This blog post is an ode to one A5 handmade sketchbook that got me drawing again after a long break. This book has travelled to many places with me and became a safe space for exploration. Following my Masters Degree and a start of my full-time teaching job in Cambridge, I found very little time for doing anything creative. I knew I had to find a way to get back into drawing regularly, but I didn’t know where to start.
Every time I tried to start a sketchbook before, I would quit half-way through, and I had a pile of unfinished sketchbooks with empty pages laying around. To make this sketchbook different, I decided to create and hand-bind the book myself. I found a handy Youtube tutorial and learnt how to do Coptic stitch binding. I didn’t want my sketchbook to feel too precious, so I used discarded scraps of paper of different shape and colour that I found at work. It wasn’t perfectly cut, and it wasn’t perfectly straight, but that was a good thing. It made me much more relaxed about drawing and making a mess out of it.
When the book was finished, I made a pact with myself.
I said that I would fill this book with drawings. Idealistically, I imagined that I would accomplish this task within a few months, but it took me a whole year. And even though it sounds like a hell of a long time, it still made a massive difference. The following year, I completed 5 sketchbooks, the year after I got a picture book contract and a few years later on I was heading into illustrating full time.
Making that one commitment paid off in a big way.
I began my drawing year by taking pencils and pens (and my sketchbook) everywhere I went. This very first sketch was done at the tearoom, where I quickly realised how out of practice I was. However tempted I was to get upset about not being able to accomplish a “perfect” drawing, I knew I had to be easy on myself in order for this exercise to last.
I decided that it was ok for me to produce imperfect drawings and that the whole point was just to do it, and not think about it too much.
I carried the sketchbook with me to work, I also took it on holidays and soon I found myself making time to go to places just to draw from life. I sketched people and Roman monuments at the British Museum, beaches in Scotland, cups and mugs in the cafes around the country. Because I made my sketchbook from found paper with different textures and colours, it made my drawing practice more exciting.
I also practised letting go of the way how the drawing looked like and drawing just for the fun of it (although I have to admit that didn’t come easy). I tried drawing people in motion: walking, rowing and cycling. Those sketches only lasted a couple of seconds, and I found that they helped me simplify my drawings and made me worry less about the outcome.
Every other day I would manage to do a quick sketch after work. Even when I was really REALLY tired, and didn’t want to do anything, I found doing sketching helped my mind relax.
Drawing from life doesn’t require any conscious thinking, so it helped me take my mind off work-related stress.
A lot of the drawings in my sketchbook feature domestic scenes drawn while sitting on the sofa, absolutely exhausted.
Soon enough, I found that my drawing was getting better. By better, I mean that I was happier and happier with the outcomes. I definitely felt more creative and whole as a person. And the fascinating thing is that when I look at each of these drawings, it takes me back in time to the moment when it was created. Drawing makes you remember things in a much more vivid way then photography does, as you can remember smells, feelings and colours of that moment in time.
Making a simple promise to myself worked wonders for me. If you are looking to get back into drawing after a long break, I suggest you try this sketchbook exercise.
Get a new sketchbook, or make it yourself! Make a promise to finish it in a certain period of time.
If you are feeling all up for it and competitive, set yourself strict targets. If you can’t bear to work under pressure, just start and see where it takes you. I won’t judge you if you give up halfway.
Draw with any materials that you like and in any way that you like. Observe, draw, explore, and do it regularly — and your drawing WILL improve. If you start a sketchbook, feel free to share your progress with me.
You can read my blog post about drawing tips for beginners here.
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