How to make an artist.

When I first started drawing in a journal, almost twenty years ago, I didn’t know anyone else who did it. I bought books on drawing and I looked at catalogs of art workshops and courses but none of them described what I was getting out of drawing and recording my life: a real personal transformation. I wasn’t just interested in mastering media and technical challenges.  I wanted to change how I saw the world.

Then I found one book that described illustrated journaling. It was called “A Life in Hand: Creating the Illuminated Journal” by Hannah Hinchman. Hannah draws beautifully but underlying her lovely illustrations was the message I had been seeking: draw your life and you’ll live it more deeply. I carried the little paperback everywhere ’till the binding broke and the pages fell out.
Next I discovered a  ‘zine in a record store in the East Village. It was called “Moonlight Chronicles” published by D.Price who lived in Eastern Oregon. It was a simple illustrated journal, drawn with a pen in a book and chronicling his life.  Just what I was doing.  I wrote to him and asked for some back issues.  Soon we were writing to each other regularly and we became fast friends. We traveled across the country to meet up and draw. In Manhattan, in Oregon, in California, in Death Valley. Our lives were completely different. I was an ad guy living in Manhattan. He was a hobo living in a kiva in the woods. But we had this thing in common, a thing that could include the world.
Then, as I spent more time online, I met Richard Bell.  He was recording his life and observational drawings and sharing it on a web site called Wild Yorkshire.  We started corresponding and eventually I started keeping a blog, just to share things with him.
One day, I was walking through the East Village and saw a guy sitting on the curb drawing in a book. As I got closer, I saw it was my old pal Tommy Kane.  We hadn’t seen each other in a half dozen years.  I told him I also drew in a book He said he knew, he’d read my blog and it had given him the idea.
Fast forward a decade. Now I have thousands of friends around the world who all love what I love: recording their lives in drawings in a book. This simple habit has changed my life.  But what has made it all the more rewarding is sharing my drawings, learning from others, getting support and encouragement.
Maybe you also draw in book. But maybe you don’t know anyone else who does. Maybe you live far away and feel all alone in what you are doing. You may have joined an online community but deep down you would love it if someone you knew shared your passion, someone you could sit with on the weekend, someone whose journal you could hold, someone who could share their experiences and experiments. A neighbor, a relative, a colleague.
You can make it happen.
Just pick up an extra sketchbook and pen and ask them to sit with you. Show them the basics you have learned. Show them the work you admire. Help them overcome their own fears about not having skills or talent. Encourage them in what they do.
The habit of making art is wonderful. Sharing it is sublime.

15 thoughts on “How to make an artist.”

  1. I wanted to draw since I was a little girl; since the first time I saw my best friend draw a coyote that came alive straight off the page, since I took my first watercolor class in college, since the first painting book I ever bought. But all my listless art attempts went nowhere, even when I painted something “good enough” to hang on my wall. Then, I found Hannah Hinchman’s ‘A Life in Hand’, and A Trail through the Leaves’. And just like that, my artistic yearning had a crystal clear direction. And then I discovered ‘Every Day Matters’, and ‘The Creative License’. These jewels breathed life into my journals. I still paint and draw alone in my far-removed, remote and isolated world, but I have many wonderful books now, and I follow a lively and robust worldwide community of sketchers and journal keepers. Danny, you are at the nucleus of that world and catalyst of that experience for many of us.
    Here are a couple of illustrated journals you may already have, if not they are wonderful. Teresa Jordan’s, ‘Field Notes from Yosemite’ and ‘Field Notes from the Grand Canyon’.


  2. There are so many important messages here… But let me call out just two. The first is the transformation in our own lives that begins when we listen to what is in our heart, and begin to live it. The second is the lives that we touch in doing so, even when we don’t realize that we are touching them. Thank you for following your passion, for sharing it with others, and for the gift of your story!


  3. Danny, I am fortunate first to share this wonderful pastime with my dearest, oldest friend and former art school mate. She and I joined SBS for the 1st klass! But then in August, I handed my (previously un “artististic”) daughter a sketchbook and pen and what has blossomed is truly amazing! She just finished “Beginnings” & has joined a sketch group in SF. I probably shouldn’t be surprised because both her father and I are designers but as you said the “sharing is sublime”! She’s taken to it like a duck to water and just told me she’s taking “Seeing” in January!!


  4. I love the line where you found Tommy Kane, your old buddy, sitting on the curb drawing and he tells you he got the idea from you to draw in book. Now I have maybe 40-50 books filled with drawings from my life, people, buildings, food, animals, things, a whole F-ing trip in Europe, and I can blame it all on you, your blog, your books , but especially that wonderful, colorful, ink in water, Breakfast Video, I saw one day that lit a light bulb over my head and said “draw Lynn Cohen, DRAW!”


  5. Oh my goodness, I forgot all about the Moonlight Chronicles. So awesome. And around the same time for me was Michael Nobbs, of “The Beany”.

    Danny, in late 2009 early 2010 I was in hospital with a very serious [understatement] problem. I asked for two books from home, one I’d been “meaning” to read and one I had been intending to do something with. The first was your own “An Illustrated Life”. The other was my sketchbook. I have no doubt both contributed to healing.

    “The habit of making art is wonderful. Sharing it is sublime.” Yes.


  6. Danny, since starting and sharing your journey all those years ago, and then starting SBS, you probably have hundreds, if not thousands who would love to meet you, shake your hand, look you in the eye and say, ‘thanks.’ Well, I’m one of them, and honestly, I believe that I would even crowd surf to get to the front of the line to meet you were you to show up somewhere close to me!
    But, seriously, I am so thankful to God for bringing you and SBS into my life (did you know He did that? :o) ) Three years ago this week we lost our oldest son, and being able to process my grief and find new joy through my drawing, as random as it has been, has been a catharsis, a pathway of walking out of the darkness and into the light.
    My first exposure to art journaling was when I was preparing to homeschool my children (years ago) and read Charlotte Mason’s approach — she was a huge advocate of nature journaling. Nature and art — ah….. it struck a major chord with me and I went out and bought sketchbooks for each of my kids and then we went out time and again to hike, walk, see and sketch, and my children all have a benefitted from it in some way, from loving nature to doing their own art. My youngest son, who is now 18, has joined me from time to time in journaling, and it has been an awesome way to connect as mother and son.
    Oh, I might add, that another thing that happened back in those first days of discovery of art journaling was that I came across a hardback copy of Hannah Hinchman’s “A Trail Through Leaves” for $5.00 on the bargain rack at Barnes&Noble — I liked the cover, so I bought it, not realizing what a treasure I had discovered until I got home that night and began reading and could not put it down. I found “A Life In Hand” shortly after that. Then Clare Walker Leslie, Cathy Johnson, YOU……. and now SBS and all of the amazing art people you have introduced us to.
    I have SO very much to be thankful for on this eve of our Thanksgiving holiday, and YOU are very near the top of the list this year, Danny!
    God bless you and yours with much joy and thankfulness always,
    a grateful fan :o)


  7. I love this! I took a sketchbook with me to chronicle a rock climbing trip I took with other young adult cancer survivors. It really became a bonding point for all of us. They all wanted to see what I drew that day and added in a comment or a little anecdote about what they saw/felt/experienced. No one cared about my poor drawing skills, they all cared about seeing the trip through my eyes.

    You’ll be surprised at how a notebook can bond a group of people. I know I was.


  8. That IS a great idea! I did tried before to encouraged my friends to draw but they looked at me like i was trying to convert them to a religion or to buy Avon products.
    I will try with a sketchbook and a pen, this time …with different friends :0)


  9. I’m sitting in Charleston, S.C. in my mother-in-laws little old house where we’ve come for years. My mother-in-law, Katty, is no longer physically with us, but spiritually she is alive and well in our hearts. Katty loved to draw, and I have a big collection of all the ittle cads she painted and gave to all of us over the years. I am going to try and invite friends to draw with me in journals about simple everyday moments. In his book, Listening To Your Life, Frederick Buechner says,” all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace”. I think drawing makes me appreciate that.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.