Mary Phan turned her passion into a business. As the founder of The Sketchbook Series, she developed a collection of one-of-a-kind luxury sketching experiences which has now been embraced by interior designers, cake bakers, students and many others.
Take us back to the beginning, what is your background?
My name is Mary Phan, Founder and Creator of The Sketchbook Series and Very Mary Inspired. I've always loved sketching and studied Design at UC Davis. I have a multidisciplinary background ranging from interior design to retail merchandising. After a few years of working for others, I decided to start my own wedding planning/design business. I had a great time doing that, but after I got a chance to teach a small class and participate on some panels, I realized that my passion was in education. I love supporting and inspiring individuals through my artwork, speaking engagements, classes--really any chance I get to interact with other creatives.
For our Copic fans who haven’t heard of The Sketchbook Series, what is it?
The Sketchbook Series is an educational experience catered to creative professionals and enthusiasts. Thanks to our amazing partners, these unique workshops take place in the most inspiring venues in different cities world-wide. We currently offer level 1 and level 2 classes during which attendees learn how to sketch a cake, florals, table design, a chair, 1 & 2 point perspectives, etc. within the context of event design.
What inspired you to start the workshop?
Sketching has always been part of my process, even during my years as a wedding designer and planner. I would sketch my ideas for clients, and some of my colleagues and friends took notice. They started to ask if I could teach them how to concept sketch. It wasn’t long before I launched my first workshop.
How has the workshop changed and grown over the years? When did it go global?
It really began to take shape during the very first class we launched in 2010—that was a relatively small gathering in Sonoma, CA. There was a lot of interest generated thanks to the enthusiasm of the attendees in that inaugural class, and I was encouraged to continue. In the first year, I only offered a 1-day class, but we kept getting requests to learn more. So, I developed and offered a 2-day session.
We had event pros flying in from out of state to attend, and I really couldn't believe how many people wanted to learn. I created an e-course to make the content accessible to those who could not attend. Though, we realized that the in-person classes were such a different experience from the online course. People began to reach out from cities in all parts of the world requesting we teach the class in their country. Even during that first year international groups approached us, but it was not until that 2nd year when I actually took the class abroad.
What role has cross-disciplinary collaboration played in the growth of the workshops?
While we currently offer classes related to event design, I do take inspiration from other creative industries. We are definitely looking to expand and come up with curriculum and learning experiences geared towards those other areas. Collaboration and creativity go hand-in-hand. Working with people in other industries like fashion, interior design, and even the corporate world offers opportunities to exchange ideas. We definitely have some new things coming up…you can be on the lookout for those.
Have the types of workshop attendees changed over the years?
Most of our attendees are event professionals, but we open our classes to anyone wanting to learn. The subjects we sketch might be specific to events, but the skills and techniques can apply to any industry. I've had interior designers attend our classes, and we do get interest from professionals in other industries. I think the makeup of our classes will continue to shift as we develop new curriculum. We are always looking for ways to expand and serve our markets.
How have attendees typically come to realize the importance of sketching?
Sketching is a great way to communicate your ideas, and I think most people actually do sketch—who doesn’t doodle on napkins or in the margins of their pages? However, the idea of representing a subject or design concepts for others to see, especially a potential client, can be intimidating, and understandably so.
People who take my class won’t necessarily end up being technical renderers, but they will learn some solid techniques and basics of sketching. With anything new, or with things people convince themselves they don't know how to do, there might be barriers to starting. I offer my tips and tricks, and share how I approach sketching, which I think makes it less intimidating.
I also encourage attendees to put their spin on the sketches, really getting a chance to make it their own. We have fun in the classes, which I think helps it be a non-judgemental and really inspiring space. After they find ways to break sketching down, they will realize it can be a learned skill.
At what point did Copic markers become a part of the workshops?
I am a huge fan of Copic and always will be! I've used Copic markers from day 1 of our very first workshop. They’ve always been part of my work that I don’t even remember how I initially discovered them…I knew immediately that Copic markers were the best on the market.
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurial designers that are venturing into educational events?
I think that it's important to find your own style and voice. There are many events and workshops out there, so you want to make sure you stand apart and are offering something people actually want. Part of that comes from building a strong brand and putting out consistent work. You want to generate interest, but you can’t do that unless your work and mission really resonates with people. Your brand is much more than a pretty logo, it's your 'Why' and so much more. Once you become an industry leader or expert, then educational events just become an extension of your brand.
When is your next workshop and are spots still available?
We have a few exciting locations planned this year! The upcoming cities are Riviera Maya, Mexico (5/22 & 5/23), San Francisco Bay Area (7/10 & 7/11), and Dallas (7/21 & 7/22) with a few more cities later this year. Please visit us at thesketchbookseries.com if you'd like to learn more!
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