How I found my tribe.

We just launched a new social network just for SketchBook Skool called the SkoolYard. Among many other things, it’s another place for me to hold forth and write long pieces —like this essay to welcome new members. You may not be in the community yet but some of my thoughts may still resonate with you.


When I was little, we moved an awful lot. We lived in London, Pakistan, Pittsburgh, Australia, Israel, and Brooklyn — all before I finished seventh grade. I lived in different neighborhoods, spoke different languages, and had to learn about new cultures, new sports, new foods every year. I guess this diverse upbringing had its upsides but the hardest part was always being the new kid. And always feeling like an outsider.

Even after we settled in New York, I continued to feel like a weirdo. I wasn’t interested in talking about sports or heavy metal or the best way to roll a joint. I wore three piece suits like some hippy Alex Keaton. I read compulsively and wrote short stories. I drew and painted alone in my room. I would wander the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens on Sundays afternoon, pretending I was lord of a P.G. Woodehousian manor and that this was my estate. I formed an after school Marx-Engels study circle. I acted in plays, co-edited the school paper, illustrated the year book but, when I went to my high school reunion last summer, even though there were only 35 kids in our class, a third of them had no memory of me at all.

At Princeton, I didn’t fit in very well either. I hadn’t gone to a prep school and wasn’t on any varsity. I loved to write but wasn’t an English Major. I hung out with various cliques: the Pakistani students, the artists, the ruby team, the theatre geeks. And when it came time to apply for a job after college, I had no idea what to do and ended up in advertising. I didn’t fit into the agency life either. I was too intellectual, too skeptical about advertising, too visual to be a proper copywriter, too literary to write in the vernacular, too self-conscious to be a good salesman, too prickly and weird to be a good manager. Nonetheless, I had a successful career, feeling all the way that I didn’t belong.

In my late thirties, two things happened. First, I learned to draw. I found a deep and abiding passion in my sketchbook and art began to change who I was. It felt like home and I became more in tune with my surroundings, more empathetic, calmer, happier.

The other was the Internet.

I started to find people who shared my passion. And a whole lot more. I met Richard Bell who loved to draw the nature in his garden, who made books, who lived a thousand miles away in Yorkshire but we would email each other all the time, about all sorts of silly things. I met D.Price who also loved to draw, to publish zines, to study philosophy, to live simply, and he lived thousands of miles away too, in Eastern Oregon, but we snailmailed each other long letters and got together in out of the way places to sit and draw and talk about sitting and drawing, and eat beans out of a can, and watch the shadows grow long. And I met Roz Stendahl who taught me to bind books and watercolor and draw dogs. We would have long phone calls, Skype calls, emails, and over twenty years of friendship, we’ve only ever been in the same room twice.

Over the years there were many other deep and abiding friendships. People who lived far away, who did very different things, whose paths would never have ordinarily have crossed mine but for that one common thread: loving to put ink on paper. At the turn of the century, I started to blog, primarily to share my thoughts with Richard. Without my intending it, my comment section started to turn into a community. Then we set up a Yahoo! group. Soon it had thousands of members. I taught an evening workshop on drawing at the Open Center and formed connections that have endured over decades.

All of these threads continued to weave a rich new tapestry. I published books and taught workshops. And eventually I left my career in advertising, met Koosje Koene, started Sketchbook Skool, and here we are today.

Weirdoes in Pasadena.

Last fall, we were in Pasadena. Hundreds of people who loved the things I loved. Some were weird like me. Some looked like people with whom I’d have nothing in common. But all felt like family. Because we all loved drawing and sketchbooks and SketchBook Skool.

What started on the Internet had now become a physical event. We were all together in person at last. But a lot of people who felt the same way weren’t there. It was too arduous a trip, too impossible to get to California. But we all felt their presence and wished they could join us too.

After SketchKon, we talked a lot about how to keep that spirit alive. Sure, we could have another convention and we planned to. But how else could we get everyone together in one place, a place that was just for us, a place where everyone belonged, felt safe to be different, to love pens and Prashant, to be an art geek?

For me, Facebook had lost its lustre. It wasn’t just the stories about its business failings. It was the experience of that endless stream of posts, most from people I don’t know, pet videos, politics, saccharine quotes, advertising, and bullshit. I wanted to sit and commune. I wanted to feel like I did at the bar in the Westin Pasadena late on Saturday night, surrounded by people with waterbrushes, talking about Felix Scheinberger’s palette and Tommy Kane’s compulsions, sharing tips, being with people who I know, because we all belong together.

And I also wanted people who didn’t have a long, storied history with me to feel like they belonged too. I wanted to welcome that person who had just transferred into the neighborhood, who didn’t know a soul, who yearned to play but was wary and unsure, who felt a calling to learn more about their own creativity and needed a welcoming smile. The lurkers, the newbies — they are my tribe too.

The Skool Yard is designed to be a place for whatever we want to make of it. We can share drawings, pen recommendations, questions about homework, art inspiration. But we can also share our ideas about art. About life. About anything we want.

We can find people who live near us and invite them to meet at the local Starbucks and share sketchbooks. We can collaborate on projects. We can talk to each other in groups, or one-on-one. We can gather with the people who’ve taken our favorite kourse. We can find others who share our love for gouache, for crochet, for schnauzers or mixed martial arts. Tribes within the tribe.

When I worked in an office, most of my friendships were formed at work. When I left my job, those friendships faded. But I know drawing and I will have a life-long love affair. And the people who share it with me are here for the long haul too. Who knows, one day I may move back to Pakistan, to Canberra, to Los Angeles or Timbuktu, but as long as I can get online, I can talk to you, draw with you, share with you, laugh and cry with you — my tribe.

I’m so glad I found you.


The Skool Yard is just for SketchBook Skool students and by invitation only. We are rolling out invitations this week, starting with those who have enrolled in our new kourse, People Drawing People.  Because some readers complain when I promote too heavily on this blog, I haven’t talked at all about this wonderful kourse, but if you’d like to learn about it and join the new community, please do. 

If you have been a part of other SBS kourses in the past, you will receive an invitation in the future.  We are rolling out invitations in increments so as not to overwhelm the community and preserve its delicate  balance. So far it is a wonderful place full of sharing, caring and inspiration.  I love it!

And while the Yard is a lovely place, so is my blog because of the community we have built around it. Thanks so much for reading my nonsense for all these years and for having a conversation with me by sharing your comments here.

26 thoughts on “How I found my tribe.”

  1. I cannot really afford to take a Sketchbook Skool course although I have hovered around the edges and connected to various characters involved (Andrea Joseph). I am the world’s slowest artist and colourer-in of abstract art. Since the death of my only child Caroline in 2015 I am slowly trying to find any sort of faith, hope, joy, (all of those [again] abstract things you take for granted before disaster strikes) and I think art/drawing/sketching is my best option. Motivation is therefore slow and passion continuously crushed by apathy and fatigue. But I try to keep going. The Skoolyard sounds a great place.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Ooh, Danny, I’m so glad to hear there’s an option for that man. He deserves to find his tribe too. I read his comment and felt deeply for him. I’m an old sketchbook skool member, took the first three or four courses. The skoolyard sounds awesome. I’m so glad to be a part of your tribe. Our tribe of artists and unique weirdos. The world is better with us in it. We rock. lol.

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  2. So exciting and amazing and I am grateful you’re letting us join in that way. I do think your Skool Yard design team should check out the Ravelry website – I have found it to be a wonderful playland for all things yarny and could give some good ideas for the periphery of the Skool Yard.

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  3. “Meeting” you, Danny Gregory, has certainly enriched my life. You have created a worldwide community for fledging and experienced artists and I feel welcome and at home there. Thank-you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Danny,
    Thanks so much for this, I will look forward to my invitation! I love your stories, especially about feeling like an outsider. They resonate. You addressed a concern of mine. You know how sometimes a wonderful, say restaurant, is so successful they decide to expand and suddenly the quality drops off, the atmosphere loses it’s warmth, etc., etc. I was wondering if Sketchbook Skool got really, really, popular the warmth and welcoming feeling would diminish or disappear. And here you all are addressing this very issue. Thanks for everything. I love the classes I have signed up so far and love that now I can make payments for some of the classes I was saving up for. grace

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  5. Danny, I was so happy to hear you and Koosje talk about the Skool Yard! It was the highlight of my day! I only kept my Facebook account for SBS, and I was constantly trying to figure out how to make that my home page. Facebook made me feel stalked by “friends”, and how can you turn down friend requests from people at work? I constantly overhear, “I can’t believe she didn’t like her post.” Who needs that drama? I won’t miss it. Once again, great job, Danny and Koosje! You guys are my heroes 🙂

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  6. Standing O! to you and Koosje and everyone involved in birthing the amazing SBS. It’s a life changer…..and maybe a lifesaver. You have created the gift that keeps on giving and it is all so colorfully JOYFUL. Imagination unfettered sees only possibility and wonder…..thank you for every single minute of this incredible ride!

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  7. Hurrah! I’m excited for the Skool Yard! I am slowly making my way through the watercolor course. I really like talking about art, but as a new artist it’s intimidating to find an art community. I live in Seattle, so there are lots of artists and artsy folks around but in a whole different stratosphere than I am. Thank you for your work, your blog, your books.

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  8. Danny, after reading this, I thought to myself how perfect this would be for me! I’ve left Facebook for your same reasons, but I still have my Instagram account, where I mostly post my drawings, paintings, and street photos. When Face book bought them, I began to see a difference, but I’m hanging in there to participate in the SBS groups, etc. I found your blog several years ago, and was immediately hooked. I bought several of your books and have been inspired by you during so many of my slumps. I tend to withdraw from social media when I’m in that down space and then I stop drawing, etc. and then I start slowly with an art before breakfast exercise and before I know it I’m back at creating art at least 3-5 days a week.
    I’m very excited about this special group. I’ve only enrolled in a couple kourses over the years, so I hope I get my invitation soon!

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    1. Damn,
      You rock!!!
      I am speechless…i relate with so much you wrote..exept the travel part in chilhood.
      Someone told me long ago that you might be my guru ..i kept on talking to him about you and about your books and pens and…etc…

      I felt it before..i feel it again: lucky that i found you, Danny!!!!

      Ps: so much with learning french…i guess i will get back into the Sketchbook Skool soon..

      Like

  9. Thank you for this. I find your words and ideas inspiring – and one of these days I’m gonna pick up that pen/ pencil/ brush again! Regards, Suki R

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  10. Danny, thank you for expressing some of the thoughts I’ve been ruminating about over the last few months. Like you, I never felt I “fit” at schools, in most of my early jobs or social circles – maybe that why self-employment worked for me. Lately, I’ve been slowly “unfollowing” Facebook contacts paring down to the minimum. Even took several breaks from the SBS page as the shear number of postings became overwhelming. Tested the waters of Instagram, but other than what my kids post, I wasn’t impressed. Frankly, I was a bit wary of the SkoolYard idea as I wasn’t sure I wanted/needed to add another social media outlet. I spend too much time on the computer as it is. But from the first time I heard you speak at Fullerton College many years ago & when SBS first kicked off, I’ve loved that tremendously inclusive, supportive & down right loving vibe of that Tribe! So, I look forward to that invitation……asap please! 😀

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  11. Dear Danny, I first met you at a bookstore in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. When I spotted the book “An Illustrated Life” I knew I had met a kindred spirit, many kindred spirits! I devoured that book! I’ve been following you around ever since. I was even so bold as to contribute to Monkey Tales. Now that was a huge leap for me but you inspired me because you spoke my own monkey language and dispelled so many fears. I think I’ve taken almost every course you’ve offered and will now sign up for “People Drawing People” even though I’m greatly intimidated by this subject and yet have always wanted to learn. I met you in person at SketchKon and felt like a total weirdo introducing myself. It was kind of like seeing your kindergarten teacher in the market as a child. I cried when I met with Roz Stendahl because she validated me as I told her of my search for direction as an Artist. All in all I had a great time but for an introvert it was a bit overwhelming and I don’t think I could do it again. Which brings to why I’m writing to you: I love the idea of the Schoolyard! It’s another brilliant idea. I can’t wait to get my invitation! Thank you for all you do. I learn so much from you, Koosje and all of the Sketchbook Skool instructors.
    You are one of my mentors and part of my tribe!

    Debra Moini

    Like

  12. I’m IN!
    I am in month five of widowhood and am making commitments to myself. So this will be a good positive step in doing what I love to do and having it help me to continue along this new life.
    Thank you for not giving up on me 🙂
    -Annde

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I love your gentle and purposeful inclusiveness. You are making this crazy planet a funner (I know, not a word) and kinder place. I’m living in Australia for five months and my sister came to visit. I started talking about you and Koosje as if I knew you in the flesh and talking about how SBS had made a difference in my life. Sounds a bit over the top, and I still have that “monkey” as you call it, but following my creative bits and urges just makes me happier. And speaking of over the top, I’ve thought that whatever God is, they talk of him/her/it as creative and creating. So maybe when we create, no matter how small, we are participating in something larger…anyway, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hello Danny,
    I joined the Skool yard on Monday and looked around. Wow! It looks great. I haven’t had time to really check out all the features but I like the speed, layout, and the fact that I can go directly to my SBS classes from Skool Yard. Waiting for the weekend to dive in. Thank you and the team for creating a new course and a new platform.

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  15. I usually don’t do well wrestling multiple social media groups. But I’m willing to try this one! I’ll stay (reluctantly) on fb for the sake of my friends who are into other art forms. But the SBS community has made such an impact in my life, I have a hard time imagining NOT joining you in the new space! See you there soon. Jowls and all.

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  16. Looking forward to joining the Skool Yard when my name comes up on its radar. I’ve been making art on my own for so long I feel like an “outsider artist”. Creative isolation has its upside but would be a treat to communicate with others. I’ve never used social media but this sounds special. Am especially interested at the moment in meeting artists who enjoy working in concertina format with mixed media.

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