And yet…

21 January, 2019. Man, this paper is a pain in the keister! Ink bleeds like crazy. My super compliant Caran D’Ache pastels don’t want to stick, and dragging the nib of my pen across the paper is a lot like driving a Jeep across the surface of the moon. It seems to suck ink right out of my pen reservoir too. Oh, and forget about activating those water soluble pastels with a brush.

And yet…

Drawing on lousy paper is fraught with frustrations. Marks happen by chance. There’s just something about the unpredictability that makes sketching an appealing act of happenstance.

From time to time I’ll cut up a brown bag from the grocery store to draw upon. It’s a bit like butcher paper, but not as nice. The paper in this sketchbook is awful. It seems to have been formulated from some sort of oatmeal/palm frond/sandpaper/asteroid pulp recipe. The surface is irregular and looks hand made (although I doubt it actually is.)

The cover is laughably kitschy, but it does brighten up an otherwise cold and gloomy looking January world. It’s an embarrassingly “touristy” look, quite frankly, and the binding, while functional, is inset so far from the spine that a lot of real estate is lost: the effective useful drawing area is much smaller from side-to-side than it would appear at first glance. And that twig! It’s an entirely decorative accent (as is the cut out fish); it makes me chuckle just a little bit. This is a sketchbook you simply cannot take seriously.

And yet…

It is a fun surface to mark upon. In a way, it reminds me of the crummy manilla paper I used for pen and ink drawings when I was a kid. I’d no idea at the time that “artist paper” was even a thing and so I used dip pens and India ink over terrible paper that was only barely workable. And doing so meant braving the frustrations of the inevitable ink spatter and blobs. As an adolescent, those frustrations led to more than one bottle of ink getting thrown across the room.

I’m also reminded of Renaissance era artist sketches. As I was floundering my way through the world of dip pens, the twelve year old me was gifted art books by my aunt. One book I particularly recall was illustrated with ink sketches by Rembrandt. The lines were spare and at the same time incredibly expressive. The sketches were made with what I imagine was a crude dip pen and represented a very handmade process. The paper never allowed a “perfect” line to be formed. I suspect now that Rembrandt’s paper had discolored over time, but everything about the paper in my sketchbook reminds me of his drawings: the color, the way lines are broken and skitter across the surface. Such paper encourages one very simplistic approach to drawing, a sort of imperfection that I find attractive.

Once upon a time, in a life before I was an art educator, I was a designer and illustrator. It was how I made my living. With the advent of Instagram and various other social medias, I’ve noticed a cascade of younger art makers are labelling themselves as illustrators. I sort of wonder how many of them realize that illustrators, for the most part, make art for someone else – that illustrators are hired to express the ideas of others. Illustrations are assignments generated by others and executed by illustrators. I wonder if that label of “illustrator” is self bestowed as a means of validating their art making. I hope not.

Illustration is a valid form of art making, but I no longer consider myself to be an illustrator, except in the very broadest sense of the word. I draw what I enjoy, when I enjoy, and where I enjoy. Any “assignments” are my own and no apologies are necessary for how crudely my marks are made.

Even when they are made on crummy paper.


  1. lepastelbleu · January 21, 2019

    very funny even if a little bitter … the poor paper is also found among those of art … not or if it ever happened to you, watercolor paper that after years (I happen to keep aside some sheets) stain all the color, as if it were damaged. For what you write about being illustrators, if you can also get the text all very fun and free, then it depends a lot on the publisher you publish with, no?

    • azorch · January 21, 2019

      I hope I don’t sound bitter. Maybe a little tongue in cheek, though! 🙂

  2. @tantele · January 21, 2019

    Uh oh. I have been using #illustration on Instagram. And I am not an illustrator … and not young either….
    Just a person who gets to make stuff at the end of their work life. There is no hashtag for that though.

    • azorch · January 21, 2019


      • azorch · January 21, 2019

        Perhaps a hashtag needs to be started!

  3. · March 23

    These are all cool, and the discussion about lousy paper interesting, even to a non artist soul. But for some unexplained reason, the primary question whole thing left me wondering…. The one burning question I just can’t seem to erase from my brain.. Just how many Jeeps have you actually driven across the surface of the moon?
    That was what was on my mind the whole time I read through the rest of your post. Which made the whole thing weirdly cool. Maybe I was on some lunar jeep ride myself.

    • azorch · March 23

      Man, that post was long enough ago I couldn’t even remember what I wrote. I had to go back and reread it all over again!

  4. · March 23

    Did you take a Jeep?

    • azorch · March 23

      Actually, my Passat…leather seats and better air conditioning.

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