Saturday, April 20, 2024

Evolution of a Comic Diary


2/5/24 Most of my early sketch journal/comic diary entries were simple observations I had made that day, usually on my walks.

Late last year I quietly (that is, by not sharing the results on social media) restarted the sketch journal habit that I had previously let fall to the wayside several times. Keeping it up daily, I reported on my progress in January.

3/6/24 I still find it especially challenging to imagine and 
then draw myself in various scenarios.
Around the same time, Drewscape’s YouTube videos and his comic book approach to urban sketching opened my mind to telling stories with multiple small scenes on a page. As often happens on the YouTube rabbit trail, I then became intrigued by the comic diaries of Drewscape and others. In fact, I revisited my own exploration of Lynda Barry’s books on comic diaries a few years ago. With all of these fascinating methods and ideas for telling personal, visual stories crashing around in my brain, my daily sketch journal habit began to morph organically (without my pushing consciously in one direction or the other). To reinforce the habit and encourage more organic morphing, I challenged myself (again, quietly) to make a comic diary entry daily for 30 days beginning April 1.

Since I’m more than halfway through the month, it’s a good time to share some of my progress and process (which actually interest me more than whatever results I may end up with).

As with other self-challenges, my objective is to avoid naval-gazing (which I do enough of in my written journal) and stick as much as possible to sensory-based observations and related thoughts. Although internal monologs are unavoidable when one considers the diary format, which by definition is writing for oneself, I try to minimize that.

4/2/24 More observations

With travel planned for the first week of April, I was afraid I’d have difficulty keeping up with my self-challenge while I was away from my usual routines. Instead, travel turned out to be
 an ideal opportunity for a comic diary. With ongoing family activities, I couldn’t always sketch when I wanted to or spend as much time as I might if I were alone, but I made mental notes to sketch from memory later. The small sketches were easy to make during moments of downtime. I also used my photos as memory prompts and sometimes for reference.

4/8/24 A comic diary page I made from photo references and memory.

As you can see from the examples shown in this post, some entries are nothing more than crudely illustrated notations similar to my original pandemic scribble journal. They hardly resemble “comics,” even the single-panel type. Although I’ve made some attempts at using a theme (“Things I Missed/Didn’t Miss While Traveling,” below), I still have difficulty with developing a story arc visually. (As a lifelong writer, I find it ironic and frustrating that it’s much easier for me to do that with words.) That’s my goal for the rest of the month.

4/11/24 A "theme" comic from imagination

The closest I’ve come to any kind of “narrative” is the page I made after I met a friend for brunch in West Seattle’s Admiral District (below). You already saw the sketches I made on location the same day; it was an additional challenge not to duplicate what I had already sketched from life. The comic diary page (made from memory and photos) has a behind-the-scenes feeling to it – editorializing about the sketches from life. I didn’t plan to do this, but it was another organic outcome: Making the urban sketches first helped to give narrative to the diary page.

4/14/24 Based on memory and photo references, this comic diary page
is "behind-the-scenes" of the urban sketches made earlier that day.

I recently had a V-8 moment which would probably amuse others: For most of my urban sketching life (which began in 2011), I’ve been very strict with myself about keeping the sketches I make from direct observation “pure.” For example, I would never start a sketch on location, then finish it at home by embellishing it with imaginative details or polishing it up by using photo references. Unlike many urban sketchers, I don’t even add color later. It’s just my personal policy: A sketch begun onsite is finished onsite.

In the same vein, making a comic diary that includes sketches done from life alongside those made from memory or imagination was unacceptable to me. I seemed to have an unconscious desire to protect the Urban Sketchers philosophy from getting muddied (as an admin for USk Seattle, I have enough work trying to explain that philosophy to new members regularly). To avoid potential confusion, I simply kept memory/imagination sketches segregated from urban sketches.

Suddenly one day, it hit me: This is my diary, for cryin’ out loud! Most pages will not be seen by others, let alone judged for mixing urban sketches with imaginative ones. Heck, I could put sketches made from photo references right there on the same page as an urban sketch! Lightning will not strike me down!

4/13/24 The statue of James W. Washington, The Brothers and the magnolia blossom were sketched from life. The donut and poke bowl were sketched from memory -- and all of it on the same page! Lightning did not strike me!

You’re laughing, I know. I’m sure most people never think twice about mixing sketches made from a variety of sources. But after being a dyed-in-the-wool urban sketcher exclusively for most of my sketching life, evolution comes slowly.

As for materials, I am staying simple: a brush pen or other black marker in whatever is my current daily-carry Uglybook sketchbook.

Using one Uglybook as a chronological sketchbook/comic diary
makes it easy to complete in two or three weeks.

Speaking of that, I am keeping up my personal pledge to completely fill each Uglybook before switching to a new color. Although I sometimes miss the fun of jumping from color to color, the much larger benefit is that I am maintaining chronological continuity in that one book.

I still use my daily-carry A6 Hahnemühle sketchbook when I want to use color, and I also occasionally use an A5 Hahnemühle when I want a larger page, especially with watercolor or chunky Derwent Inktense Blocks. With multiple sketchbooks, I can’t keep all sketches in chronological order, but I enjoy filling the Uglybook every day with something – a sketch on location; a sketch from memory, imagination or photo reference; a comic diary entry. (Another benefit is that I complete each 48-page Uglybook much faster now – in only two or three weeks.) It’s something I’ve always wanted to do for a long time but couldn’t figure out a way to make it work. That makes it especially satisfying now.


  1. I've been looking at my many sketchbooks lately, realizing I will probably not use up any of them because I am so into chronology and themes. One designated for architecture, one for black pen where I add a touch of red, one for any urban sketching not a building that only takes pencil or pen, a legitimate watercolor sketchbook for urban sketching when I feel brave enough to practice watercolor techniques, an "anything goes" sketchbook for whatever I am drawn to draw. I wish I could mix it up more easily but it is not in my nature. I like organization and just need to sketch more often, no matter which sketchbook. But I like that you are challenging yourself to just put it all down in one place to finish out a book before starting the next.

    1. I do have many other sketchbooks in progress that are for specific practices at my desk, based on material. It doesn't bother me that those are not in chronology because I see them as a different type of practice. But it is fun having just one book that has a daily entry in sequence!

  2. This might be a good place to ask the question of my current angst. You have a much bigger collection of sketchbook/diary books than do I, do you actually go back and look through your books from the past? I find that I don't (I also don't look at past photo albums, paper or digital) and I am wondering if it is worthwhile to save them all. I know you digitize, but how much time would that take? Anne HwH

    1. I have been digitizing most of my sketches since I first started this blog 12+ years ago because I needed to to put them on my blog, so the job is easy -- I just do it day by day, and it takes no time at all (it would be an onerous task if I had to go back and do them all now). But to answer your question, no -- I hardly ever go back and look except when I'm somehow prompted by a question from someone or I was curious about when I did something that was related to a sketch. And it's a serious problem! I will need to do something about all these sketchbooks! Just like I will need to do something about everything else in my house!!! :-0 But for now, I procrastinate. ;-)

    2. I suppose you can then also use your blog as a searchable index to quickly find a sketch, since you post each picture with tags added. 👍 Anne

    3. Yes, I use my blog as an index constantly! Initially, my main purpose for my blog was so that I would have a handy reference for myself. Over time, the blog gives me much more satisfaction than just as a reference, but it still serves that purpose, too! :-)


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