Version of 7/29/2002
The humble sketchbook started as a way for an artist to carry around a
lot of paper, which he turned into drawings, and which he could show
to other people so they could see his ideas and how his style
developed over time.
Eventually, other artists would draw in his sketchbook to show him
things, a technique, a joke, whatever. Showing these drawings to other
people was a lot of fun, as was drawing in other people's books. This
grew until artists started keeping two sketchbooks, one for their own
work, and one for the sketches of their fellow artists. The
camaraderie and intimacy expressed in these books led to some
wonderful artwork. Eventually non-artist friends and fans wanted to
have books like these too.
The sketchbook as we know it today, and I'm referring specifically to
the ubiquitous black sketchbooks fans are known for carrying, has a
certain tradition behind it that a significant number of newcomers to
the fandom are sadly unaware of.
The most important thing to remember is that sketchbooks are for
SHARING art. They are for showing to other people, so that an artist's
work is exposed to and seen by a lot of other people. They are NOT for
grubbing up as much free artwork as possible for one's personal
collection. If you're going to have a sketchbook, treat it as if you
were the custodian of a public trust, like a library. This attitude is
They also grew out of a way of showing friendship. Money doesn't buy
love or friendship. While it may buy a sketch, remember that much of
the sketching you will see going on will be between friends, because
the artist WANTS to do it for a friend. Don't push the issue - you
might not be as close to someone as you think, and it's no fun to find
There are several points of etiquette on both sides of the equation.
If you own a sketchbook, remember the following:
* The tradition of sketchbooks involves TRADING sketches. If you
have no artistic talent, or just aren't confident enough in your
abilities, it is not unreasonable to offer something else of value
to the artist, be it a copy of a 'zine, a favor, (sex?) or money.
But if you can't draw, don't insist on trying.
* Some artists are perfectly willing to do sketches for no
consideration. Be very nice to these people. They think that
having other people see their work in your book will be reward
enough. However, just because they do it for someone else doesn't
mean that they owe you anything. It's perfectly natural for an
artist to give preferential treatment to his friends. Bitch about
it and you can make sure that you aren't on his list of friends.
* Themes can be fun, if they're flexible. "Sex and Violence",
"oops!" and "Wrong Costume" are good examples of broad themes with
a lot of potential for fun. "My personal character doing X" is
less likely to be fun. You especially shouldn't nag, be anal, or
hover over the artist making criticisms before he's finished.
Remember that fun is the main consideration, and if the artist
enjoys doing the drawing, he is more likely to do a good one, and
less likely to ask for anything. (Indeed, more likely to do it
* Be polite. And if an artist turns you down, accept it. He may be
tired of drawing, may not want to do your theme, or he may have
some other reason. If he has a huge stack of books pending, he's
probably doing you a favor by letting you go to someone else
first. Besides, do you really want someone working on your book
who is pissed at you?
* It is a VERY good thing to make a copy of the sketch and send it
to the artist. This little bit of tradition is one of the most
forgotten, and most appreciated if remembered. Some artists have
had to resort to writing their address on the page and ask to be
sent copies of their works. You should offer first. The artist
will appreciate you, and will remember you. If nothing else, be
sure to thank the artist when he's finished.
* Remember that the work is their work. You may own the paper, but
the rights belong to the artist. Making copies for the artist is
good. Making copies for your own backup in case something happens
to the book is good. Making copies and giving them out to lots of
people, or even worse, publishing them in a 'zine or scanning them
without permission, is very bad. The way to share the art is to
show other people the book.
* If you give an artist your book to take home and work on, give him
the money to ship it back. Tuck a fiver in the book and make sure
your address is in it. That should cover it. Make sure this is
completely clear in advance too.
* If you include a bleed page in your book, that makes an excellent
place to write temporary contact info like your hotel room number
to help you get your book back. The front cover makes a good place
to put your permanent address. Losing a sketchbook full of art
I do have to mention the most heinous act that can be done to a book.
Rarely is an entire book stolen, but, to give one of the most arch
examples, pages have been torn out and stolen. A friend told me about
someone taking a razor blade and cutting nine fully colored pictures
from one of his books. Just think, now nobody will be able to see
those pictures again except the thief, who probably just filed them
away somewhere. So much for sharing. Someone who does something like
this should be vilified by the entire fandom (And we know how long
fans can hold a grudge).
On the artist's side:
* If the sketchbook has a theme, try to stick with it, or at least a
humorous tangent (for example, the "Sex and Violence" book
mentioned above has a "Sax and Violins" joke in it). Other books
just have a sort of running gag that evolves from one page to the
next. Look at the other pages and see what's going on.
* You should protect a sketchbook from damage while it is in your
care. When inking or coloring, you should use a bleed page (An
extra sheet of paper to keep the ink from staining the next page).
On the other hand, a lot of funny things have been done with small
amount of bleed, still, a lot just ruins the next page.
* If you don't feel like doing it, don't, but be polite about it.
Doing a half-assed job is almost as bad as vandalizing the book,
and it will reflect on you when the book is shown around.
Remember, these books and what you do in them can be shown around
for YEARS. For the same reason, drawing the same picture in every
book you get won't reflect on you all that well either.
* If you are going to require money, be clear and up front about
what you charge and what that money gets. And stick to it.
(Although remember that when you're trading with another artist,
it's usually sketch for sketch, although not always. Doing a
sketch in someone's book does not obligate them to return the
* Try to have fun, play off the previous sketches. But don't let it
become a chore. If being hounded by people who don't have the
clues contained here is going to ruin your con and burn you out on
the fandom, take a break. Be firm. "What part of "No" didn't you
understand?" is one of my favorites when someone won't take a
hint, but be polite up to that point.
* And if you accept a book with the promise of mailing it back, do
so promptly. If you are going to get other artists in your area to
work on the book, your responsibility for the book doesn't end
when you hand it off. You must make sure that it gets back to the
owner, even if someone else promises to take care of sending it
back, it's still your responsibility.
* I didn't think it would be necessary to say this, but a recent
incident has caused me to add this: Don't write on other people's
pages unless specifically asked to. Someone took a sketchbook and
wrote smart-ass "humorous" comments on virtually every page.
Needless to say, the owner was not very happy.
* Don't sit on the books. In general, you should not accept more
books than you can deal with in a reasonable period of time. If
you're not going to work on sketchbooks after the dealer's room
closes, then a reasonable period of time equals the time remaining
before the room closes. If you are going to work on them in the
evening and overnight, then don't forget and leave them locked in
the dealer's room. Accepting someone's sketchbook at the beginning
of a Con, and handing it back to them at the end saying "Sorry, I
couldn't get to it" is a sure fire way to lose a fan and maybe
acquire an enemy. You've deprived them of an entire convention's
worth of opportunities for sketches, and you might encourage the
dreaded resurrection of multiple sketchbook fans.
That's it. Have fun!
Permission is hereby granted for this document to be circulated as far
and wide as possible, including Furnet, Usenet, being included in FAQs
or stored on BBSs and FTP sites, incorporated into Con program books
or printed out as flyers. The only proviso is that it should be
replaced with any updated version found, and any corrections,
additions, or comments should be sent to me first.
Email Rich Chandler.
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