I was never good at sketchbooks.

I think it’s something about the fact that all the pages are attached to other pages. Sketchbooks always feel like there should be a narrative, something to act as a through-line. But give me any blank book to carry around, and it will get used to jot down ideas, to-do lists, URLs. I’ve never managed to keep a sketchbook as a pure sketchbook.

But I wanted to start drawing more. I was inspired by the #drawingaday thing. “Make a drawing. Doesn’t matter if it’s good. Just make the thing. Every day, no matter what.” I’m usually up for a challenge. I decided at the end of 2014 that I’d be doing #drawingaday this year.

Then I had a bit of inspiration. I’d combine obsessions. I’d do a drawing a day of monsters from various editions of Dungeons & Dragons. And instead of a sketchbook, I’d do the drawings on blank playing cards. Because a standard deck contains 52 cards. There are 52 weeks in a year. So #drawingaday would fill exactly seven decks of cards. And none of the drawings would be connected except by theme. They could be shuffled, reordered, curated. I was very pleased that the temporal/physical mathematics worked out so nicely.

blank cards

I’ve gotten a few questions about my process, so I thought I’d do a few blog posts detailing my madness in ridiculous detail. With pictures.


Sometime in December I went through a couple Monster Manuals and pulled out 52 iconic monsters I thought would be fun to draw. There was little rhyme or reason to it. I just picked a few of my favorites. The first deck concluded on February 21st, and looked like this:

Monster Deck 01

The Gelatinous Cube was actually a test drawing/proof of concept from December, which is why there are 53 cards here.

When it came time to prepare the second deck, I got a little more… thorough.

deck project spreadsheet

I made a spreadsheet. I went back through the Monster Manuals and pulled out another 250 monsters. I decided to make a Hero deck, and made a list of all the player characters I’ve ever had the privilege of running a game for. I went a little batty and decided to do a Gamma World deck (I think largely because I want to be able to draw robots at some point in this process). I made lists for all seven decks, randomly assigning the monsters, making sure each deck has a sort of “Boss” monster (e.g. Orcus in Deck 1), and leaving a few blank spaces in each deck so I can wedge in a second attempt at monsters I want to try to draw differently (or better).

Monster Deck-label example

Each deck is pre-captioned. For this project I’m using exclusively Staedtler Lumocolors—medium point for the captions, fine point for the drawings. I can’t begin to express how much love I have for these pens. Markers? Ink devices. Whatever they are, I love them. More on that in the drawing post I’ll do eventually.

Thankfully, these blank decks come with more than 52 cards—they have blank cards for the jokers and the weird extra cards that come in every deck that most everybody throws away immediately. So I have room to make mistakes.

Monster Deck caption mistake 1

Yeah, that S ran out of room on the right. And that Gibbering Beast got all smudged. Cost of doing business.

I don’t typically do much layout for the text; this is, after all, supposed to be a quick-and-dirty project, so I didn’t want to take that much time. Besides, my drawing style is a little messy anyway, so for the most part, I’m okay with less-than-perfect lettering.

What I do is letter from the inside-out. That’s where I went wrong on Shambling Mound up there. Mound was okay (would have fixed on the second stroke), but I made the mistake of counting letters without considering the widths of those letters. “S-H-A-M… that’s four… L-I-N-G… four… with B in the middle.” Totally forgot that, at least in my lettering hand, S-H-A-M is way wider than L-I-N-G. So B shouldn’t be a central pillar, but the first of the latter group.

So, yeah. This is the order I (probably) did the fixed card:

U. N D. O M. okay, um, what was that about the B? Right.
B. M A H S. L I N G. Yeah, okay, that looks about right. Good enough for jazz.

So I did that another 50 times.

Not 51? Shouldn’t it be 51? SURELY you did that 51 more times.

No, see, when I did Orcus in Deck 1 I decided it’d be cool if the Boss monster in each deck was so big that it filled the card completely. Which means I need to have the caption in outline text. Also, it means I need to try and figure out how that works.

Spoilers: it took three tries to get Tarrasque right.


Anyway, so now I have a deck of 52 pre-captioned cards, which will last me until mid-April.

Deck 2 - handful

I’ve been posting every drawing on my otherwise-rarely-used Instagram account, which you can follow over here:


And if you have a D&D monster you really want to make sure I draw as part of this project, I’ve set up a request line below. It’s ugly, but it should work.

Next post: actually drawing the things.

Is there a Monster you want Jonesy to draw?

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