The summer 2016 issue of Drawing takes us through the world of sketchbooks and art journals, interviewing 11 artists to discover some of sketchbooks’ many uses, along with sketching techniques and sketching tools. Here we’re pleased to present an expanded selection of sketchbook drawings and paintings by these artists, along with advice about how sketchbooks can be a rewarding part of your practice.
John Belardo (johnbelardo.com) is a sculptor, draftsman, instructor at Lehman College and president of the Hudson Valley Art Association.
Uses sketchbooks for: Going to museums and drawing from sculptures, copying works by Michelangelo and other artists of the Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque eras.
Sketching tools and materials: 4B pencil with eraser attached to the end. “The reason I use a 4B is that I can get a very soft line and get as dark as I need,” Belardo says. “I’m never shading or looking for large areas of tone. With me it’s all about a controlled, rational line.”
Recommended sketching techniques: Tape a piece of sandpaper to the back of your sketchbook for sharpening your pencil—this way you don’t need to carry a knife or portable sharpener.
Advice for artists: Use your sketchbook to further your own understanding of concepts such as form and light—don’t be worried about how the finished drawing will look to others. When Belardo is drawing in his sketchbook his intention is “not to produce a pretty drawing; it’s meant to make an honest drawing.”
Thomas Cian (behance.net/chanbella) is an artist based in Milan, Italy.
Uses sketchbooks for: Sketching “anytime, anywhere,” especially when traveling.
Sketching tools and materials: assorted ink pens and hardcover sketchbooks. Cian says that ink “helps me be more sure of what I’m doing” than pencil.
Recommended sketching techniques: Make sure your journal or sketchbook has paper that works well with your preferred media. “Heavy paper is more versatile, since it lets you operate with many different techniques,” the artist says. “For example it’s capable of holding water, and it doesn’t let ink soak through to the other side of the sheet.”
Gary Faigin (garyfaigin.com) is a Seattle-based artist and the co-founder and artistic director of Gage Academy of Art.
Uses sketchbooks for: Developing concepts for paintings, drawing from imagination, and sketching people he sees around him, for instance on public transportation, in church, and at coffee shops.
Sketching tools and materials: lots of drawing tools, including all manner of pens, pencils and inks, such as Higgins’ sepia ink.
Recommended sketching techniques: Try to work within certain strictures in terms of style or subject matter. “The worst thing is to not have any boundaries—too much freedom can be debilitating,” Faigin says. “You work best if you create a rulebook where you can do this but can’t do that. Having strict rules that you can invent within frees you up to think, ‘What can I do within those limitations?’ You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with every painting; you can tweak it, try new combinations within your limits.” Faigin notes this strategy has been adopted by many artists. “Hopper did the same sort of urban interiors for 30 years. Morandi painted the same groups of still lifes for 40 years. And they’re among the greats. They did it all within this limited range.”
Uses sketchbooks for: Observations of sites around the Los Angeles area, plus “high-speed passenger sketches” showing views from moving cars.
Sketching tools and materials: “I like variety,” says Hein. Her sketching tools include pencils, colored pencil, fountain pens, calligraphy pens and watercolors. She draws in books from manufacturers including Hand-Book, Moleskine and Stillman & Birn.
Recommended sketching techniques: When you’re drawing in an urban area, begin by drawing whatever is moving, such as people, animals and cars. Once those are complete, you can more fully render things like buildings and scenery. But be careful, because even if your subject isn’t moving, the sunlight is, so you need to work fast to capture the scene before the light changes.
Advice for artists: Hein stresses the importance of not being too hard on yourself. “The biggest enemy is self-criticism,” she says. “It can be paralyzing. One of the great things about a sketching is that you can draw something every day, and if you think it’s bad, just move on. And even a bad sketch can have a good detail or give you a sense of time and place. There’s always something to be learned, even from epic fails.”
James McElhinney (mcelhinneyart.com) is an artist, author, instructor and oral historian based in New York. Several of the journal paintings shown here and in Drawing magazine are also featured in the book Art Students League of New York on Painting, which he co-authored and edited.
Uses books and journals for: McElhinney creates journal paintings—complete, panoramic works through which he interprets the world around him.
Sketching tools and materials: colored pens (often orange or red), watercolor paints and retractable brushes.
Recommended sketching techniques: Try beginning with a linear drawing in pen, then moving to a painting stage, perhaps in watercolor. This can produce an intriguing push-pull between the linear and painted aspects of the work.
Advice for artists: Artwork created in journals, books and sketchbooks is ripe for sharing via social media. “Through social media I can have an immediate dialogue with an audience, rather than doing paintings that have to go in frames and hang in exhibitions,” he says. “These books have kind of become my analogue handheld device.”
Uses sketchbooks for: Mostly plein air landscapes, often created when the artist is traveling. Also for the occasional floral or botanical study.
Sketching tools and materials: Derwent water-soluble pencils; watercolors from Winsor & Newton, Schmincke and Sennelier; Holbein Multimedia drawing books; and a large plastic palette.
Recommended sketching techniques: If you’re drawing or painting the landscape, try to work early or late in the day, when there will be more contrast, which may be more visually interesting.
Matt Rota (mattrotasart.com) is an illustrator, artist and instructor based in New York.
Uses sketchbooks for: Creating, testing and refining ideas for editorial illustrations. Other books are set aside for personal work, including images for narrative projects.
Sketching tools and materials: a very fine Speedball Crow Quill pen, along with assorted pencils, and Canson XL drawing pads.
Josef Rubinstein (facebook.com/artistjoerubinstein) is a draftsman, painter and comic-book artist.
Uses sketchbooks for: Life drawings.
Sketching tools and materials: mechanical pencils with 0.7mm HB lead, 2B wood pencils, powdered graphite, chalks, charcoal and bound sketchbooks with smooth paper.
Recommended sketching techniques: Begin with a quick gestural drawing showing who your subject is and how he or she sits on the page. Hold off on the darkest darks until the late stages of the drawing.
Advice for artists: Have a goal for every drawing. “It’s not enough to just want to get better,” Rubinstein says. “What’s your individual drawing about? Rendering? Chiaroscuro? If you have a problem with proportion, forget about doing a finished drawing and just work on that.”
Uses sketchbooks for: “The main purpose of my sketchbook is to record the present time,” Ushiro says. “A lot of my work deals with the past, so it’s kind of nice to also be recording the present. I always carry my sketchbooks around, and in a sense they become my visual diaries.”
Sketching tools and materials: “Whatever’s handy,” which often including markers. For his surface, Ushiro frequently uses Moleskine notebooks.
Recommended sketching techniques: “It’s a sketchbook—there should be freedom!” Ushiro says. “You need to remind yourself that it’s only for you. It’s OK to make mistakes. If a drawing isn’t starting off good, just see where it will go.”