In the Studio: Testing out our new sketch books

BY Taylor Rebhan

It’s easy to feel intimidated by a blank page of paper, but inspiration can happen anywhere. Our American-made, hard linen sketch books were made to experiment with different mediums and materials, and they’re the perfect tool for you to explore your ideas whenever the next great one hits.

We spent the day inside The Detroit Wood Type Co. at Saint Vincent Corktown with two of our Detroit-based illustrator friends, Don and Francis, who work at College for Creative Studies (Shinola’s headquarters is in the same building as CCS). The duo told us how they use our new sketch books. 

Meet Don, the Department Chair of Illustration at CCS.


Don not only teaches at CCS, but also works at The Detroit Wood Type Co. with Joe Benghauser, a former student he teamed up with to collaborate on passion projects. The two share a love for hand-setting wood and lead type for letterpress. 

Don considers himself a figurative artist and used an older paint medium called casein to paint in his Shinola sketch book. The scene he illustrated was taken from a photo he snapped when he took his students to watch dancers rehearse at the Detroit Opera House. 

“I love painting the human figure,” says Don. “I think what I love about the dancer is just the energetic pose, the gesture. The dynamic that comes with that is really intriguing and inspiring to me. The fact that somebody can actually do that with their body is pretty awesome. There are so many stories that can be told with drawing and painting the human form, the figure.”


“I’ll go through a sketch book in a month, maybe two months, especially when I’m busy. I try to use it as a place where I go to discover,” says Don. “I don’t always have time to start into a really large, new, epic painting. I can use my sketch book to explore all the options before I commit to that large painting or that epic whatever it is.

I find, when I am drawing and painting every day, nothing really intimidates me. If you’re doing figurative drawing, you have to get outside of what you have ingrained in your mind what an eye looks like, what a hand looks like, what a nose looks like, ’cause there’s a never-ending, infinite variety of variation that nature throws at you.”


Don gave us his review of the new Shinola sketch book, an American-made carbon paper product with enough bleed in its pages for semi wet mediums. “As far as the Shinola sketch book goes, the paper quality is great compared to others. I’ve done printmaking in it. I’ve done a lot of painting with casein. I’ve worked in graphite, charcoal and ink. I’ve thrown everything at it, and it has handled everything I’ve thrown at it,” he says.

After filling several sketch books in his lifetime as an illustrator, Don appreciates how the Shinola sketch book wears and tears. “With any sketch book the paper is going wrinkle a bit and it’s gonna get dinged up. I think that adds character to it. It makes it yours. For me, the beauty of using a sketch book is it’s imperfections, when you actually put your own kind of imperfections in it,” Don says.

Meet Francis, he’s been the Assistant Professor of Illustration at the College for Creative Studies for over a year. 


Francis teaches a variety of illustration and mixed-media classes at CCS and just illustrated a beautiful children’s book called Jazz Day that came out last month. It took him three years to complete. “My process was super intense for the book. Norman Rockwell is my inspiration and I tried to follow his process exactly,” Francis says. 

Currently in the midst of promoting Jazz Day, Francis says that as a teacher he finds it his responsibility to help students figure out how to sell and get their work out there. 


“I graduated in 2010 and I remember school — it’s still very fresh in my mind,” Francis says. “I have this ability to really predict any struggles students will face since I went through it myself, the students think it’s weird. I can psychologically analyze why they didn’t turn in the assignment because of the distractions, social media, and all these other different things, which are recent struggles that I have had, or am having. 

“I think bringing that super-recent student perspective has been good for CCS students. We’re having that conversation, ‘How do you curate a gallery show via Instagram?’, or how every artist should take internet out of their studio because it’s a distraction…these conversations are real and relevant and that’s what I try to bring to the table.” 


Francis brought a ton of supplies to test out on the Shinola sketch book and gave us his review. “I can really do almost full illustrations in this sketch book,” Francis says. “Also, if we’re doing thumbnails for a project in class, this book is the right size where you can do a heck of a lot of ideation on it, and a lot of exploration. This ink technique that I’m using right here, I haven’t done in maybe two or three years.

My commercial stuff has been really tighter with pastel and acrylic, so all of a sudden you crack open the sketch book and just goof around a little bit to flex those muscles, because I’m the type of artist that if I do something once and it works out, I stop doing it. I am using Dr. Ph. Martin’s Black Star Waterproof India Ink Hicarb — a fancy way to say this is the darkest ink that’s available.”

Discover the Shinola sketch book here.


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