The Importance Of The Sketch Book

This article discusses the importance of maintaining a sketch book for the amateur and serious artist.

Sketches are explorations into the possibilities that the final work might contain. In this sense, sketching should be a free and relaxed search for new expressive possibilities. The importance of sketching is extremely significant as a study for the next stage of the development of the artwork. This is particularly true in the case of sculpture, and particularly realistic sculpture. I know of a sculptor who spent more than a month lying in a field studying the movements of cattle before even attempting a sculpture of a cow. He would sketch for hours, repeatedly drawing the same elements, over and over. What is the purpose of this seemingly insane and boring activity? By sketching, he was studying the form of the cow. We tend to accept that a cow is a common object that does not need study; but the artist would disagree. Every shape and form is unique and mysterious. Part of the reason for studying these forms is to become aware of this mystery and, eventually, to translate it to the canvas or into steel or marble.

What you need to sketch

Very basically, you need a pencil and paper but there are many other materials that will help you in sketching.

The paper you work on should be of a quality that can accept watercolor. The reason for this is that sketching, especially in preparation for a large painting, needs experimentation in tone and color and not only form. Therefore, if you decide to purchase a sketchpad, make sure that the paper is thick enough to accept water without buckling too much. The paper should be 230 gsm.

You may decide to make your own sketchpad. This option may also be the more economical. Buy good quality paper in bulk. It is fairly easy to make a sketchpad. Put about 50 sheets of paper firmly together. Use any heavy object to weigh it down and paint the vertical or horizontal spines thickly with contact glue. Leave this for about three minutes until it becomes tacky. A piece of cotton fabric can be placed on the glued areas. The cotton fabric should also be slightly overlapping. Press down firmly and leave to dry. You can attach an attractive piece of fabric over the first layer of cotton fabric with glue.

Alternatively, you may attach your loose sheets of paper to a clipboard and use them as singly. This is also useful if you want to remove them later.

Essential sketching materials.

It is a good idea to find a container that can accommodate all your sketching material. You may wish to sketch out of doors, and a single container is much more desirable than carrying many small articles.



A good range of pencils is important. When you buy pencils, try different degrees of hardness and softness. Hard pencils are good for line work, while the softer pencils can be used for shading.

A set of ink pens can be an invaluable tool in your sketching kit. These do not have to be expensive. Ordinary, waterproof-marking pens can provide the quick basis for a sketch, while water washes over this will not alter the lines.

A rag and absorbent paper are essential for mopping up and working on your sketch. Remember that a sketch is an exploration and you should experiment as much as possible. A small sponge can also work wonders when working quickly with water

An essential element to include is a set of cheap watercolors. These can be bought at any art shop. You will also need a few cheap brushes in different sixes. DO not forget to include a clean cup or palette for mixing and a container of water that can be closed.

Some tips on sketching.

In order to demonstrate the importance of sketching, we will pretend that we are going to sketch a sea scene. We would pack our sketching kit and, hoping that the sun stays shining, go to the beach. Before us is a typical beach scene with only a few people on the beach

The fist step is to sketch, very roughly, the basic dimensions and forms that we decided on. You do this using a soft pencil that leaves a light line. At this stage you shouldn't worry about achieving and exact image, but rather experiment with the shapes and forms in front of you. Draw those elements that attract you. There is no need to draw everything that you see. For example, you may concentrate on a certain rock, or formation of the beach. This is the importance of sketching. You are selecting and isolating elements that are to be incorporated in later painting, or even sculpture. Many famous artists used this method and would do many sketches of a single scene; emphasizing and drawing elements form different angles, and even in different lights or times of day. They would later take all these different sketches back to the studio and work them into a single image in oil or another medium

Once you have chosen your subject or subjects, and have sketched their rough outlines, it is often a good idea to begin with watercolor washes. The purpose of this is to start developing a feel for the color and tone of the subject. In order to work with watercolor, mix some color in your mixing cup and add water from the water container in your sketching kit. The purpose is, once again, to experiment and explore color relationships. Apply slight washes to the sketch and play with different color combinations. The aim is to capture the mood and tone of the beach and not to " copy" it exactly.

Always remember that sketching is meant to be an experimental process. I have only mentioned a few elements that you may include in your sketching kit. You may also add a set of pastels, and even a set of cheap oil and acrylic paints. If you are an oil painter, you can begin your sketch in oil on specially prepared paper, using turpentine as a thinning medium.

Once you have exhausted the possibilities of your subject matter, then the time has come to return to the studio and assemble your sketches for the start of the final painting or sculpture.

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