Sketch-Tale #3 – What if the Thimble Falls?

Spools of thread are fun and easy to sketch, and they are also a great drawing “device”. What is a drawing device? . . .

No, it’s not a pencil or an iPad. The word may not be commonly used in this way anymore because of the plethora of “devices” in our lives, but one of the dictionary definitions for the word device is this:

A drawing or design as in: the decorative device on the invitations.

A drawing device, as used in the world of illustration, is an item that connotes a lot of story by it’s very nature. It can also refer to a shape or element that can be built into a more complicated design, but we are going for the story aspect.

What does a spool of thread bring to mind for you? Domestic tranquility? The art of sewing? The security of repair? Adventure as in “following a thread”? Connections?

See what I mean about story?

This first sketch happened because I saw a small spot photo like this in an issue of Daphne’s Diary – an awesome magazine out of the UK. I often digest a publication by taking “notes” in the form of pictures in my sketchbook. It is also a good way to stretch my sketching abilities to see if I can copy different illustration styles – much the way art students have always learned by copying the Masters. I also like to try to match the palette. All good practice. I flipped this little vignette to fit my page design, but otherwise, it’s pretty close

But the interesting part for me – the “story” if you will – is the fact that the yellow spool is sitting partially off the purple one. Just a bit more and it could fall. That lends a dynamic to the picture that may or may not be a good thing – as we will see.

I was lucky enough to do some graduate study at Parson’s School of Design in my student days. I studied illustration there and the great thing about that school is that the teachers practice what they teach. My instructors were all successful New York illustrators working for the top publications and they knew their stuff. We also worked with art directors from some of the magazines as a part of our learning.

One day, the art director was from Good Housekeeping (ever think about the “story” in that title?). She gave us an assignment to do a spot illustration for a sewing column.

I was already a bit of an edge-dweller, and here is the illustration I did.

OMG! It got bounced right away. The color was much too bright and the graphic much too dynamic. But the worst sin of all was that thimble! It might fall off there! This would be very upsetting to their readers who wanted to feel safe and secure within the pages of Good Housekeeping. Talk about story! Can you imagine?!?

I knew then I would not make it as a Good Housekeeping illustrator. I did not know then that I would never really be a good housekeeper either. I had an inkling though.

So, when I saw the small photo in Daphne’s Diary, I was immediately transported back in time, and realized we’ve come a very long way!




  1. Sadly Parson’s is not what it once was. A friend who taught there many years has reported the downslide since the school was sold. I guess your illustration was too “edgy” for Good Housekeeping.

  2. Good Housekeeping’s loss. I personally love your vibrant illustration. It brings feelings of happiness and positivity and lots of energy.

  3. Barbara – Very sad to hear that Parsons has declined. It was a stunning experience when I was there. Eileen – thank you so much. I agree it was their loss – they could use some energy.

  4. Jessica, yes the colors are BRIGHT…but being a lover of color I’m really drawn to your illustration. It brings me a feeling of joy, fun times! I have to say I really love the newer version as well. It brings to me more of a feeling of a warm, cozy evening..sitting by a fire..stitching (though I hate to sew) lol! It actually reminds me so much of my mom..who did sew. Could be part of the cozy feeling.

  5. Jessica, this story so warms my heart just like when I look at your print I purchased in 2014 with the blue easy-chair across from a Spanish fireplace or oven. I framed this print and it is right next to my computer so I can see it at all times. Those colors, vibrant & uplifting. Their loss is the “gain” for so many of us who have learned from you. Thanks again for sharing !!!

  6. Jana and Diana – thank you – your comments give me a warm cozy feeling.

  7. Great story. I am going to start thinking about this now and see if I have any hidden sewing or thread stories.

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