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How I use sketchbooks
I didn't use them for 17 years and then I was hooked
I have several drafts on burn-out, hustle culture, etc. but I didn’t feel like posting that today. Yesterday was quite eventful: I fell in a ditch while hiking and had to go to hospital (nothing serious, just a severely sprained ankle). So, today is going to be about a breezy topic: sketchbooks.
Coming up with images happens mostly in my brain. When I have an idea for a drawing, illustration or painting, I fully visualise images without sketching it. Basically, I never thought I needed to sketch before working on a final piece. When I started working for clients, they wanted to see sketches first, of course. I learned myself to do quick drawings to show them what I saw in my head.
So, at age 35 I didn’t even have one sketchbook completely filled with sketches. I did have a few stored in boxes with a drawing here or there, but not even in art school I used a sketchbook to experiment or research.
Maybe I was scared of using a sketchbook because often they look so serious, with their fancy binding. They’re quite expensive too, most of the time. I’m also quite a perfectionist, so I feel like I have to do it right straight away.
But that changed around 2020 when I started painting landscapes again after a 13-year break. I bought myself a stack of cheap sketchbooks (on the bottom you’ll find my favourites) and I learned to enjoy it by using a few rules.
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Sketchbooks are for playing
It is for my eyes only (unless I really want to show it)
The more I use them, the easier and better it gets
Draw what you see, not what you think you see
All materials and subjects are allowed
There are no rules
To not get precious with my sketchbooks, I use the first few pages for testing pencils, pens, colours and mark making. Because the first few pages are so deliciously messy, I feel less precious and more free. Highly recommended!
When I’m in England I tend to sketch more landscapes, while in the Netherlands I draw mostly people. The Dutch landscape doesn’t always excite me as it’s so flat but by sketching it, it helps to rekindle an appreciation for it. Still, I prefer the hills and glorious skies of the UK.
You might see picture-perfect sketches online, but for most artists/drawers it takes an initial sketch to get to a better one, as you can see above. I often give myself a spread in my sketchbook to figure out the composition. Then, I draw another one where I understand the landscape better.
Some pages are filled to the borders with colours and marks…
While other pages are filled with quick thumbnails (either black and white or colour) and notes on the landscape. I use these often for bigger paintings of landscapes, and they’re massively helpful.
What I’ve learnt from using sketchbooks:
Actually drawing out ideas brings my brain-sketches to another level
It’s quick to test colour combinations or compositions
It’s immensely satisfying to finish a complete sketchbook
I don’t like most of my sketches when I’ve just finished them but when I leave it for a day, I see them differently and I appreciate them very much
It’s okay to mess up: you learn or you’re guided to new solutions
It’s wonderful to experiment and discover new ways of working