Sketchbooks are wonderful. There is nothing like getting a new sketchbook with all its beautiful clean pages. All the potential for great art to happen can be thrilling. It can also be very overwhelming.
This entire last year of my life has been completely focused on drawing in sketchbooks. As a graduate student at SVA – focusing on my MFA Illustration as a Visual Essay, I immediately found that I was so overwhelmed by the skills of my fellow students, the iPad and digital drawing tools, the creative drawing classes where we are encouraged to try mixing tons of mediums, on location drawing classes where we travel all over Brooklyn and Manhattan drawing everywhere and I found myself crippled by the amount of options I had available.
I created a simple system that I used for myself to navigate the program so I could focus on my main goal for the year – to become better at drawing. One of the number one reasons I went back for an MFA was because I knew there was potential in me and I wanted time to push myself to be better at illustrating than I ever had been before. I used my sketchbooks to achieve this goal and I wanted to write a blog sharing my method of rules for the year and what I think those rules helped me achieve.
I remember back when the iPhone first came out that an artist stated that the best kind of camera is the one that you have with you. With that mentality he went about only taking photos with his iPhone and became known for it in the process. The reason I tell that story is because I believe that is true of sketchbooks as well. I think we can obsess over them and become concerned that they are sacred and that we should not make mistakes in them when in reality, the opposite is true.
Sketchbooks can give you tremendous freedom if you let them and that is why I bring up the iPhone story – in order to let your sketchbooks give you freedom, you first and foremost must have them with you.
A professor said to me back in undergraduate “If you do not do something everyday, then it is not a discipline.” I took that to heart. I write it down in the front of my sketchbooks and use that to remind myself to draw in my sketchbook everyday. Along with that mentality, I make a few rules for myself and these rules, I find, have helped me tremendously to be a more consistent and accurate drawer.
The first rule is simple: bring your sketchbook wherever you are going.
I do this always. Whenever I leave my home, I make sure I have my keys and my wallet and my sketchbook. Just by getting in the habit of bringing it and carrying it around I realize – oh I have this book, I should use it. Having access to your sketchbook as basic as is sounds, is a hurtle that will cause you to draw more. If I am on a train, waiting at a doctors office, sitting at a cafe – wherever, if I have my sketchbook with me, there is a much greater chance that I will draw. I usually carry it. I bring it with me to events, dinner, baseball games, on hikes – anywhere I go because you never know if the urge to draw will occur and when it does you need to be ready.
second: limit your tools. Like most artists, I am a tool fanatic. I love going to art supply stores and seeing all the pens and markers and paint brushes and water color sets and acrylic paints and India inks and nibs and brush pens and calligraphy pens and charcoals and pencils and on and on but, no matter how many tools I put in my arsenal of mark making, none of them will actually help me draw better. The only thing that will help that is to draw more and more. I find that if I bring to many tools to sketch and draw with, I get overwhelmed by those tools and spend the time I could be focusing on drawing and mark making instead on setting up tools and changing my mind about what to use and how to use it.
Because of this reason I suggest picking one tool to use when you go out to draw. It doesn’t matter if its a brush pen of a fountain pen, a micron pen or ball point just pick one tool and keep it with you.
Lately, for me I have been only drawing with a parallel pen. I like how it can draw really thin lines and really thick lines. I also like that it has refillable ink and the it creates marks that I have some but not all control of. I find this helps add a looseness to my drawings that otherwise would not be there.
Third and finally: draw from life as much as you can. Another thing that stops us from drawing is not knowing what to draw. We get so doubtful that what we make will have meaning or be good and we tend to freeze up – at least I know I do. That is why I find it helpful to draw anywhere and anything. By eliminating the worry if what to draw you can just focus on drawing. If you are drinking a cup of coffee draw the cup of coffee. When you finish draw wheats next to the coffee. If you are sitting in a waiting room – draw the other people in the room, draw the chairs, draw the magazine rack. Draw what you see. Draw your shoulda draw your hand, draw your dog or cat, draw plants. Stop worrying about if something is good or not and just stick with one tool and draw what you see. By doing the will find that you are seeing the world more carefully and you will also find that the more you draw what you see, the more you will be able to draw anything. Before you know it your sketchbook will be filled up and you will be ready for a new one!
A final tip: this is just how I work – I am not saying this is for everyone… I find that if I draw not from front to back but to the center of a sketchbook, that I draw more and finish my books more consistently. I think as artists, we often start sketchbooks only to abandon them when they become a third or half full. It might be because we went to an art supply store and got a new book and just cannot wait to start it or because we don’t like the initial drawings we did in the first few pages of the book. I find that if I do a drawing on the last page then a drawing on the first page then a drawing on the second to last page followed by one on the second page and continue that way until the book is done that my sketchbooks get full much quicker and I tend to like them better.
Follow Stephen on his Instagram @procopiodraws