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Keeping Sketchbooks

Keeping a sketchbook is a great way of keeping track of creative ideas and getting in the habit of regular drawing, as well as being a useful resource for picture book ideas when you are feeling short on ideas. Most artists keep sketchbooks in which they experiment with ideas and collect drawings of their environment. Sketchbooks are like visual diaries for artists. Artists often use them for planning and developing their work. Remember that not every drawing you do needs to be a work of art. Fill yours with doodles, words, writing, photographs, found images, experiments with colour etc.
Before you sit down to draw, decide what your intention is for the session. While trying something challenging is usually worthwhile, in the beginning, simple subjects can often be rewarding. Try to find something that reflects your own interests and taste.

  • The most famous artist’s sketchbooks are those of Leonardo da Vinci. They are filled with drawings, diagrams and written notes of things he saw and ideas he came up with.
  • Picasso produced 178 sketchbooks in his life time. He often used his sketchbooks to explore themes and make compositional studies until he found the right idea and subject for a larger painting on canvas.
  • Henry Moore, a British sculptor, filled one of his sketchbooks with drawings of sheep that often wandered by the window outside his studio.

Carry your sketchbook around with you whenever you can. Look for things to record in it. Remember that as an illustrator, you have to look closely at things. If you are researching for your book, you may have to do some location drawing. You may find it difficult at first to stand still and draw something outside, especially if there are people around. Don’t mind them or any comments they might make. And don’t worry if some of your drawings don’t turn out like you want them to. You can make mistakes in your sketchbook and you’ll get better with practice. Drawing requires courage!
Try to fill one page of your sketchbook every day. Getting started is always difficult, especially when you have a new, empty book. If you don’t know where to start, try one of the following ideas. Once you’ve done your first sketchbook, others will be easier to do.

  • Many artists choose a theme to follow in their sketchbooks. For example, you might draw scenes around your neighbourhood or you might decide to focus on portraits of family and friends in your first sketchbook. Or, you might draw views you see when looking out windows (something that Henri Matisse, a French artist, liked to do).
  • Some people have collections of things. A collection can make a good theme for a sketchbook. If you have a collection of old toys or cameras (whatever) draw pictures of them in your sketchbook. (Did you know Andy Warhol liked to draw pictures of toys?) You can also draw pictures of shoes, old hats, tools, kitchen utensils, or other items found around your house.
  • your sketchbook can be a place to invent new characters
  • If you have a dog or cat as a pet, try drawing pictures of it in your sketchbook. Don’t worry if your pet moves before you finish your drawing. As you get to know your pet better by drawing it, you’ll probably be able to go back and finish any uncompleted drawings of it later on.
  • Drawing things from unusual points of view is good practice for an artist. For example, try drawing trees while sitting directly underneath them.
  • If you go on a family trip or holiday, take your sketchbook along to draw. It can be become a record of your journey and the things you saw.
  • You don’t have to draw things you see in your sketchbook. It can be a place to make designs and experiment with different types of lines and shapes.
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