In praise of sketching...

The weather was wonderful last Sunday so I sat down and took a stab at sketching the base of a massive willow tree that dominates the middle of the park across the street from where we live.

 I've been making a conscious effort to get away from my studio and do more observational sketching and I've noticed a few things since starting:

 1) Process: From sketch to final, my work is produced on the computer. For two reasons: a) my studio area is small and I can't accommodate a large work area for paint, papers or tools; and b) I'm able to deliver more work faster and more efficiently than the analog process. It's simply a practical necessity in order to meet the usual production schedules maintained by book publishers. But having a piece of glass between me and the mark takes its toll. Nothing replaces the subtle vibration felt when a pencil is moving across paper. Texture makes a huge difference. So getting out and spending time with a sketchbook and pencils is becoming a treat. There's no Command-Z to undo a bad mark. I've rediscovered the glories that come from using the side of the pencil lead which are difficult, if not impossible, to replicate on the computer. And when I come back to the computer screen, I bring back more of my analog process which only helps my digital work. 

2) Observation: Let me be honest here: I used to be terrified of doing quick observational sketches of people in public places. Anytime I made the attempt, I would get frustrated because I kept wanting to be as exact as I could with details. If things weren't in coming out in proper relation or proportion? FAILURE!!! But after I took Stephen Silver's course on character design I loosened up and it started becoming fun. I stopped agonizing over trying to catch a likeness and let a person be the jumping off point for exploring. I usually go to Starbucks and find a seat close to where people are waiting to pick up their coffee because they tend to stand still a little longer than usual. But I don't get hung up anymore on the details. I'm not there to do an anatomical study but to fill my mind and sketchbook with ideas for characters and poses. That's it. Nothing more. No pressure. No critique. And those observations really do come in handy when I'm working on a client project.

3) Joy: Let's face it, being an illustrator is a pretty cool line of work. It isn't lucrative (HA!). But getting paid to draw pictures for a living is not a bad life. However, if the only things I'm working on are projects for clients, I start to get antsy. The fun can slowly start to eek its way out of the work. Getting out into the 'wild' with my sketchbook and pencils has become a way to recharge my batteries. It's taught me that I need personal projects that are mine alone and completely unrelated to my client work. These projects are the way to keep my creativity alive and stoked.

So I recommend that you get out with a sketchbook and start filling that thing up! And here's a few suggestions:

- Don't buy an expensive sketchbook. You know the ones I mean. Those things intimidate me into thinking that my drawings have to be worthy of the price I paid. Believe me, my sketches aren't that precious. What counts is the content, not the wrapper.

-Draw on only one side of the page. Drawing on both sides can have the unintended consequence of transferring images to another page. Also, if you buy a cheap sketchbook, this will fill it up faster, which does wonders for your attitude!