The book An Illustrate Life by Danny Gregory was a welcome eye opener for me as an artist. I belong to a family that has drawing talent running so deeply in the roots of our family tree that we aren’t just a family tree of artists; we are an arbor of natural drawing talent. This has been both a blessing and a curse for me as I learn better art drawing techniques—or more accurately as I am learning how to sketch. I’ll explain.
For me coming from a family of artists, I always thought that there was something wrong with me if I couldn’t perfectly draw what I wanted to. I had natural talent, right? And forget about using a sketchbook. I’m embarrassed to say this now, but I really had no idea what an artist’s sketchbook was for. I mean, I knew you were supposed to draw in it, but I really didn’t have a clue about what a tool the sketchbook is for the artist who wants to learn how to draw better. Now as a graduate student studying design, I am gathering all the tools I can to help me work better. My sketchbook plays a very important role in this, but it has only been recently that I started to keep one thanks mostly to the inspiration I found in the pages of An Illustrated Life.
Why Do Artists Keep Sketchbooks? I’m Glad You Asked!
As I flipped through the pages of this book full of the sketches that other artists had made in their sketchbook, suddenly something clicked. Many of the artists in the book are working, professional artists and keeping an artist’s sketchbook for them is really equivalent to the writer who keeps a journal or writes several rough drafts of an article or short story before unveiling the final project. The artist’s book is a place to practice new art drawing techniques, work out visual themes for a design project, or to experiment with different art materials. And each artist plays and works in her sketchbook in a slightly different way.
The nice thing about the artists’ work, which is featured in the book, is that a variety of drawing—and sometimes painting styles—show up in the book’s pages. There are artists who only draw in their books; they would never think of adding words to the pictures. Others are more like me. Coming from a newspaper and magazine design background, and being a lover of comic art, my sketchbook—now that I keep one—is often filled with both words and images.
Serious Writers Write, Serious Artists Draw
The other thing that I got from the book is that serious artists draw a lot—even those, who like me, have some natural talent. But even those who weren’t born with natural talent can learn to draw. That is the value of seeing another artist’s sketchbook. You can see how they progress. You can see that they struggle with new ideas and techniques. You can see that sometimes–no many times–a drawing will have an ugly phase.
But that doesn’t mean you should stop. The ugly phase is necessary and with work the ugliest drawings become beautiful. The drawing in the ugly phase is just another step in the process kind of life building a house. When a builder starts construction on a new home, he doesn’t give up, because part of the time the new house just looks ugly. Rather he keeps going until the house is built. Gregory’s book shows all sorts of drawings and sketches from the crudest phase of the drawing to full-blown beautiful artworks. The point is to keep drawing.
Through An Illustrated Life, I’ve learned that there is a difference sometimes between a drawing and a sketch. A sketch isn’t supposed to necessarily be a masterpiece, although sometimes that happens. No, a sketch can be the artist’s version of the rough draft. Knowing this has freed me to draw more, because I have realized that not all drawings have to be beautiful to be worth something.
Learning to See as an Artist Sees
But learning how to sketch and draw or more specifically to see as an artist sees just takes practice. While the book doesn’t go into each artist’s art drawing techniques, it does cover the types of sketchbooks like they to use, how often they draw in their sketchbooks, and other important information about keeping a book. I found this the most helpful, actually, because while I have plenty of books on the techniques of drawing for the longest time, I didn’t really have an understanding about how to work my process as an artist and designer.
And more happily, I’ve grown more confident in my ability to pick up a pencil and draw what I see. This has always been my worst fear as an artist…that I would only be able to draw well once, and that I would never be able to replicate my efforts again. So I didn’t draw, because it was just too painful. However, practice and schooling have given me the tools that my art talent alone didn’t—or at least didn’t with the consistency that I would like. I have become much more confident in my ability to draw. And as the weeks and months progress, I’ll even share my progress with my readers, because I’ve learned that the process is important. I’ve included some pages already from my sketchbooks. They’re attached to this article. They reflect a personal study that I’m doing on graphic novels. Drawing the characters and layouts from these books has helped me better understand how master artists put together a good drawing. It’s a technique I learned in art school and one that I now regularly employ in my sketchbook.
So if you’re wondering about the role of the artist’s sketchbook and how keeping one can help you improve your art drawing technique and act as a record of your life, pick up An Illustrated Life by Danny Gregory. It’ll be a good stepping off point for learning how to sketch for you and for starting your own artist’s sketchbook.
You can get the book on Amazon or at the Boise Barnes & Noble.
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This will be part of an on-going series that I will do in this column in which I’ll cover books and videos that have helped me develop as an artist and designer. Some of them will be brand new books that have just come onto the market, but others will be resources that have been around for awhile but that I find helpful as I learn and move through my graduate studies. I’ll share them here with you in hopes that my recommendations will help you as an artist, too.
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