How to Fill a Sketchbook In One Month
Monochrome Sketch in Pan Pastels
Why try to fill a sketchbook in one month?
Because at the end of the month you will be a much better artist. Your drawings and sketches will be more lifelike, your shading smoother, your lines more confident and shapes more accurate. Everything you do in that sketchbook is a learning experience. If you fill a sketchbook every month, you will be on the fast track to becoming a serious artist capable of being professional.
You may still want to remain amateur if you're not interested in pursuing an art career for other reasons, such as my reason of preferring to be a full time writer. Art is my way of relaxing and reducing stress, which helps my fibromyalgia as much or more than my medication does. The thing is, the better I draw and sketch, the happier drawing and sketching makes me.
The more social support I get for it too when it looks good. Compliments by other people on my drawings cheer me up and break up the blues when the pain gets too bad or I have to be patient about novel submissions that may take a year or more to hear back from them. I'm also well past the point of skill where I could make a living on art, since I did that for several years in New Orleans when I wasn't as good at it as I am now.
Someday I'll need to go back down there now that I can sketch buildings and landscapes better. There's a lot that I saw when I lived there and wished I could draw -- now that I'm better at sketching, I could go through and render every one of those things beautifully from life in much less time.
That's the other benefit of filling a sketchbook a month. You'll learn to draw fast. Drawing fast means you can do more sketches in the same hour, so the time you spend practicing is more productive and you'll learn faster.
I first ran into that suggestion in the sixteen page front section of my Leonardo da Vinci Sketchbook. It's a truly beautiful hardbound sketchbook with a lovely reproduction of Leonardo's drawings on the front cover and a sixteen page biography with many more reproductions of his sketches before you get to the 100 clean white pages for your own amateur efforts. I still mean to try copying some of those Leonardo sketches.
Copying from a master gives a lot of practice at getting certain forms and proportions accurate. Like people, their noses, their hands, the really hard parts. It also helps teach mastery of line. Many of Leonardo's drawings are in ink. So copying his would help me learn to do slightly curving, more expressive ink strokes and to dare sketch without penciling under the drawing.
That can be really handy if you're doing it at work on a break and have a cheap ballpoint and the back of a business letter or piece of snail mail spam at hand. Sketch everywhere on anything you have at hand. Doodle. Fill the backs of envelopes and the fronts of sticky notes once you've used the information on them.
Then keep your actual sketchbook handy.
Don't cheat and just buy a 25 or 30 page drawing pad. Start with an actual sketchbook, the kind that has 80 or 100 pages, in a decent size like 9" x 12" or 8 1/2" x 11". I favor the wirebound ProArt sketchbooks, they have a lot of good heavy white pages but they're spiral bound so the cover flips completely back on top with the other pages when scanning a page. It also comes in 8 1/2" x 11" so that fits on my scanner instead of cutting off the edges like when I use the 9" x 12" ones.
This is the one, my link is to the product page on Blick: ProArt Spiral Sketchbooks. It's got 80 sheets of good heavy 65 lb. drawing paper, each page is perforated in case one of your drawnigs turns out so great you want to pull it out to frame it, and the hard covers protect it from everything life throws at it. I've gone through quite a few of these in the handy 4" x 6" size, but the letter size is big enough for more than one drawing per page.
That's the challenge -- fill one of these in one month. Extra points if you chose the big 11" x 14" one to fill. So what are some ways to fill it that fast and still have time for those other activities like work, staying married, family time with kids, going out or watching favorite movies?
Pitt Artist Pens are a wonderful sketching tool. They come in brush tips, the brush tips are small but allow a varied line that's very expressive. Most of all, pen sketching means not going back to erase anything or rework it. That means the sketch goes forward and any misplaced line, just put the good line in and ignore the wrong line or fill in over it with something dark.
That alone can speed up the drawing process because a lot of beginners spend as much time erasing as drawing. It's very easy to get caught up in trying to get sketches perfect when that isn't the main point of sketching. So any kind of pen sketching is a good thing for filling your sketchbook fast. If you botch it completely, just start over and do it again next to it.
This big cat was from a photo challenge on http://www.wetcanvas.com in a Weekend Drawing Event, the host posted some zoo photos and many other beautiful references. I used Pitt Artist Pens to sketch all sixteen challenge photos over the weekend because I was so impressed with which subjects she chose for her photos.
So that's another way to fill the sketchbook too. Participate in the Weekend Drawing Events. Try drawing anything in it that takes your fancy and post the results even if they're not perfect. That snow leopard drawing isn't something I could sell as a serious painting, but it didn't take long either. It also has enough information that I could build on it and sketch and paint a serious oil painting or watercolor that would be salable -- even without having the reference handy any more.
If you think of sketching as something like your phone camera, your sketchbook will fill up fast. Don't try to fill the whole page with a drawing. Do a bunch of little fast drawings on every page and watch them fill up with more interesting contents. Then try doing something big like that blue monochrome sketch I started the article with -- but use something bold, loose and blunt like the wedge sponge tool with Pan Pastels Extra Deep Shades. Or use large markers for sketching big.
Whatever you do, don't look back. Don't slow down and noodle over details.
Beginners try to get all the details right. It's too easy to get a detail right and do it the wrong size for what's next to it though. So you get portraits with one eye bigger than the other, noses too small or large, mouths wandering away to the side or too big or small and it doesn't have the likeness even though each feature might look good.
So the best way to sketch is from simple to complex. Do the details last. You may not even need that many details to convey what you're doing -- just a few key details can say a whole lot in a sketch.
Oil Pastel Sketching
Oil Pastel, Charcoal and Conte Crayons
Oil Pastels, color Conte, charcoal, Conte crayons and soft pastels (the ones that feel like chalk but aren't) are all sketch mediums that work great for doing very large bold studies in color or with dramatic values. My study of a cauliflower head in a fruit market was from another Weekend Drawing Event photo.
I simplified the subject -- the photo was an entire vegetable market, so I picked just the cauliflower head and put in a bit of the green drapery behind it and the cloth it was on. If you draw very loose and just choose colors that come close to the right hue (what color it is) and value, blending by drawing over the other colors or smudging it with a blender or assorted fingers, you can get a lot of information down very quick.
It's hard to fuss about details using something as blunt as a pastel stick or oil pastel stick. You have to sharpen it to a point and then work slowly if you want details. But this isn't about realism. Sketching is about getting the basic shape and its volume down accurately. Color notes like this would help me paint it in oils, do a serious oil pastels or pastels painting someday. I might compose a still life and want a cauliflower head in it, then I could go back to this sketch instead of buying one.
This is another reason to keep filling sketchbooks. You'll get good at sketching anything that's in front of you and then when you do plan a serious painting, the sketch will go fast. You'll have old sketches for references and the habit of easily getting the outlines right.
Charcoal and Tinted Charcoal Pencils
Charcoal, soft pastels, hard pastels and tinted charcoal have the advantage that you can get deep darks very fast and smudge your middle values with assorted fingers or tools. Tortillons and stumps are little cardboard smudgers that you can find cheap at any art store. Tortillons are the one-ended hollow ones, double-ended stumps are a bit more expensive but they're solid and can be sharpened again in a pencil sharpener. A chamois, cotton bud or Colour Shaper can also be used to smudge charcoal and pastels.
As sketching mediums, pastel charcoal pencils have the cleanliness and convenience of pencils while still having the easy smudging of charcoal and pastels. This helps fill a lot of area with bold drawings very fast. Good for finishing your sketchbook within a month and good for paying attention to how light and dark values give anything volume.
Animal sketching demands close attention to the animal's body proportions and build. Buffalo or bison have very short stumpy legs compared to say, a cow or especially a horse. They're all front end, the shoulders are gigantic and the head is huge while the butt is tiny in comparison. So the more often you sketch the same animal species from photos or from life, the easier it is to see how it moves, remember its proportions and get its poses looking natural.
Bison are also shaggy. Some strokes and marks are better for showing some types of fur than others. Practice sketching animals and you'll start to discover the best ways to get the textures of what you're drawing too.
This is in color, but it is also a tonal drawing. I shaded it as if it was in black and white, just chose different colors of tinted charcoal to get different effects. If you did this in plain black charcoal pencil it'd be a perfect tonal drawing. Feel free to copy any of my sketches from this article if you think mine are good enough to copy.
A tonal drawing is when light, medium and dark values in patches and areas help define the shape of the form. A pure tonal drawing would have no outlines at all, just something dark behind a light edge or something light behind a dark edge so you can see where the subject is against the background.
Classwork from Drawing Classes and Books
Classwork helps fill your sketchbook!
Lots of free online tutorials and videos are available at YouTube, at WetCanvas.com, at many online sites. Just search on "art lessons" or "drawing lessons" and you'll find lots of them. You can also take out good art instruction books from the library or pick them up on Amazon.
While you're filling your sketchbook in a month, consider getting a good drawing book such as The Complete Guide to Drawing by Giovanni Civardi, Drawing the Face and Figure, How to Draw Animals and Drawing Scenery: Landscapes and Seascapes by Jack Hamm. or The Drawing Bible by Craig Nelson. I mentioned all three of Jack Hamm's titles because each one is good for its subject. The other two cover animals, landscapes, people and still lifes within a single volume.
Using pencil, washable graphite pencil, ink wash and other sketching mediums, try to draw as many of the exercises from the book as possible. It can help improve your sketching ability even faster to work from a lesson or take a class online. There are video classes you can buy, like Watercolour Secrets by Bob Davies. The second DVD in my watercolor course is entirely on Drawing, so when I bought it, I did the drawing exercises in my sketchbook.
If you work through even a chapter in a good drawing book, you will probably fill a lot of pages and your skills will get even better. Also, look at my blocky horse-like shape. That was the initial sketch for doing a plow horse that came out accurate. It was the first horse I drew that my farrier (horse shoeing blacksmith) daughter said "That's beautiful" instead of "It's cool but you got the (head too long, neck too short, legs have extra joints, hooves are wrong, belly too skinny, etc. etc.) The first horse I ever got proportioned accurately was drawn by blocking it in with simple oblongs and ovals.
So there's proof -- it really works better to blow off the details and get the large masses right in proportion to each other. Details are easy to get right if you have the whole blocked in. Even beginners don't screw them up that bad -- it just seems like that's the way to start because good drawings by skilled artists look so detailed.
Gesture drawing is when you try to get down the most important shapes of a subject, usually a living one, within a minute or two. Sometimes up to five minutes per drawing is a gesture drawing. The idea is to ignore details and try to get the shape right.
These can fill your sketchbook in no time. Because you're taking only a minute or two per drawing you'll go through a lot of pages while each drawing gets more and more accurate. They are very useful for reference later on even if undetailed. The little gesture of my cat laying down at the top of the page is a beautiful pose.
I can get his fur textures, exact coloration, eye color, details right by looking at him sound asleep in another pose. But I could sketch him for an oil painting from that quick little gesture because I got his proportions perfect. The larger one is a bit bunchy and his head's a little too large. It's okay to make mistakes in gesture drawing.
That's sort of the point of it -- do the subjects so many times so fast that you correct the mistakes on the next drawing instead of that one. I sketched just his paw in one of my gestures. He turned his head so I did his profile. He moved his ears during that minute so I wound up putting the new ear gesture over the old and it looks like he's got something on top of his head. But I can read that for where his ears go.
Gesture drawings don't have to be pretty, even though the one at upper right and the paw are to me. They need to be fast and as accurate as you can get in one minute. Drawing living models doing gesture poses is easier on your friends and family members, because they don't have to hold still for 20 minutes or worse, try to get in the same pose to get drawn again after their break.
You can do gesture sketches of people in restaurants and at the office. You can do gesture drawings of anything anytime, because it doesn't take that long. Use any sketch medium you've got available including ballpoint pens. The more often you do gesture drawing, the better you'll get at sketching in general.
This is a type of sketching where shapes are defined by outline alone. I haven't sketched in the contours of the shadow side of these round objects yet, because this is borrowed from another tutorial where I went into depth on describing complex contours in sketching. This is just a simple one.
When you draw things like this with clear outlines, it's practice for developing control of line. Being able to get the contours accurately -- including the shapes of cast shadows (the ones on the flat surface they sit on) and modeling shadows (the ones on the surface of the spherical objects) is the way to sketch for paintings, whether you're painting in pastel, watercolor, oils, acrylics or oil pastels. No matter what painting medium you use, it all begins with a contour sketch before you're ready to start painting.
So while filling your sketchbook, think about doing some pages of contour drawings of common objects around you. One of the best subjects to start with is a still life object like your coffee cup. Coffee cups have a complicated shape with a handle, the sides might flare or curve. There's usually an interesting shadow, plus the oval of the top and the curved line of the base. Then there's a modeling shadow on the cup itself and if there's liquid in it, the coffee itself can be another thing to outline.
Drawing the same subject again and again at different angles will also improve your sketching. I did this apple contour drawing after doing the apple in many other ways.
Sketch the same subjects often!
Draw the same thing many different ways.
Long before I did the contour drawing that led to a Prismacolor realism painting of a green apple and two marbles, I drew apples of many different colors and breeds in every sketch medium I could try. This one is a Red Delicious apple in front of an orange, I put them both on my desk and sketched them with Pitt Artist Pens. Other times I've drawn them in charcoal, tinted charcoal, pastels, oil pastels, pencil, anything that came to hand.
Vary what you're doing by using color sometimes with colored pencils, watercolor pencils, brush pens, felt tips, markers, highlighters, pencils, charcoal, pastels, oil pastels. If it can make a mark in a sketchbook, it's probably a good sketching tool. Much to my delight, Pan Pastels Extra Dark Shades turned out to be a great sketch medium because I can get a full range of values when I use the dark colors.
It's easy to keep from getting bored if you try doing different types of drawing and different mediums. It may get frustrating if you have trouble getting something right, but each time you sketch it, you'll get closer to doing it accurately.
For a difficult but rewarding sketch subject, try drawing your own left hand. If you're left handed, try drawing your right hand. It may take doing it many times before you do a hand drawing that looks true and real but by the time you do, you can draw anyone's hands well. Or draw your own feet. Look in a mirror and do a self portrait or look at a photo of yourself for one.
Whatever you most enjoy drawing -- flowers, people, animals, landscapes, dragons -- practice drawing that to fill your sketchbook. Divide the number of pages by the number of days in the month and try to average filling five or six pages a day to do it in a single month. That would be using both sides of 80 pages in a letter size ProArt sketchbook. 5 1/3 pages (sides) a day would do it. If you only use one side of the page, then it'd only be two or three pages a day to fill a sketchbook in a month.
I use only one side because I prefer using smeary mediums like charcoal, soft graphite, Derwent Graphitint, oil pastels and pastels sometimes and don't want to worry about drawings rubbing off onto the fronts of other sketches. If I were just doing pencil or pen I'd probably use both sides. I do when I'm using a watercolor journal.
For smudging mediums like soft graphite, charcoal, Pan Pastels, pastel or pastel pencils, use workable spray fixative such as Krylon Workable Matte Fixative or Blick Workable Matte Fixative over your drawings when you're done. This helps protect them from smearing.
Try to work from the top down and left to right if you're right handed. If left handed, top down and right to left would help. This keeps you from dragging your hand over finished sketches while doing new ones.
Have fun! It doesn't matter if any of them come out bad, because you'll improve and learn something with every one. Sometimes a bad one can suggest something else and turn out better than you planned, that serendipity happens a lot in art. More than that, if you finish a sketchbook in one month you will become a much more skilled artist -- and your hand will never run out of images you can get down, unlike your phone camera.