The Daily Heller: The Empathetic Sketchbook

Posted inThe Daily Heller

Sketcher Press is the love child of Gabriel “Gabi” Campanario and all the illustrators who are given the chance to compile their work under his self-funded imprint. “I love the power of drawing as a storytelling medium,” says Campanario, who launched Sketcher Press in 2022, but whose interest in publishing has overlapped with a decades-long career as a journalist and newspaper artist.

Urban Sketchers, the organization he founded in 2009 to foster the art of on-location sketching, grew out of an online publishing project—a group blog where visitors could “See the World, One Drawing at a Time” through dispatches from artist correspondents all over the world.

Sketcher Press’ most current book, Different & the Same, features from-life sketches by Melanie Reim, whose work accompanies articles, books and exhibits. They are also part of the U.S. Air Force Art Collection in the Pentagon. A former associate dean and professor at the New York Fashion Institute of Technology School of Art and Design, Reim has been recognized as a distinguished educator by the Society of Illustrators and was a Fulbright Scholar.

I asked Campanario about the struggles involved in publishing this kind of visual material in a tentative market, and what he has in store for the future.

Gabi, what motivated such an ambitious publishing, well, gamble?
I’ve noticed a new breed of visual storyteller emerging in recent years, but no publishing houses that focus exclusively on their work. These artists tell stories from their travels, like Eleanor Doughty in Nepal; from their own backyard, like Nishant Jain in Vancouver, BC, James Hobbs in London or Daniel Winterbottom in Seattle; and even from the fringes of war, like George Butler in Ukraine. They are documentary photographers without cameras. Instead, they make drawings on the spot and on the go, sketching as witnesses. With Sketcher Press—and by extension with my Substack newsletter, On the Spot—I want to elevate this unique form of visual storytelling.

I believe books of reportage art and urban sketching can tell stories in a special, artful and intimate way, like no other medium can.

You clearly have a deep appreciation for reportage illustration, but do you believe there is a large enough audience to support a publishing program?
As the “Seattle Sketcher” columnist at The Seattle Times for 12 years, I drew and wrote about Seattle and heard from many readers who loved the feature. They appreciated the storytelling behind the drawings and the words.

I do believe there is a much larger audience of people who will appreciate this form of visual storytelling if it is well-presented. Drawings inspire curiosity, discovery, human connection and appreciation for the world at large, from places close to home to the most remote locations where some of us may never be able to travel.

The more we are inundated by images generated by AI algorithms, the more we are likely to value what a reportage artist can offer. Nowadays photographs and video can easily be questioned as manipulated. But you can’t fake a sketch. The work of reportage artists and urban sketchers feels authentic.

What is your background?
I have worked as a newspaper infographic artist, design editor, art director, columnist and illustrator since earning a journalism degree in my native Spain in the early ’90s. As an author, I have written books on urban sketching (The Art of Urban Sketching, The Urban Sketching Handbook: Architecture and Cityscapes and The Urban Sketching Handbook: People and Motion) and a compilation of my Seattle Times columns (Seattle Sketcher: An illustrated Journal).

What attracted you to Melanie Reim’s work that you published in Different & the Same?
I have been captivated by Melanie Reim’s drawing style and choice of subjects ever since I first connected with her in the early days of Urban Sketchers. Her art is instantly recognizable for dynamic linework, bold use of color and lively scenes that jump off the page. A confident artist, she is unafraid of expressing the world through her own filter. I love that. Also, Reim has been genuinely interested in portraying women, especially working women, like no other reportage artist I know. That powerful body of work had to be published. Different & the Same brings together a remarkable collection of Reim’s work that deserves a prime spot in the art library of anyone who appreciates good art and storytelling.

What is the impetus for the previous release New York Reawakens?
Rita Sabler’s reportage of New York had been selected for inclusion in the 2022 Rendez-vous du Carnet de Voyage festival. I jumped at the opportunity to publish it so she could present it at the renowned festival in France last November. Her vibrant ink-and-watercolor sketches are a record of an important time in the history of New York—as the city emerged from the pandemic. They transmit a sense of hope and renewal that anyone who loves New York would appreciate.

How are you able to finance these projects? Do you have a distinct business model?
So far, I’m trying to cover costs with a mix of fundraising from Kickstarter, book preorders and online and event sales. As the word about Sketcher Press gets out, I hope more people will be interested not only in following sketchers on social media, but also in owning all the beautiful Sketcher Press books by them that I hope to deliver.

What’s next on your bucket list?
I’m hard at work with the next Sketcher Press book and excited about how it’s shaping up. I’m also looking forward to new opportunities to promote Sketcher Press authors through more events. Next in our calendar is the artist talk and book signing with Reim at the Society of Illustrators on Oct. 11. I’m also planning for the second edition of Sketcher Fest Edmonds near Seattle in July 2024. If you are looking to escape the New York heat next summer, come for a visit. You can’t beat the Seattle weather in July!