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Sketchbooking 101

  • Published at 06:03 pm January 12th, 2019
st-Jan 10, 2019
Photos: Courtesy/A compact hardbound sketchbook

World Sketchnote Day was created in 2016 by Mike Rohde and Mauro Toselli. Along with a small group of designers and producers, they created the company Sketchnote Army to help showcase sketchnotes and their artists from around the world. The holiday itself showcases talented artists each through social media competitions, where people who love to sketch and combine that with notes or reminder can get featured on their website. From there, interviews, podcasts, and blog posts are made to broadcast these artists, learn about their history, and see why they sketch the way they do.

Cartoon People host the Sketchbook Saturday challenge in Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna, and as a result, I frequently get bombarded by people wanting to know exactly what ‘sketchbooking’ is, and how one goes about doing it. I decided to break it down, once and for all.

What is a sketchbook?

It’d be easier to explain first what a sketchbook is not. It’s not a portfolio. It’s not your neatly arranged school project. It’s where your messy rough work and ideas go. Simply put, it’s a visual diary that an artist carries with him everywhere. Just as you would maintain a written journal by updating it every day, as an artist, you are expected to add to your sketchbook everyday, be it idle doodles or planning for bigger projects, or even affirmations. Regular sketchbooking is an essential part of an artist’s development.

When and how should I draw in the sketchbook?

The first rule of sketchbooking is that you keep it with you always and draw in it every day. If it’s not always with you, it gets hard to draw in it every day. It’s best to get yourself a small sketchbook that’s easy to carry, one with a hard binding that doesn’t get squashed easily. That way, when you’re stuck inside a CNG, or sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s, you can pull it out and get sketching. You won’t be bored, and you can reduce the clutter in your mind by jotting down instant ideas and sketching out inspiration . The act of regularly doodling and sketching your thoughts is basically what we mean when we talk about sketchbooking.

What should I draw in my sketchbook?

 Since this is a space for rough work, it is totally up to the artist what s/he needs to work on to progress his/her own style and chosen art form. Cartoonists and comic artists need to practice certain exercises in order to develop visual storytelling skills. 

Exercises for comic artists

1.    Gesture drawing/quick sketches. Gesture drawing this involves watching people and observing their gestures, postures, limb positioning, and trying to render these in simple line art. Being able to pick up on different poses and postures help make the drawings more fluid and believable. Perfect posture might be more aesthetic to look at, but very few people have it, so to make your art more credible, it’s better to observe the natural movement of the human body and try to capture it. Quick sketches are gesture drawings rendered in under ten minutes. The focus is on capturing the pose and the motion without paying too much heed to finer details.

2.    Shape and form drawing. Possibly the most important aspect of sketchbooking, this involves distilling a character down to an overall form, composed of a combination of different shapes. Our first instinct when trying to draw something is to render a realistic image of it. This is why the image in our minds rarely matches the drawings we produce. An easier, quicker approach is to ignore the fine details and break down the silhouette of each subject into a combination of simple shapes, and try and quickly sketch that out; details can always be added later. Practising this can actually result in more realistic renditions in the long run.

3.    Character study. Once you have the form and gesture down pat, it’s time to pay attention to the character of your subject, the things that make up the character’s identity, like facial hair, personal style, etc. How do men in Old Dhaka wear their lungis? How do Bede women drape their saris? Observing these personal quirks give your drawings life, and when you’re expected to create a unique comic character, you can just refer to your sketchbook character studies, and draw inspiration from real life instead of trying to guess at the character’s story.

4.    Background and environment study. In addition to character study, it’s important to observe the environments you inhabit. If your protagonist is brawling in Shahbag, and your Google search results don’t have the right perspective of Shahbag square, what do you do? The answer is sketchbooking. Whenever you’re out and about, capturing the area in a few simple lines will give you a mental map. Cartoon People do their #Sketchbook Saturday exercises in different locations for this very reason. Once you get into the practice of sketching surroundings, whether it’s Dhaka’s Shahbag, or Chittagong’s GEC Moar, your character will kick butt!

A quick tip for background studies – there’s no need to spread your sketch all over the page; condensing the scene into a thumbnail line drawing will give you a useful facsimile of the area

Cleanup  and final words

     Gesture drawings and shape and form drawings will help you come up with characters, character drawings imbue these characters with a story and personality; add backgrounds, and you have yourself a comic! If you’re new to sketchbooking, my advice would be not to get overwhelmed trying all of these at once. Instead, pace yourself and focus on gaining mastery over each type of exercise before moving on to the next. It will take months of daily practice, but don’t lose hope! You will see definite progress if you keep at it. Don’t forget to enjoy the experience while you’re at it.

For more art, advice and insights, find Tanmoy on The Medium @TanmoyCartoons. Translated from original by Sabrina Fatma Ahmad