This month marks a whole year of me keeping a regular sketchbook! It was never a conscious choice to become a Sketchbook Person™ but somehow that's who I've become. Having a regular place to document my life and ideas felt freeing after my ‘sketchbook-per-project’ tradition in education: part- diaries, part- idea dumps, part- stuff that eventually becomes instagram posts, prints, or portfolio bits. I’ve got through about 3.5 sketchbooks - here’s what I’ve learnt, and some highlights along the way!
NUMBER ONE - JAN- JUL 2021
Initially this was a rough notebook for non-uni projects, such as these initial sketches for what eventually became Mince Pie Man… (it's so odd looking back on these now!)
Then I graduated and started drawing more, often to make sense of things. Segregating yourself and the tool you make money from is probably healthier, but I tend to keep the two intertwined because f*ck being healthy :) Here’s to pencils, helping me figure out how I feel since June 2021!
Two things I have tried to separate, however, are personal and professional work. I no longer like having a page of Tate card roughs next to recreational drawings (more on this later), so I use notebooks like this Port West one for client stuff only nowadays.
I sometimes repurpose elements from pages like these in digital work, such as here!
NUMBER TWO - JUL - OCT 2021
Some more soundbyte-y tasks, aka ‘turn these shapes into a scene’. This kind of thing is fun in the moment, but I’m not sure they’ve ever produced an interesting outcome for me. They can be fun warm-ups though.
Drawing from TV - I have a thing for drawing funny positions, so the Olympics make for great subject matter. Tombow pens are a fab speed-drawing medium, since pencils + friction make it tricky to capture split-second positions!
Journalling- I don’t do this very often, but this lovely day last summer apparently warranted documentation! I find selecting one dark and one coloured pencil to represent a whole lot of images a nice challenge- yellow was what I was feeling that day evidently!
Drawing days- setting out a whole day to people watch. This was a day I spent with Miri (@pritchards_pencil) people watching around St Paul’s Cathedral. Again, I find that limiting colour choice is helpful in getting things down on paper quickly - this Koh-I-Noor double ended pencil is great for speedy high contrast sketches on the go.
I also documented a lot of my trip to Paris, which is largely what helped me find any kind of stride. Drawing different scenes, mostly standing up, in public, is a great exercise in productivity and lessening self-consciousness (I think a less familiar setting is helpful too- you're more distracted by the world around you, so don't notice anyone watching you draw).
I continued back in the UK- it’s pretty wholesome remembering trips from the drawings you did, using a sketchbook like a photo album.
Negative space sketching has also been a bit of a theme. If I feel frustrated, creatively or otherwise, I find really filling up paper with something bold helps. Big blocks of colour are very satisfying and productive and easy.
These drawings from the Natural History Museum were the first inclination I had that my drawing process might interest people. The friends who watched over my shoulder were interested by how quickly the images came together from quite abstract origins, hence me showing this stuff off a bit more on instagram.
NUMBER THREE- OCT 2021 - JAN 2022
In winter, drawing is harder: it rains and things smudge, your hands get cold, the world’s generally less colourful and engaging. Here are some snapshots of an autumnal Clerkenwell drawn on shop lunch-breaks. Plus my final 2021 outdoor drawing foray on Brighton beach; I got SO cold and packed it in until spring.
Enter- drawing the world from indoors! Here’s the nighttime view from Blackfriars, my slightly ghostly reflection in front of the river mirroring the bridge and building lights, and drawings from the Harry Potter Studio Tour. And more TV doodling.
And when I’m not being stimulated by the world as much, I tend to go quite introspective and draw myself over and over, because narcissism or something.
This sketchbook (originally from Magma) was probably the trickiest to fill as I didn’t really gel with the rough grain of the paper and the last 20 or so pages are all grey; I reverted back to a Nina Cosford Sketchbook afterwards.
NUMBER FOUR - JAN - JUN 2022
This bad boy spans a lot of time and a lot of mental breakdowns (lol)
We begin with me trying to do something monochromatic, which doesn’t come easily since I lurve colour, but which I’m trying to improve on as people seem to like it!
Hourly Comic Day is a good way to practise speed-drawing. I basically have to write off getting anything else done on that date as it's so time consuming, but it's a fun way to play around with composition and results in a nice satisfying bundle of drawings.
And this is what's become the backbone of my every day sketchbooks: observational pen-and pencil, documenting places I visit, embarrassing introspection; you get the gist. It’s taken three full sketchbooks to get to this point, where filling pages has become natural, not something I overthink much anymore.
I made time for another few designated drawing days- partly formulated specifically to try and get better at reels. There’s something about classical sculptures all being in one cold tone that negative space drawing helps accentuate. It felt quite luxurious spending so many hours on something just for instagram, but I try to think of it as like an office away day- team building between me and my pencils!
Getting more comfortable with sketchbook drawings being final artworks has been a journey and I’m not at the end of it; drawing digitally is a very different ball game, and can feel a lot safer and easier. But here’s to pushing yourself...!
(even if i do make a couple of little alterations digitally.. there's a game of spot the difference in some of these..)
So what have I learnt?
Nothing concrete, but I do have a few thoughts...
Drawing really doesn’t suddenly become easy, but it does get easier. I now find myself producing interesting stuff more regularly than I did 365 days ago. Lots is still crap, but some of it surprises me. And maybe those surprises make the whole practice useful ?!
A sketchbook is ultimately a personal tool. Even if you plan to share it on your social media or website, its content and parameters are 100% your own choices, so draw in a colourful way if it makes you feel good; draw what you see or what you think if it feels right, take breaks from it or draw consistently till your hands hurt.
Try not to draw things specifically for instagram! Fill pages in the moment, and if they end up making good grid posts that's a bonus!
Separating personal practice and commissioned work really helps my head. I now have two separate notebooks - my personal sketchbook, and what I call a ‘bizniz book’ (technical term) - for notes on client briefs and business admin. When the two get mixed and boundaries blur I find it harder to switch off from work stress.
I, currently, don't like sinking into one thing exclusively. There are pages here that could spawn a whole sketchbook of that one format/ colour combination/ subject matter, but I don’t want to commit to that yet. Whirling between bits keeps me interested and leaves things to return to in future. I’m not entirely a journal person, or a landscapes person, or a pencil person, or a portrait person: overlapping those different bits is, currently, where I find the fun. Maybe one day I'll commit to one thing, or maybe I'll always be scatty!
I hope some of that waffle was vaguely interesting! Please let me know in the comments and on instagram if you keep a sketchbook practice, how you find it, and what you think yours have taught you!
Unless otherwise stated, all images are (c) Gracie Dahl. Please do not re-share or reuse without permission.