“Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain. Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter, and lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.”
The importance of sketching: artists hear it all the time. (No? Just me?) We should sketch every chance we get, they say.
Well, they’re not wrong.
Think of sketching like riding a bike. It takes practice to gain enough skill to stay on the bike, even more so to get it to move forward. We must practice to learn to stop. We must practice to do wheelies. When we don’t practice, we lose the skills we have learned. They grow rusty. Harder to perform.
So, yes, sketching is important, and below I’ve outlined my top seven reasons to keep a sketchbook with you at all times and practice, practice, practice! (Why seven? Because I’m a rebel like that. Take that, number ten! I do what I want!)
Sketchbooks are snapshots in time
Think of a sketchbook as a type of journal. Each time you sketch something in it, you are capturing – immortalizing – a moment in time. Journals do the same, just with words.
Sketching reduces stress
I can’t speak for everyone, but when I start drawing, I tend to get lost in my own world. Everything around me fades. My worries melt away. I fall into a zen-like state where nothing exists but that very moment. And, when I finish, I feel at ease and I am filled with satisfaction.
Sketching improves skill
Sketching, as mentioned above, allows us to practice and improve our skills. By sketching the things around us, we see the world with an artistic eye and a different perspective.
Sketching fights boredom
Before the time of smart phones, I never left home without a book (or two or three), a sketchbook, and my pencils. Waiting at the doctor, standing in a line, waiting for class to start (though that one was a quite a while ago…), you would see me with my nose in a book or else feverishly drawing something in my sketchbook. The time always passed much quicker, then – and unlike with smart phones, I actually had something to show for it at the end. 🙂
Sketchbooks store thoughts and ideas
I’ve actually got what I call a scratch-book in my purse at all times. It is sort of a sketchbook on steroids. I sketch, jot down ideas, mind-map (more on that at a later date). It helps me better organize my scatterbrained ideas.
Sketching makes us think
Sketching opens me up to whole new ways of thinking. When I start drawing, I look at things in a different perspective and in a new light. I ask questions. These questions lead to ideas. I jot the ideas down on paper and sketch them out. So the cycle continues.
Sketching allows us to truly experience the world around us
We have multiple senses for a reason. Use them. Never assume that because drawings and paintings are a visual medium that other senses don’t come into play. On the contrary. They evoke memory and personal experience. While a person may not actually smell a drawing of the sea, a well-done artwork will evoke a strong memory that transports the viewer into the scene. That is the power of experience.
What reasons do you have for keeping a sketchbook? Or, if you don’t draw, what sorts of tools do you use to experience the world around you? I’d love to hear them, so be sure to post them in the comments below!
As artists, we get asked this question a lot: “What is your favorite medium?” or, slightly similar: “What art tools do you prefer?”
Well, my lovelies, I have decided to compile a list of my absolute favorite tools of the trade, and why I love them, just for you. 🙂
I am a huge fan of mixed media art. For me, no one medium does absolutely everything I want it to do — but combined… well, then all bets are off. By itself, I’m not a huge fan of watercolor. I appreciate the beauty of the medium and I love looking at watercolor illustrations. But, it’s too fluid, and it doesn’t do what I want it to. (Stubborn, remember?)
However, watercolor paint makes a wonderful, ethereal backdrop and I will often use it to start color blocking my pieces. (I also reserve watercolor for larger pieces.)
Copic markers are like watercolor’s richer, denser cousin. Still liquid, still easily blended, but much more saturated. I usually start off with neutral gray hues to shade my piece and tone down the colors so that they look more natural. Then, I layer up the colors to add life to the piece.
This is my third tool of choice. Colored pencils are a great way to add detail to an illustration and to further pull out the colors that lay underneath.
I don’t always use acrylic paints, but sometimes an illustration needs a little extra texture and lift. Acrylics allow me to really pull out the highlights and give the piece an extra 3-dimensional quality.
Hot-press watercolor paper.
This is my preferred surface to work on. Watercolor paper holds all of the liquid media well, minimizes bleeding, and allows for easy blending. I prefer hot-press because there is a little less texture and tooth to the paper. However, I have used both and sometimes the extra texture is a good thing!
As a die-hard digital painting fan, I cannot even begin to remember what it was like before pen tablets. My preferred brand is Wacom, the industry leader in tablets for professional artists. I personally have the Wacom Intuos Pen and Touch Medium Tablet (CTH680) and I couldn’t be happier. Well, that’s not completely true. I have been eyeing that Cintiq Companion 2 Intel® Core™ for a while now. Maybe Christmas? (I’m looking at you, dear husband…)
Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus 2.
I have recently become more interested in sketching out drawings digitally. Call me a traditionalist, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely do away with good old pencil and paper for my initial sketches. But I have found the iPad to be a freeing way to sketch — especially when coupled with good drawing apps that can transfer easily to Photoshop (more about that below).
I love this stylus for drawing on the iPad. It’s easy to use, it has pressure-sensitivity, and it moves like butter across the screen. (Not that I’m putting butter on my iPad. That’s just gross.)
I know there are lots of other tablets out there nowadays, but I admit I’m a bit old fashioned when it comes to digital art and computers. While PC has come a long way, I’m just way too in love with Apple (all you PC fans, don’t freak out too hard — I love PC, too. I AM a Microsoft developer, after all. I do all my paintings on the PC!).
With retina display for stunning high-quality visuals, and mixed with the stylus I mentioned above and Adobe’s Photoshop Sketch app, the iPad is pretty tough to beat, in my opinion!
The only downside (currently) is that the drawings done on the iPad are not high-resolution. This isn’t an issue if you’re just sketching and moving into Photoshop for the final piece — but it would be nice to see this become available at some point in the future…
Adobe Creative Suite.
What digital art list would be complete without good old Adobe (especially Photoshop and Illustrator)? I love the new creative suite and how it gives you cloud space. It’s a great way to keep projects available on more than one device! For instance, I can start a sketch on my iPad when I’m out and about, save it, and load it into Photoshop later to start doing the detail work!
When reading a story, I easily slip into the main character’s shoes. Every emotion, every experience, I feel as if my own. When they cry, I cry. When they feel love or joy, my heart nearly bursts (okay, not really, but I swear it feels like it sometimes!). I enjoy a well-written plot as much as the next book lover, but well-written characters… they are the substance and life of any piece of literature.
(Yes, I am one of those readers that have book crushes. C’mon. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice? Are you kidding me? *swoon*)
Writing a story is really no different. The art of creating a character, of fleshing out every tiny detail that makes a well-rounded, three-dimensional protagonist or antagonist — that’s what I love best. And, it’s one of THE most important steps! (And you should listen to me, because I am smart, and I know all.)
The best characters, to me, are multi-faceted and compelling. They have depth. They act unpredictably and keep us guessing at each page turn. Take a moment and think about a character, your favorite character in all of characterdom (is that a word? No? Well, it is now!). Now think about all the things you love above that character.
Done? Okay. So, if you took a moment to think about it, I bet you’ll have noticed just how complex that character is. When you flesh out a character, they become more real. Otherwise, they turn into an archetype, or a cartoon version of themselves. They don’t seem real. And if they don’t seem real, readers probably won’t relate to them.
The thing is, writing a multi-dimensional character isn’t as hard as it sounds. Many times a character comes to me before I have even an inkling of a story. They speak to me and all I have to do is put pen to paper – they do all the work. Other times require a bit more… diligence on my part, but as long as I’m not staring at a blank page, the pieces start to come together without too much thought.
So, to avoid the dreaded blank-page fear that many of us creative types harbor, I like to write up a character profile (I’m a geek like that. I like lists and things.) At the very MINIMUM I will jot down the following:
Brief history / back story
To help my fellow writers (or artists, because a character profile can be a just as great a tool for drawing a series or illustrating a story!), I am offering a character profile sheet for download.
We all have those moments when inspiration disappears into a black hole of drudgery. “I’ve got writer’s block,” we say. Or, “My muse has left me!”
Whatever we may call it, the dry spell that comes every so often in every creative’s life is nothing to laugh about. For many of us, the act of creating is akin to the act of breathing. It is vital to our survival.
The inevitable always happens. When it does, what can we do to keep the creative oxygen flowing? I have compiled a list of tricks that I have found over the years to keep me creating, even when I have no creativity left. (Most of these will be geared more toward visual art, but almost all of them can be interchangeable to different types of creative avenues).
Keep an ideas journal. Recently, I have started jotting down ideas as they come to me into a sort of scratch-pad journal. This is great for a couple of reasons: A) I don’t forget ideas that I have (because, let’s face it, I’m a total scatterbrain); and B) I can reference those ideas during times when I can’t think of a good idea to save my life.
Look at art/writing prompts. Illustration Friday is a wonderful resource for artists and illustrators! Each Friday, they post a word, and thousands of artists create something to illustrate that word. There are also many posts on Pinterest for writing and art prompts. You can do a search, or follow me to see things I’ve pinned already.
Read abook. Research a particular subject matter. Start reading through books of a similar genre. Whatever the type, just read! I often get ideas in the middle of reading a really good story. And, you could take it a step further and expand on the type of entertainment. Movies, TV, plays, concerts — all of these are great avenues to foster creativity.
Immerse yourself in learning something new. Do you prefer writing fiction? Try your hand at poetry. Do you draw people really well? Try drawing animals or machines. Take a class. Learn a new technique or medium. The opportunities are endless!
Change your location. Even if inspiration has not struck, the simple act of stepping outside of familiar settings with a sketchpad in hand can be beneficial. There is never a shortage of things to draw, both inside and outside.
Look at things from a different perspective. I mean this literally and figuratively. Even if you have drawn it a thousand times before…draw it again! Try a different view. Use different colors. Try different times of day. I guarantee you will learn something new every time.
Learn from others. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” (Charles Caleb Colton.) So, go out and imitate! Write fan fiction. Sketch some of your favorite characters. Watch biographies of your mentors. Not everything you create has to be 100% absolutely unique (and there’s a pretty good chance it’s not, anyway. Only five plots and all that jazz). The important thing is to make it yours.
Try philosophy. Sort of. I just mean, ask questions. Hard questions. Make yourself think. Things like, “What would happen if I___?” or “What does it mean to___?” Often just asking questions opens up a whole new world full of possibilities.
Listen to music. There have been so many times that I will be staring at a blank page in horror, with no earthly idea how to manifest something from nothing. Those times, I often turn to music. Whatever mood I am trying to convey, that is the genre I choose. It usually doesn’t take long for things to take shape in my mind once the music starts flowing.
Take a mini break from life. I will be the first to admit that stress stifles creativity. Sometimes, in order to break through a dry spell, we must get away from the things that cause us stress. Whether a stay-cation, vacation, excavation (okay, maybe not that), do something you enjoy and leave work at work.
“We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.”
Those are my favorite things to try when I am struggling to find inspiration. I would love to hear your thoughts! What sort of things to you do to tap into your creativity?
I will be the first to admit: when it comes to vacations, I am a planning machine. There is something magical about seeing all the little details of our trip… planning makes it even more real. But, when it comes to characters… the process is a bit daunting. I never could figure out why, until I realized that the act of staring at a blank sheet of paper scares me. My mind goes blank.
Once I figured that out – Eureka! A character expression sheet was born! Below you can see an example of expressions I created to help me come up with the finished illustration to the right.
I recently came across a wonderful, (extremely!) in-depth article on this subject: “Human Anatomy Fundamentals:Mastering Facial Expressions” by Joumana Medlej. At one point, the author discusses different cues used by performers when conveying an emotion. They use different tones of speech and exaggerate body movements while “an illustration needs to make up for real-life clues that are not present on paper.”
She then continues to break down a litany of different facial expressions and the subtle differences in features that make up these emotions. It’s a brilliantly written how-to article and I highly recommend it.
While I think my expression sheet is a great starting off point, in the near future I plan on incorporating many of Ms. Medlej’s tips into a more comprehensive Character Profile document, so be on the lookout! ♥
I am a professional artist who specializes in pop art, illustration, and graphic design. My work includes both digital and a mix of traditional wet media. (Check out my art gallery to view my work!) I find inspiration from animation (e.g. Disney and Japanese anime), fantasy, fairy tales, and those magical little moments in everyday life.