I was at work when I received a very strange text message. “Hi Sarah, my name is Will and I work for a company that sorts through donated and discarded books and came across a stack of your lovely notebooks. I am not sure if you would be interested in having them returned, but I at least would like to inquire about the pecan pie.”
The message was followed by a picture of the interior of a Moleskine sketchbook of mine. The first page of a Moleskine has a place for you to write your name, address, phone number and a designated reward “in case of loss.” I have about two dozen Moleskines from the past 13 years, and in them I have offered various rewards — a painting, $20 plus a painting plus a kiss, a hot-air balloon and, in this particular book, a pecan pie.
My heart raced a bit. I instantly knew what had happened. A few weeks before I had told a friend that he could donate some books of mine that had been sitting in his Los Angeles garage for eight years. The sketchbooks were among them, appropriately placed in a box marked “Art School Feelings.”
When I realized some guy named Will now had them, along with every intimate and potentially embarrassing thing I had put into them — my musings, fears, emotions, assorted drawings and stories that would now seem ancient — I cringed. My early 20s had been dark and depressed (an emotional state fueled by 9/11, George W. Bush and America’s wars for oil, oil and more oil) but entering art school at the age of 27 gave me new energy, and allowed me to channel that energy into something positive.
A few more text messages and 10 days later the box showed up in my brownstone’s hallway. When I opened it, I found seven of my notebooks. Since I had started art school relatively late in life, I was self-conscious about my skill set, convinced I was the worst student in my life drawing class. I obsessively drew in these sketchbooks in order to catch up and improve. And I loved it.
On the first page of my watercolor Moleskine I found a tree painted in Pasadena, Calif., at the Rose Bowl. I remember painting it as though it were yesterday. It was “just” a tree, or perhaps a study of one. I remember, too, what my teacher said. “Your tree is beautiful, Sarah, but I don’t know what an art director is going to do with that tree.” No matter, no mind. I was on my own path.
I turned the page. There was my teacher sitting on top of a tree trunk. Maybe it meant something and maybe it didn’t. The great thing about a sketchbook is that it is for you. It’s where ideas, conscious and unconscious, form. Accidents happen, but they are happy accidents.
I turned more pages. Good drawings, bad drawings. Effort. It reminded me how much I loved to draw. That’s it. Just draw. Nothing else seemed to matter when I drew.
I can’t say that I am completely happy when I draw. It’s not happiness. It’s feeling occupied, content. Something Andy Warhol said has always struck a chord in me: “I think that’s the best thing in life: keeping busy.” Once I started drawing I realized I could keep myself busy and never feel bored again.
So, what to do about the pecan pie?
I thought about ordering one from a fancy Los Angeles bakery and having it delivered to Will at the book depository. But no, that didn’t feel special. I sat down to paint a little watercolor pecan pie, but all I saw was a brown gooey mess. I wanted Will’s pecan pie to sing. A friend suggested that I send him a copy of one of the children’s books I had written and draw a little pecan pie on the interior. Perfect.
And so with a Micron pen (the same type I had used to draw in those sketchbooks more than a decade ago) I drew Will a pecan pie. The book I chose to send him is called “Let’s Go!” It’s about an elephant named Tuski (a play on tusk and taxi, since Tuski drives a taxi) and a bird named Bird out on a joy ride and the surprises they experience along the way. Drawing and a pecan pie for Will — come on now, let’s go.
Sarah Williamson is an art director at The New York Times and an author and illustrator of children’s books, including “Let’s Go!,” “Where Are You?” and the forthcoming “Elevator Bird.”
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