Saturday, March 31, 2007

Carrying a Sketchbook, part two

[UPDATED: added additional scans on Sunday 4/1]

A heartfelt thanks to everyone who left a comment on my post about sketchbooks. Here's some more on the topic, and I apologize in advance for covering some of the same ground again in my second installment. Even though this post is specifically about carrying a sketchbook, I can't help but meander into other territory about the struggles of being an artist.

Reason number two people hate carrying a sketchbook: drawing from life is hard and frustrating, because people and animals are always moving.

True. When I went on those CalArts zoo trips I mentioned before, some students would end up spending most of their time in front of the elephants and the rhinos, because those animals moved the least. They were relatively easy to draw because they stood in one place so you could look back and forth between your subject and your paper and do a nice slow sketch while the subject held the same pose. There wasn't much variety in the movements of those animals either so you couldn't mess it up too badly: they were big heavy shapes with four parallel legs holding them up.

I always sought out the ones that moved around a bit more. I remember running into a particularly good artist in front of the monkey cages. He had pages filled with great drawings of little Capuchin Monkeys swinging around and playing. I was very impressed. His knowledge of animal anatomy and movement enabled him to watch a monkey in action and capture the pose on his paper while it was still fresh in his mind and fill in the parts that he couldn't remember with his knowledge. His grasp of anatomy and confidence enabled him to draw very quickly and capture the poses with a certainty that made them great.

You'll never get to that level if you stay in front of the rhinos or elephants all day, doing nice rendered drawings of the immobile mammals. There's no crime in drawing them, of course, but don't focus on them exclusively. When you go to the Zoo catch a little bit of everything.

People are the same way. Most of the time you'll be trying to catch them as they go about their lives and they rarely stand still in a pose for you. Life Drawing Class is for drawing someone while they sit still for you. Your sketchbook is all about catching real people in real actions, so you'll just have to get used to knowing what you're doing well enough to capture them on paper as they move. The only way to get good at it is to try and try and try. The more you work at it the closer you'll get. It's frustrating, but as I said before, take the pressure off of yourself to do perfect drawings and it'll get easier the more you work at it. Many times a sketch won't be perfect but part of it will succeed nicely: the head has a nice tilt to it, or the legs work perfectly even though the rest of it might not be as great. That's something to feel good about and build on. Ask yourself why the part that works works and the other part doesn't work - you'll learn a lot.

Reason number three that people don't carry a sketchbook: sketchbooks are a pain in the neck to carry around all the time.

This is true. For years I tried to find a good sketchbook that could fit in my pocket, because it was just too much trouble to carry one around. All of the ones that I found that were small enough had terrible paper, and the ones that had good quality paper were always too big. For a while I even made my own with scratch paper, rubberbands and cardboard, but it was a lot of work. What changed all this for me was when I discovered Moleskine makes small sketchbooks that you can carry in your pocket (the 9 x 14 cm version). They fit easily into a front or back jeans pocket or, if you're so inclined, in a purse (I assume so anyway, I don't actually carry a purse). So I got in the habit of carrying one of these and a pen around for whenever I had five spare minutes to sketch. This is a great habit to get into. The good news about the small size is that they are so small nobody can peek over your shoulder while you draw. The bad news is that the small drawing space can start to feel constricting so I started carrying around the bigger Molskine (5 x 8 1/2 inches). I love these babies. I don't mind carrying around one with me all the time now.

Searching for "Moleskine" on brings up many different results. The ones I use have a purple wrapper. They can be found here and here.

Moleskines are a bit more expensive than your average sketchbook. Sometimes I draw on both sides of the paper to make them last longer. There are many other cheaper versions available, so there's no excuse not to have SOME kind of sketchbook.

Reason number four: I've seen a lot of sketchbook scans on other web pages and I'll never be that good.

There are many other blogs where people scan their sketchbooks and sometimes it's like looking at something that should be hanging in a museum. Don't get me wrong, I love to see that stuff and I'm really glad that those people share their sketchbooks with us. Those people blow me away. But let's face it: it can be intimidating. If you look at those you might think "Oh, that's what a sketchbook is supposed to look like" and think that you are doing it wrong.

As I said before, some people are better at doing a great sketch on the first try. When I am storyboarding, I never use the first sketch I do. I always go over it at least once to improve it, sometimes I go over it five times and sometimes I go over it fifty times.

So when I do a drawing in my sketchbook, I get one pass at it. So why would I expect it to be as good as a drawing I produce at work? It's not my strength to do a great drawing on the first shot. Some people are better than this at others. Whenever I draw in a room at work with other people they invariably seem to be better than me at doing a great drawing on the first try. Everybody has a different skill set. The point is that in a sketchbook you only get one chance to capture your first impression. Look at it as a positive thing: in a sketchbook you're freed of the burden of re-doing each sketch. No matter how bad your drawing is once you're done with it you're done.

If you want you can always go back and draw over your sketches and make them better. I did this of a woman clipping her fingernails in public...not something you see every day! I'm pleased that you can tell what she's doing but I would love to go over it and tweak the angles on her wrists and put some bend into that finger she's clipping. But I have a good basis to build on if I want to go over it and improve it, and it would turn out fresher than something I made up entirely out of my head.

Back to the point: it's easy to be intimidated as an artist. Frankly there will always be someone better than you, if you look hard enough (will any of us ever equal Michaelangelo?) and our lives as artists can be so frustrating that we actually look for reasons to give it up, I think. If you'll never be the best, why try, right? It's always a relief to give up a difficult task and, yes, it's easier to give up on your artistic ambitions and play it safe. Just sit on the sofa and watch TV instead.

But if your goal is to be the best artist that ever lived than you're focusing on the wrong thing anyway. Focus on that and you'll be miserable as hell until you get there, and you won't get there until you've at least spent most of your life working on your abilities, so you're going to be miserable for about fifty years. Sounds good, right?

Instead, focus on improving as much as you can as fast as you can. If you can look back and say that you are better now than a year ago then that is a glorious thing. As frustrating as it is to struggle in the here and now, it always puts it in perspective to see where you used to be. It reminds you that the struggle was worth it. It reminds you that you struggle a little less every day. And it reminds you that there will never be an end to the struggle: the better you get, the more you try to achieve. So the best way to approach it is to embrace the struggle, allow yourself to feel frustrated but don't get down on yourself and don't give up. Most artists don't talk about the struggle much but, trust me, everyone flounders. You're not the only one.

No one has spent more time beating themselves up for not being better than myself. Too many times I have focused on the struggle and not seen it as a necessary part of learning and growing. All those hours I spent being down on myself for sucking so horribly were a real waste of time. Don't make the same mistake. If you want to be a better artist, there are only two ways to go about it; first, study and draw, and second, live your life. Living your life is an important part of being an artist - just as important as studying and drawing. Your art is meaningless unless it has life's experiences behind it. Great art captures the truth, joy, absurdity, sadness and fear of everyday life. You can't put this into your art unless you've seen it firsthand. So find a balance of both parts and you will be the best artist you can be in the here and now. Never ever spend your time being intimidated by other artists or worrying about your abilities because these are fruitless endeavors. Worried that you're not a better artist? Grab a sketchbook and head out the door. Watch a movie and get inspired. Look at a book of great paintings and learn something. Take action, don't get down on yourself.

It doesn't help that there are so many published "sketchbooks" these days. Every great artist has a "sketchbook" you can buy, full of perfect drawings no different than their finished work. They should find some other term - those things aren't "sketchbooks" any more than eating a "Happy Meal" will make you happy. I wish they would call them something else. A real sketchbook is a place for learning, where you can experiment and, yes....even do (gasp) bad drawings! Nobody sits down and does a perfect cover-to-cover book of drawings unless they're psychotic or they've filled a lot of books with bad drawings first. And we all know that those "sketchbooks" you can buy are full of sketches chosen from many, many different pieces of paper and the result of many different efforts with the weaker efforts weeded out.

Looking at artwork by fellow artists can be very inspiring but also intimidating. You can get an overwhelming sense of just how much you still have to learn by looking at the work of some great artistic genius. And working in an environment with other artists can be even worse. When you're working alongside someone who seems much better than you you can get really get down on yourself.

In any corporation or business, there will always be a few who go out of their way to intimidate others and make others feel inferior. This is certainly true of every studio I've ever worked at. Nothing takes the joy out of a creative job like dealing with these people. Don't reward this type of behavior by being intimidated. Just do your best and work to improve as much as you can. That's all you can do - there's no secret formula to getting better overnight so don't dwell on that. And if those people really are all that much better than you then look at their stuff and analyze what they're doing well. Learn something from them. Ha! That'll teach them to put good stuff out there!

Don't get intimidated by these people: athletes try to get into each other's heads to get an advantage over each other and artists can be the same way. it's a cheap trick and we should feel sorry for people who do that rather than be afraid of them. They are so insecure in their position and abilities that they are putting a lot of energy into defending their "turf". That's pretty pathetic.

Anyway, to beat a dead horse (and get back on topic), don't feel bad about your abilities, it's a waste of time. All you can do is keep working to get better, and a sketchbook is a great way to do this.

Okay, seriously, that's enough words for one post.

Sketchbooks are a great way to develop observations about how to draw people. I discovered while sketching that a skinny neck makes a person look young. A thick neck makes people look older.

Just like those CalArtians, I find it easier to draw people in repose than in motion. Try to get a good balance of both. When you draw adults in public they are usually walking or standing still - they don't so a lot of extreme poses or interesting variations (like clipping your nails in public - I can't get over that one) but there's a lot to catch about the way people twist and tilt while they are standing still (although some of these are a little too straight up-and-down and symmetrical for my tastes...look out for that. Find twists and tilts).

Kids move around more and that means a trip to the park once in a while to draw kids playing is always a good thing. It's much harder to draw people while they're in motion but it sure teaches you a lot.

Sketching from life is essential because it increases your "shape library" - your mental catalog of shapes that you use to construct when you draw from memory.

It's always fascinating to see how people's bodies distribute their extra weight. Men and women put them in different places and even within that, each person ends up proportioned differently. I have searched long and hard for a book that specifies how men and women differ in where they put their weight but I haven't seen much on it. The general effect is pretty obvious to anyone who looks at people. Sketching is a good way to figure stuff like that out.

More faces. Again, this is easier than drawing people in motion, so I find myself doing this more than I should, but faces are fascinating.


Tim Denee said...

Man, I'm loving these sketchbook posts. Truly great advice. Thanks Mark!

myke_bakich said...

Wanted to give a big THANKS. Your posts are very inspiring and insightful and have had a huge impact on my growth as an artist. The sketchbook ones were great. I love sketching but one fear that has been haunting me is showing my sketchbook drawings to other artists. It feels incredibly uncomfortable like standing nude in a crowded hallway. Because of this Ive always hesitated posting any of my sketchbook work on my blog. However your post's have encouraged me to get over my fear and bare it all!

Thanks again for all the wonderful words!

Eun-Joo Jang said...

v Thank you soooo much. These sketchbook posts are inspiring and encouraging me A LOT. I've just put "learning book" on my sketchbook so that it'll remind me what you said. I can't wait next post, part three. Your words are beautiful especially on these sketchbook posts. Thanks again!

Arin said...

indeed, to mirror the comments here so far, you really tackled the main reasons against carrying a sketchbook, and i am certainly a little less uncomfortable...but there was one thing that i was looking for, for you to touch on that didn't come up...

>> how do you deal with people looking at you while you draw them? im certainly hesitant to, because it feels like im invading their space, and as well, its not exactly considered 'respectful' to just sit and 'watch' someone. yeah, its for 'art' and thats like the wildcard out of it being possibly 'creepy', but still, does anyone else get bugged by this factor?

Benjamin said...

Great, great series of posts!

On drawing motion: after reading the book Blink and the book Hirschfeld On Line, something became clear to me. As an animator, or board artist, and perhaps especially sketchbook sketcher, you're an impressionist more than anything. When you see something (in the mind or in reallife) you get a certain impression of that. With me that's usually some kind of visual cue (shapes, LOA, etc), combined with a certain action or emotion or personality (or combo). So when drawing, all you should go for is the truth in that impression. You try to hit that action or emotion with help of that visual cue and your knowledge of whatever you're drawing. When you limit yourself too much to what you actually have seen, it's very difficult indeed to draw motion. When drawing like this, you're boiling down to the essence, are making more judgements, and drawing motion becomes easier. Or at least, that's my experience :-)

On the artist's struggle: if you haven't already, check out the book "Art & Fear", which was a revelation, and perhaps even more so the book "War of Art". I've ordered that last one online and it still has to arrive, but an excerpt on the author's site made me learn a ton about, well, myself.

whoreray/redfive said...

Man, that post hit the spot. Thank you so much.

benwithcappuccino said...

Thanks for this second post, I looked in your blog everyday to see for this post,and this evening I find this treasure, uao..all you say is true, the fear and the despression of the help me so much for the relation with my work..really...thanks..
( excuse for the bad english, I hope that you understand the comment )..thanks..I want to say more to give yuo my appreciation but my english don't allow me to do...
:D so..
only thanks!

monday-morgue said...

very cool, thanks fer sharing

Justin said...

there must be an echo in here...

but this post is exactly what i needed to hear. bravo.

Beast said...

Great Blog, Mark,
I carry a sketchbook all the time. Most of the drawings are getstures, but I can use some of them later as a starting point for a better drawing.
When I have no idea what to draw, I leaf thruough my old sketchbooks looking for inspiration.

craig said...

man its nice to know that I am not the only artist who struggles with these things. Thanks for the great posts and the inspiration

Felicity said...

Your two sketchbook posts are really inspiring, thank you! I think when you see your fears put into words and brought out into the open, it really helps to conquer them. It's easy to imagine when you see an artist drawing in public that they must have all the confidence in the world (and that you'll never be like that) but that is most likely not true. Thanks again.

Derk said...

Thanks mark, This is just what I needed to hear.I've been thinking a lot about this struggling and fear being an artist brings lately and you pretty much summed it up!

This blog has definetly helped me in becoming a better artist.

I like your sketches. you captured a lot of information in those scribbles!

Anonymous said...

Another great post! Very appreciated. :)

Leisl said...

This is a great post! I'll have to bookmark it so I can read it again the next time I'm feeling down on myself.

Yavuz said...

Thanks again Mark. You´re inspiring me very much with your posts.

Since then i red your post i´m drawing much more than ever. I´m looking different to my development now.

Thank you very much, you helped me a lot:)

My Sketchbook drawings:

mcglinch said...

well done again. your points about focusing on the hard stuff hits home. i've often found myself feeling 'guilty' for going the easy route of sketching people, creatures doing pretty much nothing but standing there. It's good to see you share that weakness at times. will try some more action & motion.

mcglinch doodles & sketches

Goobeetsablog said...

great post.

went to the zoo yesterday.
thought alot about what you said in
the first part of this lesson.

I have some "ugly" drawings on my blog from the trip. It was more fun than last time, but not nearly what I hoped the drawing experience to be.

Stephen said...

Thank you for the posts on sketchbooks, Mark. I'm not a trained artist so this is all very informative for me. I look forward to your future posts.


Anonymous said...

You cant imagine how this post encourage me. Thanks!

Jenny said...

Another home run!
These are great...I'm printing them out to save. Thanks for doing them.

bkruse said...

Thanks for the post!

request for next sketchbook topic: Pens! Sharpies are awesome but turn yellow, what do you used for color?, etc

Keep up the great work!

Dustin said...

Funny analogy to drawing from life: As I clicked on the link to your blog, for some reason I didn't scroll down to see how long the post was before I read it, which is what I usually do. Which is good, because if I did, I probably would have said "Yikes! That's long!"; I'm at work and would have told myself to stop procrastinating and get back to it. But I didn't, I just started reading, and once I started I couldn't stop, which is fortunate because this post was a real eye-opener for me.

Sometimes I think about drawing from life, but I look at it as time-consuming and a pain in the butt, but if when I just go out and DO IT, and not think about it, I find it enjoyable. Kind of like reading all these wonderful blogs ;)

Ben Williams said...

I just wanted to say thank you. This post has really helped sort out a few things I have been thinking about for a while. You particularly struck a chord with me where you say "Living your life is an important part of being an artist - just as important as studying and drawing". Finding a balance between my social life and studying has always been somewhat of a struggle for me since I feel I must always be at my desk working away or I will never be 'good enough'. However, after reading your post I feel the pressure I put myself under has been lifted and in return made me feel a lot happier and relaxed while I’m drawing. I would usually feel guilty If I ever left my drawing desk for a few hours to go meet up with friends, but now I can take a break guilt-free knowing that just by living my life I am helping myself to become a better artist. Once again, thank you.

Adrian Hogan said...

"It's a cheap trick and we should feel sorry for people who do that rather than be afraid of them."

Hear hear! Sadly this is sort of thing happens at school as well. Though I don't mind a bit of healthy competition every now as long as it is done in good spirits.

Thank you for the wonderful posts Mark. I've been reading your blog for a long time now and always come away inspired and hungry to learn more and more about drawing, story and observation.

sketch-mark said...


andy said...

Another great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and sketchbook scans, it's something I definitely think a lot of us need to hear :)

Per H said...

I really like this phrase, thanks!
"A real sketchbook is a place for learning, where you can experiment and, yes....even do (gasp) bad drawings! "

Rafi said...

Regarding male and female fat distribution see Ron Tiner's - Figure Drawing Without A Model page 50.

Thank you for an extremely honest and inspiring post.

Bill Drastal Blog Mode!! said...

Your post is very inspirational. Its always nice too hear you're not the only one who's you're own worst enemy.

dani said...

Oh man oh, i'm 100 % straight, i love women so much

but man, MARRY ME!!!!!! NOW!!!

Max Ward said...

I am so glad I found this while I am still young and learning. Thank you, Mark! This really clears up alot of questions and now I can sketch with confidence.

TM said...

Great articles, man. Thanks.

Hodges! said...

This is definatly valuable insight to drawing , personally i always carry a large (14*18in) drawing board with all different kinds of paper, i hate small sketchbooks, then i carry 1 or 2 different types in my bag, and im drawing people on the bus/train/cafe all the time, I have no problem with nosey people watching me draw, personally i dont really care what they think, if they enjoy it great. if they feel like making a jerk comment, ill tell them they know nothing of what they are talking about, then ill draw them looking totally stupid, its all good fun, and one thing is for sure, drawing constantly is the single best way to improve, and the speed at which you improve is the best part.

=shane white= said...


I've gotten most of my jobs through my sketchbooks and since my first job felt it was an omen if I didn't continue sketching.

While it has been as easy as breathing I've also noticed that I never refer back to them. KNOWING HOW TO USE one's sketchbook after the fact is something that I'm just starting to understand after 20 some years of this.

I'd also add, sketching has not helped me with my finishes in the past. My finished work tended to stiffen and lose all the fluid of the original sketch.

It's taken forever to overcome this. Goes to show you that learning on your own can be a slooooooow process.

Where were you 10 years ago when I was just starting to get a clue? :)

Great stuff as always Mark!!!


Andreas said...

Thanks again Mark... I am finally using my blog. Going to try to keep current posting up sketches, good, bad and ugly.

Jeff Koval said...

Mark - Sorry if you mentioned it already, but what type of pen do you use? I'm always inclined to use pencil but that means I've got an eraser handy and constantly reworking things instead of just quickly rendering.

Lord Grimthorn said...

Always great advice. Thanks Mark!

Bobby Pontillas said...

yeah dude, this is one of my favorite posts on this site, ever! Thanks for takin the time to share insights and encouragement.

party for my enemies said...

These sketchbook posts rule. Thanks so much! I wish someone had pointed this out to me earlier, but its still not too late!

Anonymous said...

About how men and women put on weight in different places:
Men used to be hunters, for that they needed their leg muscles, so the fat got stored more around the waist so that it doesn't hinder you while running.
Women get children so their belly is very important and the fat gets stored in the butt and thighs.

I just thought you might like to know...

Randeep Katari said...

These last two posts were amazing. You speak the truth, and as you know, I've come across this problem many times and hearing you sum it up like this, well, I'm printing these two posts out and posting it up at school.
I've been posting stuff from my sketchbook a bunch lately as well, getting an ok response, it's still intimidating as hell.
Hope all's well, the film is almost done so I'll be e-mailing you once it is!

Brian B said...

Just wanted to mention what an awesome post this is as well. I bought myself a pocket Moleskine and a 5x8 one to keep around. Excited to get going with it on Easter today.

Thanks again for such a great 2 posts.

mark kennedy said...

Thanks for all the great comments. I will talk about what supplies I use in the next post! I wish I could respond to everyone personally but it would take forever, but I really appreciate the feedback and tips, and I really want to thank everyone who let me know that my posts got them sketching again...that was my goal!!!

arin - Yeah, it's tough - if someone notices me drawing them, I usually act like I'm NOT drawing them. I will glance at them, then look towards something else, THEN down at my paper to draw. I have to remember what I saw and then put it down as best I can, but it seems to fake people out. Nobody's ever asked me to stop drawing them or anything like that, but sometimes I can tell that I've made people feel uncomfortable when they realize I'm drawing them.

Benjamin-Ihave "Art & Fear" but I only read part of it. It seems like a good book. I will revisit it and check out the other one as well.

rafi - thanks, I'll check it out.

anonymous - thanks!

Frank Juval said...

What about confronting angry people? I read a post once about an artist at a park drawing in his sketchbook. He was drawing 2 kids playing. The kids' mother noticed him drawing them. She walked over, then began yelling at him saying he was invading her privacy, accusing him of being a possible pedophile and even demanded he give her the drawings of her kids. I think he gave her most and was able to keep a couple.

Anyway, I encountered something like that early on. Not as bad but it was enough to really bug me. Have you or anyone else commenting, ever run across this? If so, how did you handle it? Any way to avoid it? What do you say to the person to calm them and assure them that you aren't some creep?

You've definitely got me wanting to get back to carrying a sketchbook. I miss it.

Kristian Antonelli said...

such wonderful advice..true gold. i wish i'd had these as hand outs whilst in college. You speak reall truths here. it has taken me a a long time to realise that sketchbooks arent precious they are as you say quick random thought processes. you're post are trully great (as are the sketches that accompany them)

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...

Im applauding everything you said, ESPECIALLY the comments about the so called "sketchbooks" of professional artists that are in the stores these days. Ive looked at those things and said, "come ON!!" these drawings are perfect!! are these guys human???? If you want to see some great sketchbooks filled with "good" "great" AND crappy drawings, check out some of R Crumbs sketchbooks. His stuff really does show some variety.


Rik said...

Very helpful blogposts!, it certainly gives me (and probably many more people) more motivation :-)

Rebekah Joy Plett said...

Ugh. My sketchbook is filled to the brim with bad drawings. I've learned to have faith that when I get those sketches onto a canvas they transform into a new creature that isn't such a cankerous eyesore.