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Social Sketch in life

I met Mike when Courtney asked if I’d like to join them for a sketch sesh. I said, “of course!” but was kinda nervous about sketching with the two of them. They are what you might call real artists. The kind of artists with degrees in art, who show their work in galleries, write books on art and craft, and teach others how to make art. I am a bit of a poser. I am a “paint in my living room after I finish work, don’t really know the difference between student and professional materials” kind of artist.

I decide to go sketch anyway. After scarfing down a terribly saucy, terribly delicious falafel in Mike’s studio space, we get to it. We each start on a sheet and when someone gets tired or feels like they’re done we exchange work. Then we exchange one more time so that everyone has made a mark on each sheet.

It was magic.

I loved trying to figure out how to enhance their work. I love how clearly Mike and Courtney’s styles come through, and how they play off of one another’s work. (You can see more of their collaborations on Instagram under the hashtag #ccrabbit.) I wasn’t even that scared to mess up their work because there was no ego about it. Turd it up? Doesn’t really matter, flip the page and start something new.

Here’s one of my faves from the night:


And here’s the bunch at the end of the night that we divvied up:collab sesh

This collaborative way of drawing reminds me of old Persian miniature painting. Each artist would have a specialty, such as gold leaf, color, calligraphy, and would only add that particular element to each work. Paintings were a result of several artists’ efforts.

Several years ago the Asian Art Museum here in San Francisco hosted an exhibit that played off of this idea. Karkhana: A Contemporary Collaboration included paintings that had been passed from artist to artist. Here you can get an idea of the process (excuse the shitty images throughout this post, these are quick phone snaps of the exhibit catalog):

karkhana process


This brings us to the awesomeness that is Social Sketch, a monthly event recently started by Courtney and Mike which alternates between San Francisco and Oakland venues.

social sketch

It’s an open event, you can find upcoming dates on Instagram #socialsketch or Facebook. Bring beer, burritos, and your favorite pen or paints. Start a work, throw it in the middle of the table, take someone else’s and add to it.

Why I think this simple concept is so good:

there’s no ownership of the work, no ego because you don’t necessarily know who made what, no money involved so it’s not really competitive. You make something you’d never otherwise make, meet and work with skilled people, have dedicated time to hone your craft, take cool shit home. And if you make something crappy, it doesn’t much matter. Throw it in the center so someone else can fix it, and start fresh.

I would love to employ the social sketch concept in other aspects of my life. How come it’s so hard to find paid gigs with this same spirit? Projects where you work with cool people, with no ego, who help to make something that wouldn’t otherwise happen alone. I suspect work projects don’t feel this way because they involve money. As soon as you pay or get paid for shit it changes the dynamic of the relationship, and people tend to feel more possessive of the process or final products. Even so, I’m looking to embrace social sketch in other contexts because it’s a fun way to work, and a lot of cool stuff gets made.

Here’s some collaborative pieces from previous Social Sketches. Hope to see you at the next one!








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What your notebook says about you

I was scrambling to get ready for my morning meeting last Friday and realized that I was out of notebooks. I had just finished my Creativity Explored one,


which is tiny and noncommittal, the equivalent of a hotel notepad with a cute cover.

I flipped through my red moleskine, just in case there were any blank pages left in that one.


There weren’t. In a pinch, I usually use my agenda book, but my new 2013 one has little room for notes.

(I love paper, if you couldn’t tell by now.)

I’m running all over my parents’ house (which is where I crashed last night) looking for anything to write on, loose leaf paper, backs of envelopes, anything! “They don’t even have computer paper, what animals!” I grumbled, checking the time. At this point, I’m pawing through my dad’s office, which is crazy messy, and come upon these beautiful notebooks in his bookcase. I always forget that he is a bit of a writer himself. “These are really nice. Too nice to steal? Hmm. He does have two, though. And they are both blank.” I rationalize. He leaves for work before 6 (and it’s way later than 6 right now), so I text him to see if it’s OK to steal one. I don’t get a reply. It’s too late. I run out the door, notebook in hand.


This notebook is large, bigger than your standard 8.5×11″ anyway. The weight of the pages is heavy. The backs are blank and the fronts are gridded, with space for project titles, page numbers, and extra bookmarking info. The ink is green.


I like this notebook because it feels like I’m doing scientific experiments. It elevates the importance of the notes, without the pressure to come up with grand conclusions. Experiments fail all the time.

I also like the science-y feel of this notebook because it makes me think of Field Notes on Science and Nature.


I love this collection of famous(-ish) scientists’ notebooks. Scratchings and musings. Its purpose is to share observational notes from the field, ones that usually stay hidden in filing cabinets or personal libraries. And each set is as idiosyncratic as its author. Its contents capture seemingly unimportant, fleeting impressions. Only after many seasons, or even decades, of field research do models start to form and the scientist is able to draw patterns and larger theories about the world around us.

Why does any of this matter? Because your notebook says a lot about you.

First, the notes themselves. Notes are in your handwriting and drawing style. They reflect your view of your environment and interactions, how you receive, interpret, and consider your personal experiences. Mine are rambling and messy, and usually have an expiration date. The more time passes, the less likely I’ll be able to read them.


Second, the notebook format says a lot about your design sensibilities. A yellow legal pad is different than a composition book which is different than a tiny spiral bound book which is different than a sketchbook. You get the idea.


Aaron Draplin‘s Field Notes, for example, are hugely popular among designers (although, I admit I didn’t know what they were before I heard Draplin speak at CCA.) Field Notes are simple, beautiful, and functional by design. They are pocketable.


Yet, the moleskine is still the quintessential designer’s notebook. My buddies at Pas de Chocolat and I go into this more in the app we’re making about design. Stay tuned!

Third, the notebook as prop declares your level of engagement. What kind of attention you are going to pay to the situation you are in. You show up to a meeting and lay it on the table. More often than not these days, it’ll be your laptop. But I find this to be disengaging and a barrier to interaction with the people in the room. I bring a laptop if the meeting is not that important and I want to daze out and check my email.  My old manager had a huge notepad (maybe 11×17, maybe bigger) that really made an impression in meetings. “Whoa!” people would inhale sharply as she opened it in front of them. I couldn’t decide if it was the equivalent of driving a big truck or if it really did help her think. Maybe a little of both.