Laura Heit’s Animation Sketchbooks (published this month by Chronicle Books in the US, and earlier by Thames & Hudson in the UK) offers a peek inside the private sketchbooks of 51 (mostly independent) animation filmmakers. The 320-page hardcover has a straightforward format: each artist is allotted 4-8 pages that includes a career overview, brief statements about the process of sketching and keeping a sketchbook, and a gallery of sketchbook pages and stills from short films.

The artists in the book include many of the biggest names in indie animation (Koji Yamamura, Michaela Pavlatova Georges Schwizgebel, Regina Pessoa, Priit Parn, Paul Driessen) as well as some artists who are better known for their commercial work (Stephen Hillenburg, Luis Cook, David Polonsky, Fran Krause). It’s safe to say that unless you’re a regular festival attendee—or a reader of Cartoon Brew—many of the names will be unfamiliar. That’s not a criticism though. These are all artists who deserve greater exposure and this book does a fine job of giving it to them.

There’s a remarkable range of techniques, approaches and visual styles represented in the volume, as the author Heit explains in the intro:

You will discover many types of sketchbook keepers within these pages. You will find early ideas plotted out, sometimes repeatedly until their purpose becomes clear, thumbnail sketches of developing characters, mini storyboards scratched out in a hurry. There are those who try out new mark-making techniques, searching for the next film’s look. Others use the pages to doodle mindlessly as a kind of artistic respite, their work here unrelated to their film projects. Some keep a book like a travelogue, carrying it with them on all of their adventures…Others, such as Luis Cook, treat their sketchbook like a reliquary, part scrapbook, part personal project.

My only gripe about this otherwise commendable project is that the film stills took up an excessive amount of space in the book. When an artist like Koji Yamamura only has six pages, it’d have been preferable to not see a third of that space devoted to film stills. The reason for their inclusion—to connect the sketches to filmmaking practice—is perfectly valid, but the stills could have been presented in a way that didn’t consume large chunks of space that would have been better devoted to the book’s main selling point: the hard-to-see sketchbooks.

Not only will this book introduce the reader to names worth knowing in independent animation, it will inspire and challenge any artist with a non-commercial streak to push their own craft further. That, in itself, makes it a recommended purchase.

Order Animation Sketchbooks for $36.07 on Amazon