Show Your Work! Tour Notebook


A few folks have asked me why I haven’t blogged any scans of my notebooks recently.

A few reasons:

1) When I was working a day job, notebooks used to be my primary output — I wrote and drew in them constantly, and since I had a lot of material to choose from, I posted quite frequently. Now that I work in my own studio, a lot of my sketching and writing happens on loose-leaf paper or in legal pads, etc., and those tend to get spread all over the place

2) I got very grumpy in the past couple of years about “Moleskine worship”—that thing online where people only post these perfect drawings from their sketchbooks, as opposed to showing their mind in messy motion, thinking on the page. (I talked a bit about this in my Creative Mornings talk.)

3) As I’ve gained a wider audience for my work, my notebooks have become (as they should’ve always been) private spaces where I go to think on the page. My notebooks are shitholes where I go to dump my brains out, say things I wouldn’t even say out loud to my wife, places to find what I’m looking for, find out what I know. They aren’t pretty.

All that said, I want to show my work, of course, so I was leafing through my travel notebook recently, and picked some pages to scan.

Oh and because I know people will ask: I use a large Moleskine sketchbook because it has heavy bristol-like pages that don’t tear, it’s big enough to stick a boarding pass in the pages, and it has an envelope flap in the back for travel receipts. I do a lot of scrapbooking, so I carry transparent tape, Japanese Washi tape that my wife gave me, and a pair of safety scissors (TSA says under 4 inches is okay).


I doodle a lot and collage clippings from newspapers.


If I’m doing some sightseeing, I like to grab hotel maps and brochures and draw over them.

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Birthing class notebook


I was cleaning my office and found the notebook I kept when my wife and I went to birthing classes. It’s one of those notebooks that puts me right back in the room where I filled it. (BTW: You forget 99.9% of this stuff when you’re in the room.)


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Pocket Notebooks

Because life isn’t complicated enough, I always have 3 notebooks going at the same time:

  1. My logbook stays on my nightstand.
  2. My sketchbook stays in my office or goes in my bag if I’m traveling.
  3. My pocket notebook goes with me everywhere.

I love the classic Moleskine and Field Notes sized notebooks, but they’re still a bit big. To be able to carry it everywhere, I need something that will really fit in my pocket — the notebooks I use are no bigger than my iPhone 4. (Because I know people will ask: I carry this type of Moleskine and usually a Pilot G2 or a PaperMate Flair pen.)

These notebooks are workhorses—they aren’t about pretty drawings or good penmanship, they’re about capturing ideas and the general debris of everyday life. It’s funny, but because I don’t treat them preciously, they’re often a more honest documentation of my scattered, day-to-day process than my logbooks (which are always recalled through my poor memory at the end of the day) and my sketchbooks (which I use a bit more intentionally, trying to work out a problem, map out a chapter, get a drawing right, etc.)

I always stamp my address in the front page.

The majority of pages are taken up with to-do lists. (I start each week with a date stamp.)

Sometimes I’m just making a note to follow up later or trying to work something out…

Sometimes thoughts come fully-formed and just need to be dictated.

Dreams and quotes (and apple stickers?)

Sketches at the art museum.

Doodle at a Bill Callahan show.

If you think about it, a map can be a sort of to-do list laid out in space. (This is a map of Maui that I drew on vacation from tour guides.)

Phone doodles.

Here I’m trying to figure out a cover for Steal Like An Artist.

When I had a day job in marketing, I doodled a lot more.



sketch of a food trailer

My friend Jodi Bart (who I get a ton of new restaurant recommendations from) asked me if I’d draw a food trailer for her upcoming Tasty Up Trailer Tour, so I doodled this. If you don’t live in Austin or you’ve never been there: yeah, there’s a lot of good food to be eaten out of trailers.


billy bob thornton

I headed over to KLRU’s studio 6A this afternoon to watch a Texas Monthly Talks taping of Evan Smith interviewing Billy Bob Thornton. Thornton was funny, smart, and down-to-earth.

billy bob thornton

He said that he spent most of his childhood on the road and playing in bands, and that although he grew up in Arkansas and lives in California, Austin is like a second home to him. “This is where my heart is. I mean, I know the street people here.”

He bristled at the idea that he was an actor dabbling in music: “I’m a musician who makes movies.”

He said that it’s easy to blame studios and producers in Hollywood for the quantity of bad movies out there, but we also “have to blame ourselves. If we buy crap, they’ll keep feeding it to us.”

And when it comes to making those movies? “Well, I gotta do one every once in a while to pay for the house, you know?”

He hasn’t directed a movie since All The Pretty Horses, a movie the studio demanded an hour be cut from and rescored. He expressed interest in showing the uncut 3-hour version with the original score by Daniel Lanois! (SXSW 2010?)

On his drunk scenes in Bad Santa: “When you do a movie like that you gotta go all the way. And being a method actor…”

At one point while discussing Sling Blade, he said, “Here let me show you something.” He put down his head, raised it slowly, and transformed into the character of Karl Childers for about 15 seconds. It was fantastic, and everyone cheered.

billy bob thornton

Here’s a sketch of a random dude from the audience who was fun to draw:

billy bob thornton

Big thanks to Sara Robertson, who gave me a little tour of the KLRU studios afterwards. Let me tell you: KLRU is a great station, and everybody I met there was super nice and if you live in Austin you should support them with as much dough as you can spare.


My wife, the green architecture student, sometimes drags me to lectures and events, so I bring my sketchbook and practice taking notes on topics I know nothing about. This lecture by UT professor Werner Lang, “Design With Climate: Building for a cooler planet,” turned out to be really great.

Crazy fact: In the Austin/Round Rock area we emit 1.5 metric tons of carbon per resident from highway transportation, compared to the 1.0 metric tons of carbon per resident we use from our buildings and homes. That means we use 1.5 times more energy driving in between buildings in Austin than we do actually operating those buildings.