When it comes to making art I like to keep things in order. It’s really hard to make art so keeping stuff organized can really help me get things done. One of the things I do, and have been doing for decades, is to scan in all of my art. From sketches to finished work I scan it all. That way I can find things on my computer. In real life the art is tucked away but it’s easy to find digitally.

One of the things I’ve been scanning in regularly for over 20 years are my inkbooks. Those are the sketchbooks that I draw in with ink. They’re small little thumbnail drawings that I do to get down ideas. On a single page I make anywhere from seven to nine small drawings with a Sign Pen. I use ink so that I don’t get hung up on trying to make the drawing “Good.” Thumbnails are for getting down ideas and not making pretty drawings.

One of the projects I’ve started here in 2022 is an illustrated edition of “The Great Gatsby.” The book entered the public domain in 2021 so people have been doing graphic novel adaptations and illustrated editions of it. I’ve been really into the book recently so I want to make my own illustrated version of it. I think my version is just going to be digital and never see print but that’s okay with me.

The main problem I’ve had so far with the project is that I have no idea what I want to do. Though I am an artist I’m not a particularly good illustrator. It’s an illustrator’s job is to take a scene of a book and interpret it into visuals. Almost always the interpretation is literal. In “Gatsby” there is a huge party scene that illustrators usually draw as a party scene. Makes sense. They draw people in a big house drinking and partying.

I have a hard time drawing so literally. I can do it but I don’t enjoy it and usually my attempts at such literalism end up mediocre. I prefer to draw images that people haven’t seen before. I like to walk the edges of my mind and see what I can pull from there. It makes for weird drawings that aren’t usually literal. Weird drawings are my strength. That’s not usually what illustration is.

I started the Gatsby Project by making some thumbnail drawings in a new sketchbook. They were mostly literal. I came up with some ideas that were as boring as I expected them to be plus some character designs. Those are the designs in which I’m trying to figure out what each character looks like. I wasn’t very successful with either so I decided to go off course and come up with some less literal designs.

Of course there has to be a certain level of literalism to any illustration but I decided to work on some thumbnails that weren’t scenes from the book but ideas. Ideas like Daisy in flowing clothing or a summer dress. Ideas like a party. Another idea I had was to do a drawing of each character in my “Drawings on Comics” style. Why not? I’m doing this for myself so I don’t have to follow anyone’s rules.

The first drawing I came up with was a straight forward drawing of Daisy in a summer dress. It was okay but boring. I left it un-inked and unfinished. Then I decided to go further afield and make a drawing more like the ones I was making with my color ink technique. It was a drawing of Daisy again but more stylized. Her body as flowing shapes. Still not great but it was a step forward. I made a black ink drawing out of it as well as a color ink drawing. I’m trying all sorts of stuff.

So far I’ve filled up fifteen pages of the sketchbook but still only have a handle on Daisy. I’ve been trying to nail down Gatsby but I don’t think I have it. Besides the characters I’ve been thinking of the party scene a lot.

There are certain things that illustrators who work with “The Great Gatsby” just can’t resist. The giant pair of spectacles that overlook the ash heap on the train line, the green light on Daisy’s dock, and the party scene. I wanted to avoid the glasses and the green light but I knew I wanted to do something for the party. I didn’t know what though. Back in the 1990s I made some gouache paintings of dancing people and thought of them but I didn’t think they were the right direction.

Here is where organization and scanning stuff in comes into play. Unrelated to the Gatsby project I decided to draw some new “Dreams of Things” covers. When I do those I usually pull one of my Inkbooks off the shelf and look through it to find some ideas I want to work on. This time I wanted to go back in time a bit so I picked my book from back in 2005. I thumbed through it and found a couple of drawings I liked but then I hit upon a drawing that was a full page.

I had forgotten that I used to do drawings like this. Most Inkbook pages I divide into small boxes to draw in but sometimes I would just fill up the page with lots of interlocking drawings. I saw this page from back in 2005 and it looked perfect for a Gatsby party drawing. It had lots of faces and figures in it all intertwined and full of fun. I wasn’t even looking for an idea for the Gatsby party scene but here was a thumbnail that was perfect for it.

I made four 6×9 inch drawings for my covers and set up the party drawing at 11×17. The 6×9 inch drawings took and couple of hours each but the 11×17 party drawing took eight hours. It’s a lot more complicated than the covers. Then it took another eight hours to ink the drawing. Now I have to color it.

In the end I think the party drawing is coming along well. I never would have been able to make it without my Inkbooks and organization. It’s amazing to me that some drawing from 2005 was the answer for me in 2022. That’s why I have to keep things organized.