This was first presented as a panel at Animazement in Raleigh, NC May 24, 2018. Author's note // I'll do my best to update this page over time with current info.
Hello! I'm Eli and this is this is my approach to working in sketchbooks. This is designed for artists who have become stuck in their books and are seeking ideas. I am passionate about this because when I started drawing my self-esteem was too low to work in a book, nor did I understand how to use books. None of my art classes prepared me, yet the sketchbook seems to be an understood prop of an artists life. This info may be obvious or completely useless if you already have an established workflow, but I'm sharing this for anyone like me who may benefit!
When I first started drawing, I drew in lined notebooks and computer printer paper. I've asked around and this seems to not be uncommon among artists starting out. In the photo on the right below you'll notice stacks of boxes, in those boxes are piles of printer paper and loose sheets I would draw on. Now, unless I rely on my (flawed) memory, it's difficult to accurately track the progression of my early drawings as they were all jumbled up and it makes storage difficult. Not to mention there are many benefits to learning to use sketchbooks early!
You aren't (usually) graded on your class notebooks, and when you are it's a portion of your grade and the point is to see you working out problems on paper. So your sketchbooks should be a place to make notes, revise ideas, and experiment. It's true, you'll see artists online producing finished pieces in sketchbooks but if every page is a polished illustration at that point the sketchbook has become a portfolio. And I guarantee the artist has other "B-side" sketchbooks they don't show off, that contains the real rough drafts and sketches.
Yes, books. Plural. Don't limit yourself to thinking you need just one all-purpose sketchbook. Currently, I have no fewer than five active sketchbooks. And at least three new/blank sketchbooks on my bookshelf waiting so I have a new book if I want to create a separate book for a new project.
// Make Your Book Home
How do you take a fresh clean book and turn it into a place for your ideas to live and grow? Start by making it yours. Think of your new book as an empty studio room ready to be decorated. It's true what is important is the work you do inside but it certainly helps to foster a positive environment first. Popular choices for book decorations are stickers, painting the book covers, pasting in art cards, stenciling, or scrapbooking pieces of paper, photos, and other memorabilia into the pages to get you started.
Start simple: sign your name. Add contact info in case it's misplaced. Also go ahead and add the date you're starting the book and maybe a line or two of significance. For example, if the book was a gift, write who gave it to you and for what occasion, or your intention of what you want to fill the book with. I have a habit of cropping interesting envelopes with my mailing address for my contact info.
The point here is to start making the inside cover into something welcoming for you when you open your book. Personally I don't like drawing in this area. Instead I add stickers, art cards, etc. You can also ask someone you admire to get you started. For example, when I was a teenager I had my favorite band Ludo sign the inside of my sketchbook at the time.
// Consume Creativity
There's a phrase "Garbage in; garbage out" that I like to modify to "nothing in; nothing out" because I struggled with validating my love of cartoons and animation as a form of a "creative diet" that would help motivate me to draw. Don't be like that. If you love bad 90s fantasy anime, put on your favorite anime in the background when you sit down to draw. If you love music, play a live show, music videos, or interview of your favorite music artist. Or if you love games, throw on some Let's Play videos. Personally, I also love to watch people drawing or interviews with artists that I admire. For me it doesn't even have to be the same style that I draw, but having someone drawing and nerding out about comics, animation, or watercolor and ink is a comforting way to kickstart my motivation for the day.
Some of my favorite Go-To's are: Manben with Urasawa Naoki, Being Boss Podcast, The Drawn Podcast, and the Shonen JUMP Ryu! manga artist series.
// Work Daily
Straight up, this is something I don't do, haha. I have health issues, a day job, responsibilities, and sometimes I even procrastinate from drawing by doing side projects (like organizing panels, haha). But generally the goal is there, especially as you're just starting out. After you've signed your name and christened the cover with some stickers, working daily is going to be the fastest way to fill up your sketchbook and kickstart motivation. Working to fill your sketchbook is an exercise, for anyone who's ever tried to start any exercise routine or learned to ride a bike or swim, you'll never feel as unmotivated as the day before you start. Even if you take a break, once you've developed the habit, you'll always know how to get back into the rhythm.
// Make Happy Accidents
Many new artists are inhibited by fear. Worrying about making mistakes is a form of resistance you'll be facing for the rest of your life no matter who you are. Letting the fear of failure stop you from making mistakes is a sure fire way of assuring you'll never have a happy accident and learn. Here's the secret to success: falling flat on your face and failing. Over and over again. The faster you can fail, the faster you'll fall towards success. So if you can make a book (it can be your 2nd or 3rd side book) into a place where you can absolutely fall on your face artistically then you'll realize there's nothing to worry about.
Nine times out of ten you can actually rescue illustrations from being beyond repair if you open up your mind to new creative solutions. Did you color outside the lines on a marker illustration? Use a blender marker to dilute the color. Did your lineart get to globby and thick? Use white out. Watercolor spill everywhere? Use more water then pick up the excess with paper towels. By having accidents, you'll find ways to work around them. If you never make those accidents in the first place you'll place way too much pressure on never messing up, to the point that you'll restrict your growth. Then when you do have an accident, you'll have no idea how to continue working.
// Get Crafty
For me, around page 15-21 is where I start getting fatigued. You've already done some good sketches, maybe even drawn something polished, and you're getting good momentum but you suddenly face your old friend fear. The idea of "I don't want to mess up what I have so far" creeps in before you notice it. This is when I like to do introduce "mood board" elements. I collect stickers, movie stubs, pamphlets from events, etc. I'll inject those into the pages of my sketchbook and make notes on the experience, journal, and write, or doodle something in the margins, and then next thing you know you're working in your sketchbook again!
I also love having friends draw in my sketchbooks! I don't care if they consider themselves artists, it's more about having someone I have a connection to helping me fill up a page. Then as I go back to my sketchbook it's filled with more memories and positive thoughts, and often encouragements. I've also been known to store mini art prints in my sketchbook pages as well! Again, anything to make your books into a welcoming place for you to experiment and have fun exploring.
// Show Your Work
Okay, so you've made your sketchbook a home, and made some drawings. You've even got some work you want to show, now what? I found sharing my sketchbook on social media to be helpful in maintaining motivation, and to build a sense of accomplishment in a body of work. But there is an art to photographing your sketchbook that can help offer a sense of environment to your sketches. Even if you're just starting out, do some research on good lighting and trying to frame your sketchbook pages you want to share.
Picking the right social media platform is a personal thing for each person, and I could run a whole other panel on social media! It really depends on your preference for which platform you prefer but personally I had a lot of luck using Instagram. Just don't forget the hashtags! With the current algorithm go with 3-5 hashtags and avoid using the same tag for multiple posts. Personally, I prefer smaller hashtags that have around 1-3k posts in them. Then after posting in a tag, go check out that tag and engage with folks also posting about that subject, that's a good way to make friends and connect, and other users might find your work that way as well.