Art + Design

Sketchtravel

This week, we’re excited to have Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, art director at Pixar Animation Studios and co-author of Sketchtravel, guest posting on the blog. If you’re in the Bay area, you can check out the Sketchtravel exhibit at the Cartoon Art Museum. On October 20 there will be an opening reception for the exhibit, which runs through February.

Back in 2006, I started Sketchtravel—a simple concept in which a red sketchbook was passed between artists around the world—with French illustrator Gérald Guerlais. “Wouldn’t it be great if we passed one sketchbook around our friends?” Guerlais asked me while we were traveling with our own respective sketchbooks in the Paris Metro. “Let’s do it, but let’s go beyond our circle of artist friends,” I said. “What if we connect with artists we admire though this book?”

We started off with a fan-boy list of artists. We wrote down names of our favorite artists thinking it’d be impossible to get them to participate. Some couldn’t participate, some not only participated but also became our friends. In the end, the book was filled with acclaimed artists and illustrators such as French children’s book illustrator Rebecca Dautremer, British illustrator Quentin Blake, American contemporary artist James Jean, and animation legends Glen Keane, Bill Plympton, Frédéric Back and Hayao Miyazaki, to name a few.

By Ben Butcher

“The Handoff” by Michael Knapp

There were two rules: every artist only gets one page, and the sketchbook must be passed off by hand between artists. While the first rule was broken immediately, the latter remained a sacred edict that bonded the 71 artists who eventually contributed to the project. This hand-off rule slowed down the process of its journey but as Guerlais put it, “You can’t rush art.”

Taiyo Matsumoto

By Carter Goodrich

We set the project up as a nonprofit. That way, the motivation to participate was purely for fun. The project evolved throughout its 5 years, and the book became an incredible traveling museum involving many thought-to-be-untouchable artists. It was exciting, but we realized that we had a responsibility to make sure the selected cause would benefit from money the book generated with good efficiency.

Eventually we found San Francisco-based Room to Read, an organization that focuses on literacy and gender equality in education for children in developing countries. Building libraries and sponsoring local children’s book publishing felt like a fit for the artists involved.

We auctioned the finished original sketchbook last October, generating over $100,000, and so far, Sketchtravel has built 5 libraries and 5 children’s book publications in Laos, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. All royalties from the publication of Sketchtravel (in English, French and Japanese so far) will be donated to Room to Read as well.

Sylvain Marc and Quentin Blake

Tadahiro Uesugi receives Sketchtravel from Dice Tsutsumi

Due to its hand-delivery rule, the book carried not only the beautiful artwork but also many interesting stories.

One of the first artists invited to participate, Rebecca Dautremer, a popular French children’s book illustrator, thought Guerlais was a stalker. Guerlais didn’t know how to get in touch with her, so he called her one day at a number he found in a telephone book. She said she would meet us in a gallery but didn’t show up, so he called her up again. When we finally met her, she seemed disturbed by Guerlais’ approach, but today, Rebecca Dautremer is one of our closest artist friends.

A premier American illustrator, Peter de Sève, missed two opportunities to get his sketch in. We had to bring the book back to New York several times for him, which is why we have many New York-based artists in the book. He needed us to pressure him to finally do his beautiful watercolor sketch on the third occasion, which we half-jokingly told him was his final chance.

Sketchtravel ended up being much bigger than what we expected. We had so much fun, traveled all over the place, and met many world-renowned artists though the project. Both the French and Japanese editions went into additional printing. Many people told us they were inspired not only by the extraordinary artwork in the book, but also by the idea behind it. We hope English readers find this book as inspiring.

For more Sketchtravel news, visit the Facebook page for the project, and watch Guerlais’ video and Tsutsumi’s animated short to promote the project.

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