Indiana Jones and the Sketchbook of Doom

Lately I’ve been blessed with gobs of freelance work, but one of the downsides is that I’m so busy cranking out work for clients that my sketchbook has been gathering dust.

Not a good thing.

A sketchbook is an important part of any artist’s development, no matter how busy or successful he/she gets. The sketchbook is the one place where you can really let loose, try new things, experiment, and (most importantly) make lots and lots of bad drawings.

When I say “bad drawings” I don’t mean getting lazy or not caring about your work. I mean bad in a good way. For most artists the temptation is to try and fill your sketchbook with beautiful artwork, but that can be a mistake. If your drawings are all wonderful, it means you are only drawing things you’ve already mastered. And that means you aren’t improving, growing, and pushing yourself to get better. It just means you are going back and forth along a well-worn rut. The day you stop doing bad drawings is the day you stop challenging yourself, and as a result you stop growing and improving.

And if you aren’t growing, you start sliding backwards. There is no middle ground.

Most of the work I do for clients is very cartoony, which is loose and fun and has no rules. Some people think that cartooning is really just sophisticated doodling, and I suppose for some artists it is. The way my brain works, I have to first study something and understand how it works in the real world before I can effectively simplify it into an appealing cartoon design. So I don’t use my sketchbook much to practice cartooning. I try to fill the pages with realistic and semi-realistic subject matter (portraits, caricatures, life drawing, clothing studies, etc.) The better I get at drawing realistically, the better I get at cartooning. As the old saying goes, you have to understand the rules before you can break them.

Recently I took my sketchbook with me on a vacation to a lake cabin in Wisconsin. I also brought along a fun book called The Complete Making of Indiana Jones ( link). It’s a thick paperback full of behind-the-scenes photos and stories from all four Indiana Jones films. These sketches were done from that book. These are clearly not my best sketches, but I learned a lot doing them so they have value. I experimented a bit with different mediums, brushed up on some anatomy and cloth, and was once again reminded that Harrison Ford has a really hard face to draw (especially the young Harrison). There’s a reason there aren’t too many caricatures of him floating around out there.

Someday, if I get the courage, I’ll post some of my really bad sketchbook drawings. But you get the idea.

Now get out there and fill up that sketchbook!