Creating In Sketchbooks
You’ll be surprised as to what you can create.
“Draw. Draw. Draw. Draw. Draw. Get sketchbooks and draw. Draw everything. Draw every day of your life. Draw what you see. Draw from life. Draw from your mind’s eye. You’ll be surprised as to what you can create.”
I’ve been out of college for over thirty years and I can still hear my freshman drawing professor say this. It’s the best advice I’ve received from a teacher.
When I first started drawing in sketchbooks as a daily assignment in college, it wasn’t too bad. I love to draw. It wasn’t like in high school where we were required to keep a writing journal for English class. No images were allowed in those. What a drag.
Now I find that creating in my sketchbooks is one of the most important parts of my creative process. I can explore a models face that I want to paint. Learn new techniques. Practice drawing by rendering my favorite subjects. Or just try to capture a lovely place for beautiful memory.
On my first trip to London, I scheduled an appointment to view one of J.M.W. Turner’s sketchbooks in the prints and drawings room at the Tate Britain. I was inches away from a nearly 200 year old sketchbook created by a master artist. The images were still fresh. It was interesting to get a glimpse how he worked and how he was using some of the same techniques we artists use today. Turner used watercolor a lot for his sketches and on one page, usually the right, he created his sketch painting. On the left page, he tried out his colors. Just like the rest of us artists do! It was a good insight to his painting process. Viewing his and other artist’s sketchbooks has helped me understand my own creative process.
I have about five different sketchbooks that I create in at all times. Because of this, it can take me years to complete just one. I average about four years per sketchbook. Why do I use so many sketchbooks at one time? Sketchbooks have a variety of surfaces. Some have papers that are a heavier weight, thicker paper, and are better for water media. Some sketchbooks have smooth paper that is better for ink drawing. Others have medium weight paper and is better for collage. I also have sketching scrolls made of rice paper. These help to create a more fluid line of thought. I work in many different media such as, ink, watercolor, gouache, graphite, pastels, colored pencils and collage, so I need different surfaces to create on.
Searching for unique sketchbooks can be as much fun as creating in them. It can be a treasure hunt. One of my favorites that I’ve found I bought in London at the Camden Market. It’s a handmade sketchbook that is only about 2” x 1.5”. The paper inside is handmade as well and the cover is made of recycled materials. So much fun to create in!
I relish creating with all the different shapes and sizes of sketchbooks. Some are handmade. Some are factory made. I’ve recently started working in a square sized sketchbook. It’s fantastic! The square sketchbook is particularly good for the more fantasy driven creations. The square format gives them a more stable and grounding feel. The largest sketchbook I use is 11” X 11”. My favorite sizes to work in are 4” x 6” and 5” x 7”. Pocket sized sketchbooks are always useful.
My favorite subjects I like to draw are people and other animals. Cats, cows, opossums and people riding on trains are a never ending captivation for me.
I feel so much freedom when I create in my sketchbooks. The modern world has gotten increasingly distracting and stressful. It’s wonderful to put the smart phone aside, shut the world out, hang out with my pets and let my imagination wander. Because I write and illustrate graphic novels, getting away from the intrusive modern world can be especially useful to design characters and backgrounds. Some of these work out well enough to be used as the actual illustrations for the graphic novels.
Sketchbooks are relatively inexpensive so I feel more at ease experimenting with different techniques and ideas. I find my ideas and images grow more organically. Some of my sketches become more finished pieces and I sell many of them. I think my audience can sense how relaxed and creative I am with these works.
I will never stop creating in my sketchbooks. Creating in my sketchbooks is one of the most important parts of my creative process. Get a sketchbook. Decorate it. Make it your own. Wander with it. I will again pass on the best advice I’ve received from a teacher. Draw, draw, draw, draw, draw. Get sketchbooks and draw. Draw everything. Draw every day of your life. Draw what you see. Draw from life. Draw from your mind’s eye. You’ll be surprised as to what you can create. ∞
Cameron Hampton is a painter, photographer, illustrator, cinematographer, animator and writer.
She now works in Georgia, London and NYC.