Today we all use cell phones to do exactly what our grand- and great grandparents did back in the day with sketchbooks. Sure, there are differences. With our high-rez cameras we do much more than sketch, but the ethos is not dissimilar. Instagram and all the other social photo tech is an instantaneous way of making pictures, often without the skill of trained photographers. You didn’t have to have training to draw in a sketchbook, just desire. Nonetheless, drawing was a skill taught in many classes and at home, so sketchbooks were journals for jotting down impressions of things. And yes, I know that sketching is still a big deal. Indeed, go to any art supply store and the fashionable branded sketchbooks are in abundance—and they’re costly, too. But once upon a time, it was de rigeur just to carry one around like a cell phone.
This book from 1891 could be the Moleskine of its day. But I prefer to think of it as the iPhone of its day, only without the annoying junk calls, emails and texts.
I don’t know who owned it. Whoever it was had a modicum of facility. Certainly more than I do. But the drawings are less interesting than the fact that they were done in the first place. The sketchbook was a companion as well as a confidant.
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About Steven Heller
Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →