3 ways to boost your sketchbook

This weekend I completed my Sketchbook in a Day project: a whole sketchbook completed in exactly the same surroundings that I had found so uninspiring at the start of the summer. Yet this time I had no trouble at all finding things I wanted to record; something had happened to shift my visual awareness and productivity up a notch.

Over the last couple of months I have been trying to work regularly. It’s not always easy; life often gets in the way. I’ve noticed one huge change – the more I do the easier it becomes. I don’t mean that it’s easier to create a work of genius (that’s going to take a lot more!) I mean it’s easier to begin.

If I work occasionally, maybe one or two drawings a week because time is precious then those drawings start to create an aura around themselves before they even exist. “This has to be good, this is your drawing time, it had better be a good one….” Sound familiar? Once you start making work (work? – sounds scary already) OK making drawings, making marks, making a record… once you start recording on a regular basis it loses the ability to scare you off. If today’s drawing is just one of 30 you will do this month, or today you keep going until you have done 3 drawings out of 10 you will accomplish this week then each individual drawing isn’t required to be so important.

More work = more work = more ideas = more work = more good work

It sounds obvious and yet this is something I see time and again – people hesitate through a fear of creating something not ‘up to standard’ when the only way through is just to create. The point at which it changes is the moment you decide to commit to making more.  As George Bernard Shaw put it:

“When I was a young man I observed that nine out of every ten things I did were failures. So I did ten times more work.”

If that thought sounds tiring, remember that creating art is what you WANT to be doing. I also hope that the failure rate would reduce as experience builds. Here are three points you could use to help increase your output.

Focus on the process

Don’t expect every drawing to be wonderful – it won’t be. Remind yourself that you’re not after perfect drawings as an end result.  Focus instead on the process. Get lost in the moment, become absorbed and lose track of time. Or do it so fast you don’t have time to trip yourself up by thinking! Every single drawing you do will teach you something. Inch by inch you are building on your experience.

Think of simply recording or collecting ideas

A ‘drawing’ has all sorts of connotations that have built up over time. We have looked at the implicit skill in Old Master drawings and appreciated the simplicity of Matisse. That’s a lot to live up to! A detailed drawing of a scene will take a long time so instead I suggest you start by simply recording one element – the colour, patches of shadow, an outline. Make a record of whatever interests you most – it doesn’t have to say everything. Give yourself a time restraint if necessary.

Restrict your choices

The world is your oyster; wonderful and exciting but also overwhelming. Shall I try pen and ink? What about bringing in colour? If a trip to the art shop leaves you salivating and your cupboards are groaning with materials you want to try, then you need to take a step back and reduce your possibilities. Begin with one thing; whatever will be easiest for you to pick up. If that is a 2B and a 6B pencil then go with that. Keep going, when you get bored try to push it a little further – change the way you hold the pencil, alter the marks you make, change the speed. The idea is to keep within one set of limitations. By reducing your options and cutting down on the alternatives you make it easier to begin and in turn you will be forced to play and experiment a bit more… and perhaps surprise yourself!

ARe you nervous about your sketchbook, or not quite as productive as you want to be? Alice Sheridan shares a new way of thinking that will help you be more creative.

Pin these tips to remind me later

Just a note – I’m not advocating that you never review your work and make critical decisions. Of course that is key part of any art practice; but for me that is a separate part of the process. If we bring too much judgement in at the start it’s too easy to become paralyzed with anticipation. There is no need to do that to yourself!

If you’re intrigued by the idea of a Sketchbook in a Day (and really it was quite exciting to start the day with nothing and finish with a complete book!) then let me know in the comments below, and follow the blog, or find me on Facebook because I will be talking more about how this can help you. For now, happy drawing recording!

14 replies
  1. Paloma Roos
    Paloma Roos says:

    You are wonderfully inspiring and generous with your ideas. I appreciate your great suggestions for getting started and picking yourself up when you hit a slump. Great website, too….full of resources and practical ideas (plus, I love your work). Love your sketchbooks. I just discovered your site but will be returning frequently for ideas and inspiration.

    • Alice
      Alice says:

      Thank you Paloma, so glad you have enjoyed browsing. If you’d like to see more you may like to follow @alicesheridanstudio on Instagram where I post more frequently.

  2. Alplily
    Alplily says:

    Great comments and you captured the thoughts going on in my own head. When you work more regularly, your sketches become less precious individually. I also find that an occasional glass of red wine helps! 😉

  3. Bronwen Davies
    Bronwen Davies says:

    I love your blog. I think we can be so critical about our mark making that we give up before we’ve truly committed to the marks. I know what I hate and I know what I enjoy but my own attempts can be very depressing. So, I am going to try your workbook idea tomorrow.

    • Alice
      Alice says:

      That’s a good solution Elaine – I also find the words I use to describe the books is really important to how I feel about using them. Sketch can imply perfect drawings. At college I called them workbooks or project books but Brain Dump is jolly good too – after all – that’s what it’s there for!

  4. Michi
    Michi says:

    Very very good advice, makes sense to me and I’m going to do it! Just bought a new sketchbook yesterday! I don’t draw nearly enough, I guess because I worry too much that it has to be “right” and that makes it hard to start anything. Which of course means less practice, and worse drawing!

    • Alice Sheridan
      Alice Sheridan says:

      The other way you could think of your sketchbook is as a filing system. I know your drawings take a more detailed approach than mine. Perhaps you’d like to be looser but it can be hard to change your natural style so you could have a separate wild experimental book if that would help. Or maybe do your drawings on loose paper and then stick them in. That way you could re-arrange certain elements if you had spent time on a more detailed drawing but wanted to modify it. So your sketchbook becomes a place you can layout your ideas and adjust them.

  5. Richard Pettitt
    Richard Pettitt says:

    Great post Alice! I love drawing but I get easily distracted, don’t draw as much as I should, beat myself up about it, and then I get precious and tight about the drawings I do. I am very interested in your Sketchbook in a Day idea. Right, I’m starting a new sketchbook tomorrow and it’s for recording! x

    • Alice Sheridan
      Alice Sheridan says:

      Thanks for commenting and I’m glad this appealed to you. I’ve been amazed how much things have changed if I look back at how I was drawing just a few months ago. It was hard to try and bring this to just a few points (hence more posts coming!) Changing my mind from ‘creating a sketchbook’, which I’ve always seen as beautiful objects, to just recording an idea seems somehow more manageable.

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