Always Carry a Sketchbook

Feb 9, 2019

I like to keep a sketchbook with me wherever I go. Pocket-sized sketchbooks are highly portable, and you’re almost guaranteed to have something to draw on if you combine them with your wallet. It’s a great way to kill 10 minutes waiting for the bus, and the size of the page makes it much less daunting than a full-sized sketchbook.

Types of drawing

Over the years I’ve found I have 3 modes of sketching that I get into:

  • Drawing from life
  • Zen drawing
  • Diagrammatic drawing

Drawing from life is the most familiar – looking at something and trying to translate it onto paper. This is a very active style of drawing that requires critical thought about composition, perspective, spatial relationships, and manipulating the tools to reflect qualities of light and atmosphere in the drawing. I try to do at least 2 hours of this style of drawing during each week to keep my observation skills sharp.

Zen drawing is like doodling – starting with a line and letting it wander. This sketch is rejuvenating, and helps me unwind and meditate. Typically these drawing are highly textural. I’ll start with a basic shape composition and then dive right into textural rendering, playing with imagined light sources, but mostly just experimenting with making different types of marks, or playing with a repeating pattern.

Diagrammatic drawing is like visualizing an abstract concept. Sometimes this might include words and flowcharts, but it’s more of a tool to show how to build something. Sometimes I create diagrams of how I would organize some code, a musical instrument, or a image processing algorithm.

Revisiting your sketchbooks

Dusting off a box of sketchbooks and looking through old ideas is something I could spend hours doing. Whenever I do Spring cleaning and I find my box, I take a break to flip through the pages of old sketchbooks to see how my drawings have developed or to get inspired by ideas I had forgotten.

If you revisit your old sketchbooks, you may find an idea that inspires you enough to translate it onto a larger page or into a different medium. The benefit of sketching is that you end up with a backlog to visit whenever you have a mental block. It’s also very fun to compare an old drawing with an updated version when you’re skills have increased. Try it out!