After reviewing Sketchbooks: The Hidden Art of Designers, Illustrators and Creatives just a few weeks ago, it seemed premature to cover another one so soon, but any drawing teacher would concur: you can never do enough sketching. Sketchbook: Conceptual Drawings from the World's Most Influential Designers by Timothy O'Donnell covers similar material in a slightly different manner. While Brereton's book caught artists and ad execs at their most candid, O'Donnell documents primarily illustrators and designers doing real projects. Thus the art throughout is more precise, a little tighter and far less kooky. While this bodes well for the pencil chops of designers as a whole, it also means that looking at some of these sketchbooks is totally demoralizing.
Looking at the book as a whole, however, is beyond lovely. Laid out on a grid with four unrelated serif and sans fonts (no superfamilies here!) it coheres harmoniously ... and that's even with Johnny Hardstaff's frenetic sketches on the page. Hardstaff, however, is the only artist that appears in both O'Donnell and Brereton's books, probably because his skills with a felt tip are so damn tight. Lots of other talent abounds too. Ayse Birsel of Birsel+Seck says of her partner, "Bibi draws like a god," and although I don't know what god draws like, he (that would be Bibi) is as good as Mr. Hardstaff. Birsel+Seck are product designers to boot ... plus Yahweh might find Johnny Hardstaff's sketches a little risque. What Sketchbook: Conceptual Drawings from the World's Most Influential Designers does far better than The Hidden Art of Designers is illustrate the creative process. Each serves a different master. While Brereton's book was about love, O'Donnell's book is about results. Fortunately for the reader, viewing these conceptual sketches doesn't feel like work at all.
Organized in three sections, "Rough," "Refined," and "Random" (plus bonus section "Revealed," where O'Donnell shows the thumbnail sketches he used to lay out the book), almost all sketches/sketchbook pages are pared with pictures of the finished product side by side. The "Rough" section features loose artwork and thick lines, but crisp final products, like the way Jason Munn turns simple sketches into iconic music posters, while the "Refined" section sees Stefan Bucher's gorgeous pens turned into, well, equally iconic logos and business cards. Beyond nearly academic distinctions about the roughness of lines, the "Rough" and "Refined" sections are nearly indistinguishable. Once again, it seems that the graphic designers capable of hand drawing typography consistently generate the prettiest sketchbooks. Chris Bigg's felt pen album covers fill the stark pages with high contrast imagery and Rob O'Connor's album covers are nearly as stimulating in ideation as they are as finished products. Perhaps it's no surprise that graphic designers produce the prettiest sketchbooks, but it the tight confines of typography often generate the quickest and most inspirational sketches as well.
Each section terminates with a Q&A essay written by a famous designer, and while both James Victore and Ralph Caplan prove capable essayists, the final Q&A by Frank Wilson (M.D!) discussing his book The Hand might just presage another book review. The last section "Random" includes sketchbooks written on rolls of paper, non-sketchbooks put on walls and posterboard and pages with magazine clippings, but generally proves Marshall McLuhan wrong. The medium is not the message. Regardless of medium, paper or display method, sketching is sketching. Given that only a few of the "sketchers" profiled work in product or other 3d mediums, it does seem a pity that 3d sketches or sculptures weren't included, but perhaps that's just my competitive streak. It is called sketchbook after all. That said, there can be little doubt that the sketchbook as a medium is sublime. Whether dealing with logo design or automobiles the immediate visual play of a sketchbook or the physical presence of a 3d model makes an idea immediately tangible, but the ease at which a sketchbook can be altered or amended almost demands that a pen reach in and "improve" it. In his Q&A, James Victore is asked "Do you ever complete a project and feel that the sketch was more successful than the ultimate solution?" His reply is "Always." We invite you to find your own.