How I Choose a Sketchbook

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The other day, M. asked me how I decide what sketchbook to bring when I go out to draw. Great question!

At any given time, I have a dozen or more sketchbooks in various states of completion. I tag each of my sketchbooks on the first page with my name, phone, and date started, so I can tell you that the oldest work-in-progress book dates back to (welp!) 2011.

Most of the older ones either have paper that I'm not too fond of or were acquired for a specific purpose (I'm looking at you, Pacon Art Street Sketchbook from the kids' workshop I led). Of course I also have a large and ever-growing stash of new, untouched sketchbooks, including freebies from various conferences and impulse buys.

So which sketchbook gets to ride along when I'm packing my bag? It depends on what I'm drawing (and how I'm feeling). Obviously if I'm just aiming for the smallest kit possible to shove in a purse, I choose a 3"x5" pocket sketchbook, but I usually prefer 5"x8".

Am I likely to work solely in line, or will I do a more involved drawing, perhaps with watercolor? If the latter, I would take a sketchbook with heavier paper, made for watercolor (e.g., Strathmore Field Watercolor, Hand Book Field Watercolor, Fluid 100 Watercolor Block).

Washington Park, Denver, CO

Will there be other, more accomplished artists around? I may go for the familiar to give me a confidence boost (Stillman & Birn Beta or Zeta, Moleskine watercolor).

If I'm aiming for quantity (ahem, Inktober), I may choose a thinner paper. This month, for instance, my Canson Art Book Universal Sketch is on heavy rotation. Since it's hardbound, it survives being shoved into a backpack or tote on my daily commute.

Here's a quick ink sketch I did last week to plan what I'd carve on a pumpkin:

owl pumpkin sketch

Daily challenges are a great excuse to use up pages in sketchbooks I don't like. Instead of letting those books languish in the drawer forever, I can fill them with quick thumbnails, notes in workshops, draft blog posts, etc. And since sketchbooks with thinner paper are usually cheaper, I don't get anxious about achieving perfection on every page!


How Do You Inktober?

Monday, October 23, 2017

road sketch san jose hills

I'm always curious to see how other artists are participating in the daily ink drawing challenge that is Inktober. Some are purists, only drawing in ink. Others are looser in their interpretation, stretching themselves to work in ink + other media.

bike commuter inktober

I do a bit of everything. I'm also going easy on myself this year -- it's a busy time, so I'm letting myself catch up with multiple drawings if I miss a day.

quick landscape thumbnails inktober

I also don't stick to one type of subject. Some of my drawings are representational. Others represent only what's in my imagination. I also use this challenge to practice mark-making.

mark making thumbnails inktober

How do you Inktober?


Drawing Dance

Sunday, October 15, 2017


After several days of late-night Inktober sketches from my imagination, I was determined to do something different yesterday. So I got front-row seats to SJDanceCo's performance, Roots & Wings, at the Hammer Theatre in downtown San Jose.


There was just enough light from the orchestra pit and stage to see the paper. I sketched this with a Sharpie pen in a Canson Art Book Universal - Sketch. It's a relatively thin paper; this sketchbook is one that I started in Santo Domingo in 2012 and have come back to every so often. It's liberating to draw on this paper, as it keeps me from getting too precious with the lines. If I mess up, I don't feel bad about turning the page and starting over.


Drawing these dancers was incredibly challenging. They moved fast and contorted their bodies in positions that weren't easy to comprehend much less capture on the page. When I added color later, I tried to keep my washes loose and minimal. I made notes on the page to help me remember the colors, as photography wasn't permitted.

The sketch at the top of this post is of a solo performer -- she used a flowing red piece of cloth as her foil in her graceful, emotional piece.

Another act seemed to involve the dancers' fraught relationship with clothing of various kinds. Still another celebrated the joy of childhood, with props including a large balloon and a tricycle.


Have you ever tried sketching a dance performance of any kind? What are your tips for capturing the fluidity of the bodies as they twist and leap around the stage?


One Each Day

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Still going strong with my Inktober sketches. Here's one from Martial Cottle Park, and then a series of late-night quick captures from my imagination (seeded by the official Inktober prompts).

tractor martial cottle park

Inktober - crooked

Inktober - screech

Inktober - gigantic

Inktober - run

Inktober - teeming

Inktober - shattered


More Inktober!

Friday, October 06, 2017

Santa Teresa Park trail inktober

I'm fortunate that I live in front of a large park here in California; I open the backyard gate and find myself faced with miles of trails -- a convenient subject for an Inktober sketch!


Yesterday's installment of Inktober was during dinner at Jang Su Jang, a Korean restaurant in Santa Clara.

Placemat sketch Jang Su Jang

The day before, it was a quick sketch from TV.

inktober tv sketch


Inktober: It's On!

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Heading east, Philadelphia, PA

If it's October, it must be Inktober! It's an annual worldwide activity in which artists draw in ink every day of the month and post their work.

I was visiting my parents in their new home in Voorhees, NJ, over the weekend, so I took advantage of a few hours in Philadelphia to draw the scene above -- from the passenger seat of the car.

Given all we were doing to help my parents settle in, I didn't have a lot of time to draw. Here's the usual last-minute sketch of M. sleeping, aka "Oh, no, it's 11 pm and I still haven't done my Inktober drawing!"

Michael sleeping Voorhees house

If you've seen my previous Inktober posts, you know that M. likes to throw random words at me as prompts. Don't ask.

Alien pizza inktober

How about you? Are you participating in this year's Inktober?