How and Why to Start a Convention Sketchbook

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Convention season never really ends. Winter is slightly quieter, but you can still find conventions to attend almost every weekend of the year. Some are bigger affairs like San Diego Comic-Con, some are smaller single day shows, but they’re everywhere. And when you attend several of those cons a year, they can start to look the same—especially when it comes to merchandise. I’m running out of spots for my army of Funko Pop! figures, and my available wall space is at a premium. I have a stack of art I don’t have room to hang. I’ve put some of it in portfolios, but portfolios take up spots on my bookshelves. In recent years, I’ve found a more meaningful and unique way to collect art that doesn’t take up tons of space: sketchbooks!

Starting a convention sketchbook gives you the opportunity to commission your favorite artists to draw whatever you want (mostly) in a single place. Sure, you can commission art as separate illustrations not in a sketchbook, but I like being able to flip through my treasured pieces and not worry about framing them. The concept is simple: Buy a sketchbook and pay artists to draw in it until the book is full and overflowing with one-of-a-kind art. Not sure what type of book to buy and how to find artists to draw in it? Here’s everything that you need to know!

Daredevil by Sean Anderson

Buying a sketchbook

Consider the following when you purchase a sketchbook: paper quality, size, and binding.

Paper: The quality of the paper is probably the single most important consideration for a sketchbook. You want a thick paper that can absorb ink, markers, and maybe even watercolors. And no, it should not be lined paper. I’ve had a great experience with Canson Artist Series hard bound sketchbooks. If you’re not comfortable choosing a sketchbook on your own, visit an art store and tell them what you need the book for–they’ll help you choose one. This book could become one of your most valued possessions so it’s worth it to pay for high quality and durability.

Size: Sketchbooks come in a variety of sizes so this is all about your personal taste. If you have a smaller book, artists may charge less and/or may add more details and a background. Smaller books means the artist may be done with the book more quickly, too. As you can tell, I prefer smaller books. My current sketchbook is 8.5 inches by 5.5 inches.

Binding: Stay away from spiral bound notebooks. The artist will have to draw around the binding, and it’s not as attractive. Other than that, pick a book with sturdy glue so pages don’t fall out. You do not want to lose your new Skottie Young art because of inferior binding–or for any other reason, really.

When you have a sketchbook of your very own; write your name, number, and email address on the inside cover just in case it gets lost. Then, cut a piece of Bristol board or card stock the exact size of your sketchbook for artists to put behind the page they’re working on. The sheet will prevent ink, etc. from bleeding through to the next page.

Bullseye by Livio Ramondelli

To theme or not to theme?

When it comes to choosing what kind of art to put in the blank pages of your sketchbook, the sky’s the limit. You can commission drawings at random, go with specific character themes, or broad themes. My current sketchbook is all about the world of Daredevil. It’s mostly filled with Matt Murdock, but any character found in the pages of Daredevil comics is game. I also have Foggy Nelson, Elektra, and Bullseye among others. Other examples of themes include Doctor Who, villains from any franchise, female characters, X-Men, bounty hunters, and comic book characters as cats. I know one person who has media guests at conventions sign sketchbook illustrations instead of glossy photos so that’s a possible theme option, too.

If you commit to a theme, save some reference photos on your computer or phone to serve as reminders to yourself about characters you want in your sketchbook and to send to artists if they need them.

Captain America by Cat Staggs

Artists for hire

You have a sketchbook, you know roughly what you want–now it’s time to add art! A few weeks before your next convention, visit the convention’s website and see which artists will be attending. If you see an artist you like, look up his/her website or social media feeds and see if there are any posts about commissions. Many artists take commissions on a first come, first served basis, but some allow you to get on a list ahead of time. If you’re not sure about what you want, wait until the convention and walk around Artists’ Alley until you see an art style you like.

Artists usually have signs posted with commission options and prices, but if you don’t see any information, ask if they accept commissions. Let the artist know what you’re looking for and see if they have room in their schedule and ask about turnaround time–the latter is especially key with a sketchbook because you can’t commission more art when an artist has the book in hand. Once you know the price and know the artist understands what you want, you’re golden. Expect to pay upfront (as always at conventions, have cash on you just in case the artist doesn’t take credit cards) and ask if the artist can text or email you when the commission is ready or ask when you should come back by. Though it is sometimes an option, I don’t like to let my sketchbook leave the show with the artist. I’ve heard just enough horror stories about artists not sending sketchbooks back to be uncomfortable with the idea.

Rinse and repeat until your sketchbook is full. I set a sketchbook budget for each convention I attend and try to add at least one new drawing to my Daredevil book at each show. It will be years before all the pages are full, but I’m more than okay with taking my time.

Featured image by Jae Lee

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