Open Sketchbook: Jonn Herschend

Jonn Herschend is a San Francisco-based artist who cannot be trusted. Working in video, PowerPoint, and the occasional painting or drawing, he often uses an unreliable narrator to lull the viewer into some corporate spiel only to betray us with some personal drama that is always way more interesting.

For this year’s Whitney Biennial, Jonn created a PowerPoint presentation that initially seems to be about the other videos in the screening room at the museum, but eventually gives way to the fictional presenter’s frustrations about his romance with a coworker from the university where he teaches. Now that the Biennial is over, Jonn has agreed to let us share the video with you and everyone else on the internet. It’s five minutes long, and absolutely brilliant—headphones recommended. (Stick with it, because before long you’ll get to the line, “distracted by his fashionable loafers,” among other things.)

I asked Jonn to share some photos from his sketchbooks leading up to the Whitney Biennial piece and asked him a few questions.

PLUMB: What do you use notebooks for?

JONN HERSCHEND: I use them for everything: drawings, ideas, essays, budgets, working out problems, a place to put drinks when coasters are not available. A window wedge (if the window will not stay open).

PLUMB: What kind do you prefer? With what kind of pen, etc.?

JONN HERSCHEND: I like a hardbound book, but not too heavy. I want the paper to have some tooth and be clean. For drawing and writing, I prefer pencil and never go anywhere without my Pentel Graphicgear 1000 9mm HB graphite.

PLUMB: What do you do with them when you’re done?

JONN HERSCHEND: They go in my studio. I will pull them up from time to time when I want to go back at an idea I had at some point that just went nowhere.

Jonn Herschend - Open Notebook

PLUMB: Have you ever lost one? did it matter?

JONN HERSCHEND: Yes, I have two stories. Once, I moved out of an apartment and forgot all my notebooks—10 years worth—that were in the kitchen. I called the landlord the next day and he said that they didn’t find any notebooks. I asked to look for myself, but they were gone. It was devastating. It felt like part of my history had disappeared forever.

Jonn Herschend - Open Notebook 2

PLUMB: Under what conditions do you make your best work?

JONN HERSCHEND: I’m best from 5:30 to 8:30 a.m. Two espressos and a quiet table to work. I have a studio, but I do most of my work at the dining room table in my house. It’s a big old farm table and I spread everything out and work in the quiet for as long as I can. I love that time of day.

PLUMB: What’s your relationship to the internet?

JONN HERSCHEND: A bad lover.

PLUMB: Whose notebooks would you like to look at?


PLUMB: Have you ever read somebody else’s diary?


PLUMB: What’s your favorite Plumb notebook so far?

JONN HERSCHEND: I like the Explorer Notebook.

PLUMB: Nice of you to pick one of my notebooks—which one would you pick if I wasn’t going to find out?

JONN HERSCHEND: No, I really would choose that one. I think of my notebooks as a Victorian explorer. In fact, I have backpacking notebooks in which I write in the character of a Victorian explorer. I should have photographed the most recent one from my backpacking trip with my daughter on the Pacific Crest Trail. But now I’m on the road again.

Jonn Herschend - Open Notebook 3

PLUMB: What are we looking at in the notebook pages you sent along?

JONN HERSCHEND: The Whitney excerpts were at the point where I wasn’t exactly sure what the piece would be. I knew it would be a video of some sort, but I didn’t know how it would look or what it would be about. So I just began writing, and ultimately this character emerged, a professor of poetry from a midwestern college who had some issues about dancing. I was also drawing ways that this would exist in space, but due to time and financial constraints, the piece ended up being part of a screening, which was actually perfect.

Jonn Herschend - Open Notebook 4

Jonn Herschend - Open Notebook 5

PLUMB: Wait, what was the second story about losing a notebook?

JONN HERSCHEND: The second notebook I lost was during an airplane ride with my daughter, Hannah. We were flying back from Branson, Missouri after visiting my parents for a week. We were on one of those little commuter planes. I had just finished lecturing Hannah about leaving her iPod in the seat back on the plane. We changed flights in Denver, and as we were settling in for our second flight, I realized I had left my notebook on the last plane in . . . the seat back. The best part was having to confess to Hannah I had just done exactly what I told her not to do. I tried to spin it as an example, but we all saw through that.

The plane with my notebook went to some tiny airport in Alabama and I was able to actually speak with a gate agent there. She said she was responsible for ticketing, baggage, and cleaning the plane and that she’d take a look.

I had all but given up on that notebook. It was a stressful week, and I attempted to recount some of my ideas and stories into a new notebook, but it wasn’t working. A few days later, I received a call from the Alabama gate agent. She had found my notebook and was going to mail it to me. I had a written in the front of my notebook that there was a $50 reward for anyone who found the notebook and sent it back. So I asked where I could mail this reward for her, and she replied that it’s part of her job. A true professional. A few days later, my notebook was back in my hands.  It was a huge relief.

PLUMB: I don’t know what to believe any more.

To see more of Jonn’s videos, you can visit his Vimeo page, where you’ll find this short video he made about a giant printed mural that ended up being reproduced in the artist card for the Chunky Blue Notebook: