The draw of a dream pad

The draw of a dream pad
Customised notebooks at Bynd Artisan Atelier.

A cheeky request for free sketchpads has led Singapore sketch artist Erwin Lian to produce a sketchbook with home-grown bookbinders Bynd Artisan.

Mr Lian first posted the request on his Instagram page in late 2013 and raved about the quality of the company's Monologue sketchpads.

"I'd been sketching for two years while travelling. As the Monologue brand sketchpad was my favourite, I thought, no harm trying my luck, right?" recalls the 38-year-old, a part-time lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Film and Media.

To his surprise, the company saw his work and agreed to let him take his pick of their stock. This jumpstarted a relationship that would eventually lead both parties to produce a sketchpad after a successful crowdfunding project.

Called The Perfect Sketchbook, the $40 artist's pad launches on Jan 18.

Mr Lian, who has a master's degree in design management from the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio, started travel sketching on a whim while on holiday in Yogjakarta in 2012.

But the bachelor was not satisfied with the sketchpads on the market.

"I wanted a sketchpad that was compact and had high quality paper that would lie flat when opened but I couldn't find it anywhere. That was when I thought, if the perfect sketchbook doesn't exist, why don't I create it myself?"

In late 2013, he sent an e-mail to Bynd Artisan with his idea, promising to cough up the production costs through crowdfunding, even though he was new to the process.

Crowdfunding is the practice of raising funds for a project from a large number of people, typically through the Internet.

Bynd Artisan then surprised him a second time by agreeing to produce the sketchbook with him.

Bynd Artisan's founder Winnie Chua, who is in her 40s, says: "He was great at his craft and since we had never collaborated with a sketch artist before, we were quick to get on board. He had a crazy dream and we got to make a fantastic product - it was a win-win situation."

Mr Lian set the wheels in motion last July, but things were not as easy as he had hoped. For starters, after discussing his design and the scale of the project with Ms Chua, he realised he would have to raise US$50,000 (S$66,800) on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter for them to break even.

Worse, he was not aware that he had to pay commission charges and taxes for the money raised, which ate into their budget.

But he ploughed on, offering anyone who pledged US$30 a copy of the sketchbook when it was ready, and created paintings and sketches for those who pledged US$300 to US$3,000.

During the 45 days he had to raise the money (Kickstarter allows up to 60 days for crowdfunding projects), he also sent hundreds of e-mail messages to family, friends and charity foundations.

At the same time, he worked with Bynd Artisan to produce a top-notch prototype. He scoured the world for the best materials, from 100 per cent cotton paper from a traditional British mill - conventional sketchpads use only 20 per cent cotton paper - to high-quality synthetic leather finishings from Switzerland for the cover.

He also added other artist-friendly features, such as an expandable storage pocket and built-in value charts, which help artists pick the right colour tones. These were added to either side of the sketchbook so it would work for left- and right-handers.

Things kicked into gear only in the last 10 days of his fund-raising efforts. Expecting things to fail, he jokes: "I even booked a plane ticket to Italy so I'd have a place to hide in shame in case things didn't work out.

In September last year, Mr Lian managed to close his Kickstarter account with US$53,800 from 881 backers, and Bynd Artisan turned his prototype into a reality three months later, producing 2,000 copies of the sketchbook.

The Perfect Sketchbook is the Singaporean project with the most number of backers on Kickstarter so far.

"It has been an insane roller-coaster ride, with hard work and sleepless nights. I can't believe we pulled it off," Mr Lian says of the experience.

"But it shows that if you are crazy enough to go after your dreams, perfect doesn't have to be an ideal. It's possible to make perfection a reality."

The Erwin Lian x Bynd Artisan capsule collection launches on Jan 18 at noon at the Bynd Artisan Atelier at 32 Chin Bee Avenue. The Perfect Sketchbook will be available for sale at $40 during the event. To mark the occasion, 20 limited-edition copies of the sketchbook, bound in calf leather and containing Mr Lian's sketches, will be sold at $200 each. Proceeds will go to the Taman Jurong CCC Community Development and Welfare Fund.

This article was first published on January 10, 2015.
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