I am glad that everyone has enjoyed my posts on sketchbooks. Thanks so much to everyone who left a comment and let me know that my post meant something to them. It's always great to get feedback.
I wish I had a lot more to say about sketchbooks but I already said most of what I wanted to say. I have a couple of other posts to go on this topic but nothing that earth-shattering.
However, a well-known Disney Artist once gave me some sage advice that I never took, but I will pass it along to you. He and I were talking about sketchbooks and looked in each other's books. Needless to say, every single one of his sketches fell into that "should be hanging in a museum" category. The first thing that I noticed was that his approach differed from mine in two distinct ways.
My sketchbooks usually have several figures and/or faces "floating" on each page. This person used one page per drawing and he always drew the people within the environment, so each page of his sketchbook was like a separate painting or piece of stand-alone art. This allows him to deal with composition within each frame and really can tell a story about where it was drawn and what the story of the whole scene was. Each page could be removed, framed, and hung on a wall.
It was very impressive and I highly recommend his approach, if it works for you. However, it doesn't really work for me. I tend to only have time to sketch in two places: at the park with my kids and at the movies with my wife. There isn't a very interesting environment to draw behind the people I see at the movie theater, so I don't feel compelled to indicate the background unless it's integral to the gesture (like someone sitting on a seat or leaning up against the wall). And when I'm at the park with my kids, I probably should indicate the BG but I rarely do. I love capturing gestures and faces and I don't have much patience for drawing in all the elements in the background because before I can, some other person or action has caught my interest. That's just me, though. Adding the BG and keeping each page as it's own scene really looks great when you do it. It's just not me.
The other thing he did was to add tones. I add a little cross-hatching here and there or lines for a shadow sometime but not too often. This artist actually used water to smear the ink of the pen and create a cool halftone effect (a little saliva on your finger works in a pinch). Again, if you're going to do a whole scene on a page you're going to need tones to organize it and give it form and space. He uses one of those black Pentel markers most of the time. I use one of those Expresso medium felt-tip markers, which are thinner than the Pentel, and they smear easily with water too. The only problem with the Expressos is that they tend to turn into an ugly brown color over time (don't tell anyone, but the reason he and I use those two types of pens is that, well...we can get them for free at work. I assume that it's okay with the company, because sketching outside of work makes me better at my job, and many times I sketch ideas for work in my sketchbook in my spare time. And after all, I buy my own sketchbooks, which is the expensive part of the equation anyway).
Again, I conditioned myself to think of my sketchbook as a tool for practicing and experimenting and I purposely trained myself not to do pretty drawings. This was the only way I could make carrying a sketchbook fun. This particular artist, I think, sees it as more of a way to create little pieces of art because that's more his focus and it comes naturally to him. And it sure works for him! So whatever approach makes you interested in sketching is what you should follow. But the thought of drawing in the BGs and adding tones is foreign to me because I'm not trying to make a finished piece. So even though I tried his approach it just didn't stick - it didn't fit with my mindset. Maybe someday!
One more thing he does differently than I do is to sign his name to every sketch - basically, his signature is on every page of his sketchbook. I think his reasoning is that it makes him take ownership and pride in every sketch and makes him put his best into every effort. It just helps him in his approach, I think. I'm not sure that I am articulating his explanation correctly...but, anyhow, it works for him.
I hate to be obtuse about who this artist is, but I am doing my best to paraphrase what he told me the best I can remember. Once I use his name people will take what I say as a direct quote from him, and it's not. It's my interpretation of our discussion and what I saw in his sketchbook. Anyway, it's a different approach and it works well for him. Maybe that approach speaks to you as well, so I pass it on as best as I am able.
Some of Ronald Searle's sketches from "The Paris Sketchbook" that show the approach of making each page it's own scene and using tone on the pages. He seems to sign all of his sketches as well. Click to see bigger.
This is a picture of the pens and the sketchbooks that I use. The moleskines have a purple label, but if you order them from Amazon.com, the labels look blue in the pictures on Amazon (and in my photo as well). Confusing, huh?
One other piece of advice came from the great Vance Gerry. Once a long time ago he mentioned that he always draws while he watches T.V. and I casually replied that I was too tired after a ten or twelve hour day of drawing to draw. I told him that after work I just sit in front of the TV and vegetate.
Now it was unintentional on his part, but he gave me a look that cut me to the core and made me feel like an idiot. He was absolutely right, there's no excuse for not drawing while you watch TV. If you are just drawing things out of your head at work all day long then you probably aren't improving because you're not drawing from life or looking at the works of others. If you're not taking in any kind of new information your drawings and your ideas will become stale. So if all you can do at the end of the day is sit in front of the TV then at least draw what you see and give your mind some fresh information. Caricature the actors, draw the compositions or draw the coffee table in front of you...something!
So, suffice to say, from that day on I always drew while I watched TV and I can tell you that, like I say, it actually gives you more energy and refreshes you better after a long day than just sitting there like a passive lump.
So that was one piece of advice I did take, but that was long before I had kids and, believe it or not, I don't really watch TV in the evenings anymore. After my kids go to bed I usually have to draw actual work stuff. If I don't have work to do I work on my drawing, or work on my own projects, or I write something for this blog. If I'm not doing any of those I watch a movie, and if I'm watching a movie I'm studying the filmmaking and drawing is too distracting, I find. If I'm not doing any of those things I play some videogames. But on those rare instances that I watch TV I always draw. And believe me, if I could somehow give every one of you that look that Vance gave me, you would do it too, for the rest of your life.