Studio Visit: Katrina McHugh


Perched on top of a hill in San Francisco, sits a studio. It overlooks parts of the city. There is a small old black dog yelping at me as I peer out the giant windows that are so iconic of San Francisco row houses. There is a large standing desk in the corner. Organized and labeled boxes sit in impeccably clean cubbies along the wall. In the next room is a bedroom, bed made. This is the studio and home office of Sketchbook Project artist, Katrina McHugh. (As an important side note, the dog is not pictured, because he hates cameras.)

We meet a little earlier at a local coffee shop. We've never met before. We've never talked on the phone, we've never engaged in any way. But I'm the keeper of her sketchbooks. 2 of them. Sitting among the stacks of 36,000 books are Katrina's personal journals. A story apart from her everyday creative life. "I didn't even tell anyone I made these", she tells me when I ask her why she participated. We have this weird connection from the start. This was the first time that I have seeked out, and met in an informal way, a sketchbook project artist. 

I didn't know what I would expect from doing a studio visit like this. I hoped to gain some insight, maybe have a good conversation, but when I left, I felt an abundance of inspiration. I wanted to hop in the car and drive across the country meeting Sketchbook Project participants in their own space, to see their own creative work. Find out who they are, why they do this and what they are doing now. Its an odd responsibility to be the keeper of these books, because its not really about me, it's about the voices behind the pages. When I sit in the library, as I do most days, it's easy for me to forget that all of these 36,000 books were made by creative people, someone who cared enough to spend time and money on this project and wanted their voice heard. 

As Katrina and I sat and chatted in her studio, she showed me old sketchbooks that were filled cover to cover. Some full of angst, while others showed a more defined style. Currently, Katrina is the Founder and Art Director at Flight Design Co. There, they help small businesses and creative people with branding and strategy. We both spoke of the challenges of running a creative business. It was nice for me, and I hope her, to have someone to relate to. Someone who understood the ebbs and flows of creativity. 

We have some really awesome top secret projects in the works with Katrina and her team, stay tuned for more. Check out more of my interview with Katrina below!

Steven Peterman

1. Tell us about yourself?

In past versions of my life I was a shy kid with an eyepatch and glasses who could color or read quietly for hours. I've always kept journals or sketchbooks, albeit messy ones, and carry them around every place I move in a big trunk that is rarely opened. I studied Book Arts at UC Santa Barbara, Fine Arts at Universitat de Belles Artes in Barcelona and worked as a graphic designer then art director for a letterpress print shop for many years. Fast forward to the present day. I currently own a graphic design studio with a dear friend called Flight Design Co. We are now a team of four and are proud to support creative small business and nonprofits with branding and graphic design. I live in San Francisco, am married to a stand-up comedian and occasionally like to jazz things up by embarking on adventures like taking secret singing lessons, spending time with artist friends in Mexico City, and signing up for 100k bike rides that I am in no way prepared for. 

2. What made you do The Sketchbook Project?

While I'm very lucky to have the opportunity to engage in creative thinking often, the demands of running a business and generally being a functioning adult in the world don't always leave much time for unstructured play and journaling. For me, keeping sketchbooks isn't something I do for other people - it's more of a personal self-care practice to clean out the cobwebs and stay inspired. The Sketchbook Project has been a great motivator. I signed up in order to hold myself accountable to making the time for something that is notoriously difficult to make time for. As a bonus it makes me feel connected to the vast library of other weirdos (I mean that in the most loving way) out there trying to do the same thing. I remember when I submitted my first book and it was on "tour." Getting little alerts that someone in another country had checked it out of the library was exciting. Almost like this stranger and I shared a secret. 

3. Any advice for people considering participating?

I hope you do it (and share it with me so I can cheer you on)! If it's the first time you're embarking on something like this, I'd encourage you to try to keep it easy and fun. Don't put too much pressure on yourself. You probably have enough of that in your regular life. Think about ways to use the sketchbook that will support your growth or help you balance out some area in your life that could use use a bit of love. It could be playing with new techniques, exploring new themes, using it as a confessional, or keeping it random. There are really no rules. In my opinion, the cathartic process of creating something and sending it off into the world should not be underestimated though.

4. How did your sketchbook relate to your other creative projects?

To be honest, at first it didn't relate at all. My first two sketchbooks were very random. Just me sitting down and playing with collage and drawing a bit here or there. It felt a bit like I was reaching for something but I couldn't have told you what it was. I'd try out new pens or cut things out of old magazines and let the pages take shape on their own. Eventually, the collage aspect ended up influencing my graphic design work and I began to work on a larger personal project where I created digital collages based on song lyrics. That project got a lot of attention but I'm not sure I would have had the courage or focus to embark on it without having done some of the messy sketchbook work first. 

At present, the Sketchbook Project is relating to my personal creative work a great deal. I'm collaborating with a close friend and writer, Kristin Keane, to launch "The Question Everything Project" soon. It prompts folks for anonymous answers to questions like "what have you been hiding from?" from the perspective that sharing is transformational, but also not always the most appropriate or easiest path in daily life. I'll be creating digital collage artworks for each question and incorporating the anonymous answers into zines, all while exploring some of the themes visually in my own Sketchbook Project book.  

5. What is your spirit animal?

The grasshopper. It reminds me that it's ok to bounce around and follow mysterious hunches or coincidences. It's ok to be delicate and curious and to let yourself be a beginner. 

Want to submit your own book to The Sketchbook Project?