The Importance Of Sketchbooks


For eight weeks now I’ve been posting my assignments from a character design class I’m taking at (taught by Stephen Silver). Only one more week to go!

This week’s assignement was another two-parter. For Part 1 we had to go to a busy public place and fill a page with observational sketches. The Mall of America is near my house, so I went there to sketch the above page. Part 2 (which I’ll post tomorrow) was about memory sketching.

I can’t over-emphasize the importance of keeping a daily sketchbook. The only way to get better at drawing is to draw. As Stephen likes to say, “A page a day keeps the competition away”.

A sketchbook isn’t for polished drawings. Rather, it’s a private place where you can stay loose, experiment, stretch yourself, and make mistakes. Lots of them! (Mistakes are the best teachers). If you want to keep growing as an artist, the worst thing you can do is fill your sketchbook with things you already know how to draw.

Going to a busy place to draw real live people is something you should do regularly. (Stephen fills a page every day over his lunch hour). Most people don’t sit still for very long, so it forces you to stay loose, think fast and make bold decisions, which over time will increase your confidence. Don’t sweat the details; focus on the essence of a pose (which can usually be captured in just a few lines). Try to capture the overall physical attitude of the person, which is the foundation that breathes life into a drawing. You can always go back and flesh out the details later.

In his lecture, Stephen talked about what a character designer should focus on as he sketches the people around him (i.e. balance, gesture, line of action, negative space, rhythm, attitude, etc.) He also talked about not just seeing, but studying what you draw. Observe the different ways people walk, talk, and gesture. Notice body types, hairstyles, and clothing choices. Study how fabric clings and hangs around the body, how people position their legs when they sit, how they lean when they carry things, how their posture changes with their attitude (i.e. excited, bored, annoyed, etc.) These are the things that give your drawings personality and character.

Stephen also talked about “frankensteining”, that is, assembling parts of several people into one character. You might start to draw a man reading the paper, but as soon as you rough in his body pose he gets up to leave. Don’t abandon your drawing. Add the profile from another person, maybe the hair from a third person, etc. Frankensteining keeps you from getting frustrted when your models keep moving (or leaving) in mid-drawing, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the new character you’ve created.

The point is that you keep drawing, keep experimenting, keep learning.

Now get out there and draw!