Over the last five years, virtually every face and figure I’ve rendered has been in the stylings of sketchnotes, graphic recordings, and iconography, as well as illustrated data and content visualization. Based mainly on pen and marker doodles, and crisp vector minimalism, I’ve been away from the more traditional aspects of artistically rendering faces and people. While my professional work has prospered, my ability to render a relatively consistent style of faces and people for personal drawings has been lacking. Lately, in a push to revisit my traditional illustration roots, I’ve undertaken drawing heads on a near-daily basis. Below are the first ten heads, where I’ve been taking degrees of experimentation with each rendering. Photo references have not been used for these, though I do take notice of elements such as the shapes of eyes and hairstyles in random pictures of people. I’ve dated and numbered each head in order to track and evaluate my progress.

OBX Brewery Sketchnotes

For me, visiting breweries is never complete without sketchnoting new beers. On a recent vacation to the Outer Banks beaches of North Carolina, I visit the Outer Banks Brewing Station, where I took sketchnotes on two new beers, including one the best beers I’ve ever had. While the Lemongrass Wheat Ale was a unique and enjoyable take on wheat beers, it was the Brewer’s Reserve Lucky 7 Sour Blend that completely rocked my beer-drinking world. As an aficionado of tart and sour ales, this one-off cask ale was creamy and silky-smooth, and vinous with a perfectly-balanced sweet and sour complexity that transitioned wonderfully from nose to palette to finish. It was the kind of beer that I could see being rated 100 by Beer Advocate, and in realizing that I was enjoying this extremely limited and obscure beer, I drank only one glass to fully embrace and remember the experience, allowing my sketchnotes record it for prosperity.

Spark & Go!

Building on my previous post, where I decided to grasp at the few random creative influences available to me as a work-from-home freelancer, I’ve coined a phrase for this approach: “Spark & Go!” What this means is that with limited exposure to real-world creative influences on a daily basis, any immediate inspiration, no matter how seemingly profound or insignificant, becomes fair game for creative exploration.

Working with this theme, I did this drawing of homeless person, whom I spotted amongst the crowds outside of baseball stadium. Amongst the dynamic hustle and bustle of the fans, she stood lost and statuesque; her muted and soiled clothing her weathered masonry, and her possessions her only shelter, a far cry from the homes that we fans would return to after the game. She caught my eye for just a moment, but her presence was enough to make an impression that, as an illustrator, I simply wanted to draw through my own personal interpretation. Her possessions were what sparked my thinking, the notion that those bags were the closest semblance she had to a home.

So what to do when in a creative rut? Well, you can wait for grand and elaborate inspirations to conveniently come your way, or simply hit on the first spark presented to you, and go with it. That’s what I did here, which allowed me an opportunity to fill up a sketchbook page, and to explore color, character, and a few new stylistic approaches.


The Math of Creativity

When I worked full time, I was proficiently creative in my personal sketchbooks. Daily interactions and observations with people and places provided an endless stream of material from me to work with. As a freelancer, however, it’s a different matter. While client projects continue to allow me many creative opportunities, working alone in a home studio has atrophied my own personal creative output.

Realizing this, I decided to do this drawing of a mummy wearing a Fez hat. Why? Because I had nothing else to work with, and grasping at straws, I decided to take the first two sparks that came to me. One was the mention of Fez hats in a book about Morocco; the other was a commercial for a movie about mummies. So I launched into a drawing that I never expected to take seriously (or even finish), and instead, came away with something that I not only like, but also provided opportunities to explore style, elements, color, and anatomy.

Creativity may seem like the marriage of a perfect two and two. In reality, it can also be the union of a random one and three. Either way, a four is still a four, and it’s better than the zero of a blank piece of paper.

“You Should…”

Artists create work on an endless spectrum of subjects, mediums, and usages, yet amongst artists, from hobbyists to professionals, a common bond is hearing the refrain of “You should…”: “you should explore other subject matters, you should use other mediums, you should use more color, you should go digital, you should…”

While usually well-intentioned, this can also be hindering. I’ve heard “you should…” many times, both helpful, and hindering, mostly relating to subject matter, and sometimes forcing me to fight uncomfortably to impart certain elements and details into my work. As a professional illustrator, I’m always working to increase the subject matter that I can create. In my own personal sketchbooks, however, I leave behind much of the “you should”, focusing instead on drawing whatever what I want, in pure, raw fashion.

Recently, I visited the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, NY, where I discovered the work of late-19th century folk artists Fritz G. Vogt and John Rasmussen. I was drawn to their singular focus on finely-detailed, wonderfully-colored architecture and structures. Had they been around today, they may have heard “You should draw more than just buildings”. Luckily, such is not the case, and their work restored my faith in simply wanting to draw buildings (evident in many of my sketchbooks and client projects). Artists indeed create an endless spectrum of work, and to define your place on that spectrum, sometimes you just need to know which “you should”s to disregard.

Quick Travel Sketches

Stepped away from the studio for a few days to visit Cooperstown, a quaint town in bucolic upstate New York, which also happens to be the birthplace of baseball. Though there were plenty of fun things to do (99% of which involved baseball), there was scant little time to sketch. I did, however, manage to take a few visual notes in the tasting room at the Ommegang Brewery, and grab a quick sketch of Otsego Lake at dusk.

Draw Monsters

I love to draw monsters. In times of creative blockage or atrophy, monsters are wonderful therapy. You can’t really draw them wrong, they can be as serious or whimsical as you want, and you can take unlimited creative license. It also a good opportunity to try new art supplies, or simply to fill up a sketchbook page.

Here are some monsters I began drawing in a sketchbook sent to me by the fine folks at Art Alternatives. The first three were off-the-cuff monsters, and the fourth was for a friend, whom requested a rabid caterpillar. (note: the first three were colored with highlighters, which scan terribly. The caterpillar was colored with Prismacolor Premier Design Markers, which scan beautifully.)

First Moleskine Drawing

Here’s my first Moleskine drawing. It’s actually just a sketchbook drawing, though since it’s the $15 sketchbook that I waited a long time to buy and use, I’ll title it as such. And yes; I stuck to my little buildings. Particularly, this drawing is an homage to my sketchbook hero, Mattias Adolfsson, because I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and Adolfsson’s work has definitely made the gears in my head spin a bit.

Still a Sketchbook Warrior

This blog was originally called “Sketchbook Warrior”. It’s still a blog about being a sketchbook warrior. Why has it changed, and how’s it still the same?

I began this blog after leaving a studio management position at a design firm. Part of my job was finding illustrators for various projects, which involved looking at numerous illustrator websites. I viewed some great illustration work, which prodded at me because I was an illustrator whom wasn’t illustrating.

A lot of the work I saw was in sketchbooks. Other people’s sketchbooks. My sketchbooks laid virtually dormant, random pages being battled through, months apart. I’d had enough; I wanted to get back to illustration, and decided to revitalize myself through sketchbooks.

I went to the art supply store to buy a Moleskine sketchbook, the kind I saw so many good artists using. Standing in front of the Moleskine display, however, I realized that my creative stagnation didn’t warrant a $15 sketchbook. I’d have to earn the right to use one, so I bought a cheap $4.00 sketchbook instead, telling myself that when it was finished, I’d buy a Moleskine.

After finishing the cheap sketchbook, I bought another. And then another. Eight cheap sketchbooks later, I finally bought a Moleskine. In that time, I’d become a sketchbook warrior. And a freelance illustration warrior, visualization warrior, infographic warrior, iconography warrior, sketchnote warrior, social media graphics warrior, presentation graphics warrior, and whiteboard animation warrior.

My creative and professional world is now larger than sketchbooks, but sketchbooks still play a vibrant and dynamic part on so many levels.

So I’m back, and I’ll be posting more as I go along (infrequently; not too much at first). And yes; I missed interacting with the great blogs and people I’ve come across here on WordPress.

It’s good to be back; now to fill up a sketchbook page…