Since I posted this drawing and some others this summer, people have been asking me what’s with the stamps in my sketchbook. I guess the short answer is that each one is a little piece of personal tradition.
But you know I don’t really do short answers.
The long one, then.
I grew up in a nomadic family. Between the moves required by Dad’s job in the Air Force and a fierce wanderlust that runs in all the O’Leary veins, we had a lot of reasons to travel. Dad and I, especially, would spend hours poring over our dog-eared Rand McNally road atlas, plotting routes over the back-est of back roads (the squigglier the line on the map, the better) and stops at as many points of interests as we could cram into a journey from A to B.
When I was ten, we made a circuit of our then-home state of Colorado, and devoted our time to exploring every national park and monument we could reach along the loop. At each park’s visitor center, we noticed a rubber stamp and ink pad stationed at the front desk. When we finally asked a ranger what they were for, she handed us a small blue notebook and proceeded to explain about the National Park Service’s Passport program.
A stamp to collect at every NPS property in the country, and a tidy little book to hold them all? I was hooked.
Dad and I found ways to sneak a national monument or two into every road trip and relocation—and even took impromptu vacations just to add a new park to the list. My favorite memory is when I was in high school, and Dad popped his head into my room:
“Have any plans this weekend?”
“Wanna go to Montana?”
So we jumped in the car and drove 600 miles just to flip General Custer the bird at Little Bighorn (I had just read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, so he wasn’t exactly stirring me to patriotism). I mean, if you’re going to do it, you might as well go all out, after all. And we had the stamp to commemorate the moment.
The Passport program also includes collectible paper stamps, which can be purchased from afar (as opposed to the ink cancellations, which are free but can only be obtained in person). I’m pretty lukewarm about these, though; by the time I jumped on the bandwagon they had already phased out the super-cool two-piece design pictured in the lower left corner above, in favor of the cheaper, lower-quality one-piece stamp in the upper right. Since those have been revamped yet again into a pressure-adhesive sticker—and who knows what heinously non-archival chemicals might be in the glue—I’m even less of a completist about them now.
Anyway, I’ve burned through most of the regional sections in my Passport,
and every inch of overflow space.
So I’ve branched out a bit.
What I didn’t know as a kid was that my Passport helped me develop my interest in nearly everything I love most: traveling, design, archiving, printmaking, history, typography, bookmaking, and so on.
At some point along the way, I realized that what I really mattered to me (beyond the travel itself) was the act of adding to an ongoing work—and then looking back to see what I had accomplished. That what I had been doing all along, by compiling this little individual history, is creating some form of artist book. And that my frustrations over an imperfect format were really a desire to create my own.
A page from my daily book—more on that here.
So now all of my sketchbooks are Passports, each custom-tailored—
each infinitely flexible, ready for whatever adventures wait to be documented.
Here it is, nearly twenty years later, and I’m as eager as ever. Moreover, it’s my goal to collect every last cancellation within the entire National Park System before I stamp the big passport book in the sky. I’m about a quarter of the way there.
And I’ll probably have to build a library for all the sketchbooks I’ll fill between now and then.