Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Lessons From Your Own Sketchbooks

Tuesday Tips & Tricks

With only 17 days until spring, there is light at the end of this wintry tunnel, and before you know it you will be able to sketch this incredible city outdoors again.  Every year around this time, I start getting antsy for the upcoming spring and summer months. After being cooped up and restricted by the subzero temperatures, short days and lake effect snow I am ready to get back outside and fill up new sketchbooks.  I am sure all of the Chicago sketchers can relate.  For those of you who have the privilege of sketching in a warm climate all year round, this may enlighten you to the struggles of a Chicago sketcher in the winter:

You might be a Chicago sketcher if....
  • You have sketched the view from your living room window this winter more times than you can remember.
  • You look out this same window hoping something new to sketch magically appears so you can satisfy your sketching needs.
  • you have had to out-sketch mother nature freezing the ink in your pens or watercolor pallets
  • you have put on more than three layers of clothing just to stay warm on a sketch outing
  • you have spent hours flipping through sketching blogs, galleries, books and old sketchbooks in anticipation for warmer weather and more sketching opportunities....
If you have been thinking about urban sketching  more than actually sketching lately, you have also likely thought about your personal sketching style and at some point wondered how you could develop it, improve it or take it in a different direction.  I know I have, and as I recently flipped through my collection of sketchbooks I was reminded of how incredibly valuable our own sketchbooks are as teaching tools.  So much of urban sketching is about experimentation, trial and error, process and spontaneity.  Whether you realize it or not, each sketch you create is a compilation of countless artistic decisions.  These decisions shape your sketching style and express the way you see the world around you on paper.

Every once in a while it is well worth our time to look back at old sketchbooks to see where our sketching journey began, what artistic thoughts were running through our mind, what types of media we were experimenting with, and which techniques worked and which didn't.  Did you take notes about some valuable insight you discovered in the process of creating a particular sketch?  The nature of urban sketching is so spontaneous that we often move onto the next sketch, forgetting all about the sparks of genius that happened in our past sketches.  There are so many opportunities for us to learn from and build upon our own work.  Taking a look at our past sketches is a great way to see how much we have grown, to be reminded of where our creative process was at different stages of our lives and how it has evolved.  

So, while we wait through the rest of what Chicago winter has to throw as us, my challenge for you is to dig up the very first sketchbook you ever kept and flip through it.  

Go through the rest of your sketchbooks until you get to your current sketchbook (or most recent sketches).  What are your gut reactions?  You will be reminded of all of the great work you have already done, all of of the places you have seen, and all of the techniques you have tested.  Here are some more questions to ask yourself while doing this.  I hope these will start turning some wheels about how much you can learn from your own sketchbooks:
  • What kind of things did I sketch?  Do I need to add variety to my choice of subject matter?
    • Have I challenged myself by choosing subject matter that is out of my comfort zone?
  • What different types of media have I tried?  
    • What have I learned about my favorite pens, paints, markers etc...and how they react to different types of paper?
  • What kinds of improvements do I see in my technique and how can I continue to build upon this?
    • Which artists or sketchers influenced my work early on, and who influences my work now?
  • What are 2-3 techniques I have always wanted to learn more about, but still have never gotten around to trying?
I hope that those questions begin to allow your sketchbooks to teach you.  Remember not to be too hard on yourself.  We can often be our own worst critics.  If you are looking to pick up some new sketching skills, USk Chicago will be hosting it's second annual Sketching Seminar in July.  More details about this will be on their way in the near future...

Andrew Banks


  1. Great post! Perusing our old sketchbooks can be a real eyeopener. It's a practice I highly endorse. I'm going to use your suggested questions - very thoughtful!

  2. I can add one more scenario to your "You might be a Chicago sketcher if..." and that is "when you pick your sketch location based solely on which inside window has a better view--be it a coffee shop, library, or anything with a protective, warm interior and a window." And I have already noticed a difference in my sketching technique just from being involved with this group and feeling compelled to share a new sketch from my daily routine nearly every single day. Thanks for a great post and for this list of considerations. I may use it as a basis for the next time someone wants to find out how I got to where I am today.

    1. So true Wes! Has happened on almost a daily basis for me.

      I agree, I have seen a difference in my sketching as well. SO many styles and artists to pull inspiration from. out there...

  3. This is a wise and inspiring post! I am going to link to it from my personal blog. Thanks!

    - Tina

    1. Thanks for the kind words and for following the blog Tina!