a lot of hours in the design studio developing the skill of paste ups and thumbnail layouts.

As I designed a multi-page layout project recently I could not escape the fact at how fast I was able to pull it together. The hand drawn layout thumbnails and non-repo blue line paste ups were not part of the process. Nor were there long days of sketches, dummied text, paste ups, Photostat machine, rubber cement, T-squares, proportional scale wheels and other essential pre-digital design tools.

Fortunately for me, I entered the world of advertising and marketing during the digital revolution in design. The design process for the multi-page layout project was exclusively digital — from concept to completion.

Instead of paging through thick, expensive design journals and other trade publications for color palette and typography and font inspiration, I visited a couple websites like Design Seeds[3] or Font Squirrel.[4] The color palette choice and font and photo selections were quick. That is the nature of the fast-paced environment of production work for a graphic designer.

Yet, last Thursday when the printed product arrived and I reviewed the freshly-inked pages, I was disappointed. The final printed product lacked the essence of human touch. At no point did my hand every touch the page. Everything was created by digital proxy. I can see the difference. Most designers see the difference. A careful observer may also see the difference.

NOTES:


[1] Image originally posted: August 8, 2014. https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2014/08/08/dry-transfer-lettering/
[2] It is a challenge to purchase the old style triple nib markers. Here is one source: AOE Artworld.

[3] Design Seeds: https://www.design-seeds.com/

[4] Font Squirrel: https://www.fontsquirrel.com/