Imagine sitting down to flip through your sketchbook. You envision finding pages filled with a variety of loose sketches, some more complete than others. But reality sets in. Instead, you find your best pencil sketches are smeared and smudged. And your work feels stiff and overworked—anything but inspirational.
That’s a frustrating place to be. Sketching is meant to be an exercise in looseness and freedom. I want you to experience that, so I put together three tips to help you create a sketchbook that you can feel proud of.
One of the best ways I’ve found to stay loose is through timed sketches. This simple tip may be all you need to unlock the kind of sketching you’ve been trying to achieve. Think of it like stretching before a marathon, or warming up with scales before a musical performance.
Timed sketches are designed to prevent you from overworking your sketch and getting stuck in the details. When you only have a minute or two with a reference image, it forces you to simplify. I like to start with some 1-minute sketches, then work my way up incrementally to 10-minutes.
There are many ways to introduce variety into your sketches. Doing so will add interest to your sketchbook pages, and also help you as you build your skills for sketching loose. Here are some of my favorite ways to add variety into my sketches:
- Subject Sizes—Your subjects don’t all have to be the same size. Play around with scale.
- Level of Finish—Taking sketches to varying levels of completion is a great way to add interest. There are no Sketch Police (thankfully!), so no one’s going to arrest you for not “completing” a sketch. You can also take aspects of a sketch to varying levels of completion. For instance, suggesting certain areas while taking others to a great degree of detail.
- Mediums—Introduce different mediums to achieve a variety of styles and looks into you sketches. More on this below.
- White Space—Use the space around your sketch(es) to enhance the story you want to tell. There’s no rule that says you have to use all of the space on a page for a sketch. Sometimes a simply stated line drawing on one page can speak volumes.
- Page Styles—I like to use my sketchbook like a kind of journal. Sometimes I’ll jot down a few sentences about what I’m sensing and experiencing in that moment to help me remember and relive it later on. This adds more interest to the sketchbook and makes it feel like I’m telling a story.
This tip might challenge you a little bit, but I promise it’s worth it. I mentioned above how using different mediums can enhance the interest of your sketch pages. My three go-to mediums are waterpens, pen and ink, and watercolor washes with a dagger brush. Notice anything missing?
Pencil! That’s right. I usually don’t sketch in pencil. And my challenge to you is to ditch the pencil too, at least for now. Here’s why:
The pencil can be a crutch and can actually hinder you from achieving the kind of sketching you’re aiming for. You see, a pencil can be erased. And when we know something can be erased, we tend to spend more time trying to make it perfect than we should. Afterall, sketching is not about perfection. So, when I switched to using pens, I was forced to be deliberate about my marks, then move on. There’s also the added bonus that my sketches won’t smear if they’re touched.
So there you have it, a few of my best sketch tips to help you create a sketchbook that you’d be proud to put out on your coffee table for the world to see.
If you’d like to learn more about the specific materials I use in my sketching, download my free Sketch Materials Checklist. I think you’ll find it very helpful.
I’d love to know what works for you. If you tried one of these tips, how did it work for you? Let me know in the comments!