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Core Art Skills: Part 2, The Sketchbook

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This post is part of a series called Core Art Skills.
Core Art Skills: Part 1, Welcome to the Course
Core Art Skills: Part 3, Life and Figure Drawing

The humble sketchbook is greatly underestimated as an integral part of a designers working practice, certainly with those using a predominantly digital workflow. This old favorite shouldn't be overlooked, it's a great tool for any process. In the second installment of Core Art Skills, Ben Mounsey will show you why, and how to get the most out of your sketchpad.

Core Art Skills Series


They come in all shapes and sizes, different weights of paper, different qualities and different bindings -it may seem trivial to the uninitiated, but getting the sketchbook that's right for you is really important. Personally I like to work with a landscape, A4 hardcover, spiral bound notepad. I like the fact that the spiral binding means I can draw to the very edges of the paper and the gutter doesn't get in the way, and the landscape orientation feels most comfortable on my lap. As with anything, like your office chair or desk, it's important to have a comfortable working environment.

It's important to remember that a sketchbook isn't just for work, it's as personal to you as a diary and should be about experimenting and having fun. Sit with your notepad in front of the TV and sketch, sketch in your lunch break -enjoy it in your free time in order to keep yourself passionate at work. I'd recommend that if you (like me) choose a fairly large size sketchbook, you also get a smaller more handy one to carry with you when your out and about. I keep an A5 sketchbook at the bottom of my bag all the times, so that when I'm out, I can record things quickly, maybe to re-sketch later.

Which leads us on nicely to 'Reportage'. Reportage is the practice of working 'On Location' with a sketchbook, 'reporting' on the world around you, it's a kind of research that is very personal and individual, as what you record will likely not be experienced in the same way again. Getting outside and on the road with your sketchbook is a great idea both for recording written or drawn notes/ideas, and getting inspired by your surroundings. I find this especially good for characters. You see so many weird and wonderful people in day to day life, people that pass you by and get forgotten, but if you have a notepad you can make a quick sketch.

Some Good Tips for Reportage

Be Quick - Whatever sparks your interest may not stick around for long, especially if it's a person, so make sure you sketch rough and fast, neat and tidy won't get you very far. it's always best to get down a quick 'thumbnail' sketch first, and then if you have time, a more detailed study.

Try to look at the subject and not your page - I'll discuss this further when we look at Life Drawing in Part 4, but for the moment, just remember that your desired target may only be around for a while and it's important to take in as much information, visually, as you can. If you imagine your eyes are scanning the subject darting around as it moves, the more time you spend looking away from your page, is the more time you have to record what you see.

Collect Ephemera - Sometimes there physical things you find 'on location', things that may go toward ideas for an artwork, and help you record information about a place. Memory is triggered by imagery, just as a postcard says about where you've been, an object that you collect does the same. Pick up that leaf or discarded photo, anything you find that interests you is good -if it's flat enough stick in your sketchbook, it may help you later!

Record colors - If your location has great colors that your likely to want to reproduce later, then why not create a set of swatches. There's no need to paint a still life or accurate landscape when a simple set of swatches would do, remember it's not about forcing yourself to do things you're not likely to do, it's about using core skills to maximize your output.

Write notes about what you hear - If you happen to overhear a nice line or two of someone's conversation, then get it down on paper. Great dialogue for narrative work can come from the strangest places. Plus it's quite fun to do!

Using a Sketchbook for Digital Workflow & Best Practices

It's easy to move straight to the computer when starting a project, after all, that's where your headed next, but in doing this you could be crushing you creative potential. One of the most common mistakes made by digital artists, is diving straight into projects on the computer. The digital environment can be an overly sterile one, the order and rigidity of the application window is easily the best way to crush creative vision. You should always start a project in the sketchbook.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes, and don't erase them -I hardly ever use an eraser, as it's important to keep a record of your mistakes and your successes, it's a natural progression. You shouldn't be too precious with your sketchbook, it's really for your eyes only. it's a good idea to make notes as you go, ideas that pop into your head should be written/drawn down for later. Even if the idea isn't necessarily regarding the task at hand, that way your ideas are recorded and set aside so that your mind can be put back on course.

When your starting a project it's sometimes difficult to get off the ground, getting a mental block is really common. Sketchbooks are a great space to think, and try and demolish that block.

Here are a few sketchbook strategies to use

  • Write/draw down everything you can think of to do with your subject matter and the top of the page, and in the lower section draw any aesthetically pleasing things relating to your list.

  • Sometimes, a simple brainstorm can be enough to trigger something.

  • As I mentioned before, emptying your head of all non-relevant ideas can be a great way to get back on track. Often the thing that holds you back the most is an abundance of ideas that distract you. Recording them on paper helps put them to one side for later and get your focus back.

Of course, at some point your going to want to get back behind the screen, so why not take a little something with you from your notepad? You've sketched out you ideas, and there are probably some real gems on you sketchbook pages. I find it's helpful to use my phone to take a photo of my sketch and send it to the computer -way quicker than getting out the scanner! Then you can use your sketch as an image to trace from.

Project — Conduct Your Own Reportage

Pick a location for Reportage, it can be anywhere, make sure it fits in with your life, if your going to the pub do it there, if your going to the park for a picnic take your sketchbook and make that your location. Wherever you go, try and complete the following: study the people in your vicinity, listen to what's being said around you and make notes, record some color swatches, and look out for some ephemera to collect. Happy Sketching!

Conclusion: Observe, Collect, Sketch!

Hopefully I've managed to persuade you of the values of keeping a good sketchbook, utilizing it in your digital workflow, and trying something new in getting out and doing some Reportage. Above all else, sketchbooks teach you to enjoy your work whether on a job, or in your downtime, and really keep your creative juices flowing! If you need some extra motivation, here's a great collection of sketches by professional illustrators.

José Domingo Betancur Gómez - Fashion in my Moleskine

Tata Biserova - Home

Mattias Adolfsson - Moleskine Sketchbooks

Irena Zablotska - Moleskine Sketchbook

Sergey Bakin - White Notepad

Anna Rusakova - My Moleskine

Rubens Cantuni - Chubby Geisha

Pacman23 - Sketchbook

Nathan Jurevicius - The Poet

Irina Vinnik - Sketchbook

Sam-M - Sketchbook 16

Sheldon Vella - Supertron Sketch

Orbin Nibor - Sketches

Linzie Hunter - Address Book

f1x - Sketches Part 1

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