Sketchbook: Inside the creative process

One of things we’re fascinated by at The Message is how a creative concept or idea takes shape. For many creatives, campaigns often begin as simple doodles or sketches in a notebook. Joseph Nanni, vice-president, creative director, brand and content at the Toronto agency Community, opened up some of his notebooks and showed us around some of their pages. You can find additional sketches by following him on Instagram (@nannisnotebooks).

“It started when I was at the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD),” said Nanni of his longstanding use of sketchbooks. “You have a notebook, a planner and a binder full or references, and it was around that time that I started putting all three into a single notebook.

“Appointments, observations, quotes from briefs, it all comes to life and becomes its own thing,” he said. “You put it all together and make new ideas by juxtaposing all that stuff. The process can become a creative piece on its own.”

1. The comic book image that launched a Levi’s campaign.

Nanni has filled about 35 notebooks, many of which still fuel ideas today. “Creative people really got it immediately, and non-creative people wondered what the hell it was,” said Nanni. “I was very relieved to find out that I wasn’t the only one doing it.”

The main image dates back two decades, when Nanni was a senior writer at the now defunct Harrod & Mirlin and developing concepts for a QSR chain. It was one of his first sketchbook exercises to have a practical application. “I was drawing food, and looking at what it is about McDonald’s that makes it so appealing, and how it relates back to the packaging,” he said.

1. The key frame is the comic book image of a Godzilla-like foot. That would ultimately form the basis of a campaign for Levi’s. “The basic idea was built around what if we took from comics and replaced the words, as if [their meaning] had been lost in translation?” said Nanni.

2. The basis for a Jell-O commercial

2. This sketch dates back to 2004, when Nanni was working on the Kraft account at FCB. The equation represented on the left page would become the basis of a TV commercial for a Jello smoothie product.

The final ad featured the KISS song “I Was Made For Loving You,” although Nanni’s notes suggest he also wanted to try an edit using Enya (“better contrast than KISS,” he notes).

Some of the initial ideas, meanwhile, failed to take hold. “I still like the spoon idea…but I was on my own,” he notes. The time sheet in the upper right corner was simply a way for Nanni to remember a docket number.

3. Sketches for an unnamed nature conservancy.

3. This was done just two weeks ago, part of Nanni’s ideation process for a campaign for an unnamed nature conservancy. “It’s just me looking for an idea,” said Nanni. “It’s a visual exploration of the places we inhabit during the week, and on weekends.” Nanni calls these doodles “lost pages,” ideas that serve only to provide a path forward for a creative idea. “It doesn’t go anywhere, but it helps you get there,” he said. The doodles were inspired by a Subaru magazine (the obelisk in the bottom right corner is a representation of the Subaru logo). “They were talking about what I’m thinking about, which is selling that destination between urban life and outdoor adventure,” said Nanni.

-Chris Powell

Chris Powell