The Sketchbooks of Tom Cocotos

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday September 20, 2018

As Summer maintained its grip on Our Fair City weatherwise, Instagram offered a peek into Tom Cocotos’s sketchbooks. Here, for the very last installment of Pimp Your Sketchbook, is what I discovered last week. 

Sitting on a crowded A train, a woman boards, weary, arms full of packages. The cool of winter has her in a heavy brown overcoat, hat slightly cocked, scarf pulled loose, bags resting at her feet—a face full of character, and certain sketchbook potential.  She seems to sense my interest, unapologetically returning my stare. I must capture her, but don’t want to be caught. I look down the car at something, anything, then casually return my eyes to my new subject… she’s still staring. I covertly reach into my bag for sketchbook and pencil and begin to draw.  With each glance it’s important to hold as many of her details as possible, knowing she might abandon her seat to exit at any station. She doesn’t, and remains my model for 11 stops… what luck! 



A sketchbook is a mobile studio. For me its randomness borders on luck and slows me down. In the garden, the café, the ferry boat, the train, I luxuriate in detail: the textured petal of an ultra violet flower, the yellow powdery pollen on a bee’s multi-jointed legs, it’s a fat bumble bee, torso encased in a fur coat of stripes. It might be a construction site, the multi-jointed arm of a dirt digger, the detail of a steel hinge. And on the train it’s the tight grip of hand holding the bag, a red scarf in shadow, plaid shirt against aqua blue wall, eyes downturned to the green double-knotted laces on shoes. In collage, color is important because they must now be translated in paper.



A sketchbook can be a travelogue, an alternative to the photo album. In study the pen imprints itself on memory, moving from eye to hand.  A month-long trip to Greece transforms into twenty-eight 4x6” spiral bound pages. At the cafeneio, paper materials are scrounged, gold foil from a coffee creamer, a Fix beer label, a neon green price sticker, all blended with billboard poster pulled from grungy walls in Athens. A friend’s Greek grandfather spots me observing him—caught again! A man of 87, shirts always fresh pressed, he seems to appreciate the attention. When I forget a few collage scraps on my chair, the old man carefully collects and guards them until I return.   



As I study my book, the senses reawaken to the trip: fragrant mountain oregano, a priest singing the liturgy, mopeds gaining speed, the shadow of evening sun on the Parthenon, a fisherman delivering his wares to a restaurant in Nafpaktos. 

The beauty of a sketchbook is that its practice always leads to more practice. 


Tom Cocotos is a NYC based collage artist. He holds a degree in Engineering from Columbia University and an MFA from the School of Visual Arts. He’s presently working on sketchbook images for 2 children’s books.

Tom will be participating in the Highline Open Studios:
Saturday and Sunday, October 13thand 14th, 12 – 6 pm
526 W 26thStreet, Chelsea, NYC
Open Studios:

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday September 19, 2018

By Peggy Roalf   Tuesday September 18, 2018

By Peggy Roalf   Monday September 17, 2018

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