8 creative ways to fill a sketchbook

Original article here
It’s better to approach your sketchbook fearlessly – it’s your own private space, where you can record or respond to what you see and also try out those new ideas, media and techniques, work out your compositions, or play with colour, tone and more. It is the best place to allow for those inevitable dead ends and mistakes that must happen en route to something that works; those “failures” being steps in the process of resolving and expressing ideas. As well as a place to experiment, a sketchbook is also a library and a great personal resource. When I hit a blank spot and don’t know where to head next, it’s always a good idea to have a rummage through them and see if any of the ideas in there inspire new work. Below are eight ideas for using your sketchbooks creatively.

1. Sketch faster

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Some sketchbook drawings can be reworked over a period of time, but often time is short. As an exercise, I sometimes even limit the amount of time I allow myself to spend on a sketch. Working fast forces a more instinctive way of working. This allotment sketch was executed so rapidly that is has become pretty abstract, more about colour and shape than an accurate representation.

2. Sketch from sketches

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Sometimes it is useful to make sketches from sketches to develop an idea. I made a charcoal sketch in situ on the allotment in the bleak months of winter, when the bare bones of structures, bare soil, and a sense of space dominated. I then used this sketch to work up a watercolour sketch of the same subject.

3. Sketch from photos

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You can still be creative when working from reference photos. This spread was based on a photo of a neglected corner of the allotments – a water barrel used as a euphorbia plant pot with rubble bags in front and brambles growing over the top. I used watercolour, Inktense crayons and Derwent acrylic pens for this sketch. I left a lot of blank paper showing at the bottom, these empty spaces playing off the busier top half of sketch to create something more dynamic. Sometimes less is more.

4. Sketch widely

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Concertina watercolour sketchbooks are great for extending your drawings through a series of folded pages, either in one session or over a series of sessions. They are easy to spread out to check and rethink, and it can be useful to see how a project and ideas are developing. This one was a quick piece of work showing just a few favourite elements from the allotment, using watercolour and gouache.

5. Sketch with limited colours

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So-called weeds abound on any allotment site. They add to the biodiversity of the place and encourage wildlife to flourish, and deserve credit for their tenacity, subtlety and beauty. This was a quick and simple sketch to capture those qualities, painted very freely using just three or four watercolours and an acrylic pen to add a bit of structure and detail.

6. Sketch on new surfaces

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When my process becomes too familiar, I can lose the creative impulse and need a nudge or new stimulus. This might be a new subject, a new media or a new surface, or a combination of two or three of these. This woodpecker was sketched at our local natural history museum on Polydraw drafting film, which isn’t marketed for this purpose, but has a super smooth and water-resistant surface which doesn’t buckle. I drew with liquid graphite and pencils, erasing highlights with wet wipes

7. Sketch in blocked colour

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This sketch was based on a very old photo, which was taken on a different allotment site and lurking in the reference pile waiting for its moment. I sketched using gouache, which has a lovely matte finish and dries quickly. The main advantage of using gouache over watercolour is its opacity, which allows you to block in colour and work over previous layers easily.

8. Sketch over ghosts

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If I’ve not sketched for a while or I’m just having a bad day, my sketching will begin very tentatively. The sketches will lack energy or commitment as a result. When this happens, a more interesting result can be had by washing off the original sketch with water, which leaves a “ghost” image that can be worked over. As this sketch is already deemed a “failure”, I find courage with nothing to lose and tend to be less literal. I used the bright pink simply because I liked the colour, dragging it across the page on the edge of a piece of card. This, together with the use of watercolour sticks and acrylic pens for the details, created a dynamic interplay of abstract marks. www.kateosborneart.com This article appears in the April 2020 issue of Artists & Illustrators. For more advice and inspiration, get a copy of the latest issue or subscribe.

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