Drawn & Quarterly has had a lot of success publishing the sketchbooks of renowned cartoonist like Anders Nilsen and Lisa Hanawalt, showcasing how artists exercise their imagination and craft when not working on larger projects. If Found...Please Return To Elise Gravel (Drawn & Quarterly) differs from past sketchbooks in that it spotlights a cartoonist whose target audience is children, and Elise Gravel’s work in this book is very playful and silly in hopes that it will inspire young artists to have similar fun with their creations. Gravel’s goal is to get kids to stop worrying about right vs. wrong and just start drawing, but that’s also a valuable message for adult artists that want to achieve a more liberated state of mind when crafting ideas and putting them on the page.
This isn’t an explicitly educational text, but it does offer guidance by showing different examples of how artists can activate their imaginations. The majority of Gravel’s sketches are riffs on a wide variety of themes like “Weird Garden,” “Grumpy Things,” and “Bunnies Dressed In Punk, Rock, And Heavy Metal T-Shirts,” and these guidelines provide a base for her to build on with her drawings. There are a lot of fantastic creatures throughout this book, and every so often there will be a design that inspires Gravel to delve into the creature’s backstory, which is typically as goofy as the drawing.
At one point Gravel breaks down how to draw a hedgehog in four simple steps, and many of her drawings can be easily replicated because they’re built around various combinations of basic geometric shapes and different colors. Readers who aren’t too precious about maintaining the original state of their book can doodle in the blank spaces on the page, and paper stock is thick enough that it can withstand being drawn on. When she writes about how the imaginary friends of her youth have evolved into the cartoon creatures she draws as an adult, she offers her “friends” to any readers that need one to get started. Creating something from nothing can be daunting, and Gravel wants readers to know that they can use her plethora of ideas as the launchpad for their own art.
Gravel picked her best sketches for this book, and while there’s a page with her “ugly” art, it would have been nice to have more of these inadequate drawings sprinkled throughout. It’s understandable why she would want to focus on her strongest work, but when so much of the message involves pushing forward even when you’re not satisfied, some extra pages of lesser sketches would help strengthen this idea.