Live Encore: Fun Prompts to Develop Your Sketchbook Practice | Mike Lowery | Skillshare

Live Encore: Fun Prompts to Develop Your Sketchbook Practice

Mike Lowery, Illustrator and Author

Live Encore: Fun Prompts to Develop Your Sketchbook Practice

Mike Lowery, Illustrator and Author

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4 Lessons (31m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Inside Mike's Sketchbook

    • 3. Sketchbook Draw-Along

    • 4. Final Thoughts

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About This Class

Drawing in a sketchbook is a great way to express yourself, stay creative, and have fun!

Kickstart your own sketchbook practice with 30 minutes of inspiration, prompts, and humor from illustrator and author Mike Lowery. In this Skillshare Live session, recorded using Zoom and featuring participation from the Skillshare community, Mike gives students a peek inside his sketchbook, brimming with travel adventures, jokes, and little moments from his day. 

He then leads you through a draw-along, sharing his favorite tactics for tackling a blank page, translating sketchbook ideas into real-life projects, and developing a unique artistic style. 

No matter your skill level, Mike’s advice for keeping a sketchbook is simple: Start with 30 minutes of drawing each and every day. Up for the challenge? Head to the “Projects & Resources” tab for a prompt to get started. 


All you need to follow along is paper and something to write with. While we couldn't respond to every question during the session, we'd love to hear from you—please use the class Discussion board to share your questions and feedback. 

Meet Your Teacher

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Mike Lowery

Illustrator and Author

Top Teacher


Mike Lowery is an author, New York Times bestselling illustrator, public speaker, and an avid sketchbook-er.

He's been keeping one every day for more than TWENTY years, and he's on a mission to get you to keep one, too,

You can see his daily sketchbook posts on Instagram:  @mikelowerystudio

Mike is an author and artist living in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife Katrin (who is also a children's book illustrator) and his incredibly genius kids. Mike’s work has been seen on everything from greetings cards to dozens of children’s books to gallery walls worldwide. 

 He's currently writing and illustrating a series with Scholastic starting with "EVERYTHING AWESOME ABOUT DINOSAURS." &n... See full profile

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1. Introduction: My name is Mike Lowery. I am an author and illustrator. I just thought I would maybe talk for just a little bit about sketchbooks and keeping a sketchbook. But really honestly one of the Skillshare people asked me if I would want to talk with everybody, I said no. Then they said, please, and I was like, well, yeah, okay. For me, a sketch book is a place where I play around with new material. Sometimes it's fancier stuff like this we'll be on a trip or something like that. With some days it's just me keeping track of maybe what we eat. But it also might be just little jokes that I hear that I think are funny. Did you hear the joke about the piece of paper? Never mind, it's tearable. The reason I started keeping a sketch book in the first place, was just to kind of keep track of my day. I learned what my strengths are and my weaknesses. It helped me find my voice. It helped me find my style. It helped me realize not only the way that I like to draw things, but what I like to draw and the way that I like to tell a story. Here's what we're going to do. I am going to just show you what I think people sketch book and how I keep the sketchbook, and then we'll just go from there. I'll do some drawing. Let's just jump right into it. 2. Inside Mike's Sketchbook: Many of you know him. He's a New York Times bestselling illustrator. He's been drawing and keeping his sketchbook for over 20 years. He's popular on Skillshare original on sketchbook illustration. He has reached more than 6,500 students in counting, and we are super excited to chat with Mike today. Mike, I would love for you to give us a quick intro, who you are, what you do, and then take it from there with some fun drawing. Hey everybody. My name is Mike Lowery. I just thought I would maybe talk for just a little bit about sketchbooks and keeping a sketchbook. But really, honestly, one of the Skillshare people asked me if I would want to talk with everybody, I said no and then they said "Please," and I was like, "Wow, okay.". What I thought I could do now is I basically have a setup to where I can show you some things over here. So first off, let me just jump right into it. If you're not already working in a sketchbook over this time off, or you whatever you consider this time to be, then my hope would be that it would be something that you would start spending 30 minutes a day is the thing that I pitch when I talk about sketchbooks. I do a lot of travel drawing in my sketchbooks, so I'm going to show you some of my sketchbooks, you are asking these haunted house noises in my house. I use it as a place to keep track in my day. Sometimes it's fancier stuff like this where I'd be on a trip or something like that, but some days it's just me keeping track of maybe what we eat, something that we just had for lunch. But it also might be just little jokes that I hear that I think are funny. Can you guys see that? Here's a good one. Did you hear the joke about the piece of paper? Nevermind, it's terrible because you can tear it. But some days, I just start doing a little drawings in a sketchbook. This is something that I like to do a lot, because what this does is it forces me to just get started, maybe with 10, and then just see what happens. There is nothing connected in these drawings. It's just stuff that I like to draw. Here's a synthesizer, here's some soy sauce and some sushi. Those all start with s. Here's a unicorn and a bat. So anyway, I just starting to draw. I think that it might be something keeping track of something in your day. I think that some common stuff I've gotten before where people will say, "Yeah, but I don't have a big trip coming up." But then, one thing that I like to do is I like to think back on something that happened, maybe a trip that I took or some memorable moment in my life and I like to make notes about it and then try and tell a story in a sketchbook. That's something, again, these are just things that I try to do when I can't really think of what to draw. Here I normally wear earbuds on a flight. So here's me when I wear earbuds and here's how I wear earbuds on a flight when someone opens a bag of food. So I have the earbuds in my nose, whatever, it's fine. So anyway, but for me, a sketchbook is a place to where, it's like a brain dump. It's a place where I play around with new material. I might start a little drawing and see where it takes me. This was a joke that I had in mind before I started drawing. I just sat down and did it. Not everything always works out. I used the other side of the page to make some extra marks. At one point, I was drawing a pawsome. So I just wanted to test what it would look like. Some days I might make one big page about one of my favorite moments from the day. This was one time we went to the beach and we were looking for ghost crabs in the beach. Then there's these two little crabs over here. Anyway, so we might just be starting to draw something anyway. Here's another one where I didn't pencil this out. This is why I did that rough sketch earlier that I showed you, because I wanted to draw all this, and so I just did a real quick version of it off to this side so that I will get it right. Anyway, so that's the rough idea. I keep sketchbooks like this all the time and I try and work in mind. If I can't think of what to draw, sometimes I just draw about weird museums that I read about. So I work on a series of books, that's called Everything is Awesome. The first one is about dinosaurs, the second one is about sharks, the new one is about space. So I'm always reading about weird stuff about these topics. So while I'm looking at these things, I am saving all of these things that I read about that are really bizarre. In addition to that, something I really like to travel. Obviously, I can't right now. So I'm always saving in my brains places that I would like to go. So there's this one for Parma, Italy that we were supposed to go to last year and then we weren't able to go. I ended up having to take another trip. So anyway, that's the way that I think about using a sketchbook. I like to start these little busy pages and see what happens with it. There might be something that works and something that doesn't work. There's a museum in Japan for rocks that look like famous people. Do you have an approach where you can test things out on the left and then do a complete drawing on the right? So the left hand side is typically these little notes. You'll see here that these are not very extensive notes. I just wrote ET Elvis the crying emoji, because those were all things that were used on this thing over here. I pride myself on being good at spelling and I really like language. But when you start hand lettering at points, sometimes you get lost in it, and it's real easy to do typos. So I try and make little notes. Here's a drawing of my son up to this side. I try to do little notes off to the side about how it's actually spelled right, so that so that I can go straight to it. Anyway, so for me, a sketchbook is just this thing that it's not this thing about being overly concerned about generating something perfect. I think that that's really hard to remember when you keep seeing Instagram posts where everybody's posting only like the best thing that they've done. It makes you think that you have to compare yourself to these other people all the time. I'm just going to say if I can give some advice, I don't really know what my goal is with what I want to say. Necessarily, I'm just talking about the things that I like. But one thing that I would like to say is that if you ever feel really down about your art, or you're stressed about what your style is and you're not really sure what it is that you do, my biggest recommendation would be to just not look at social media for as long as you can possibly go without looking at it and just draw on a sketchbook. Just be in a sketchbook, think about what you like to draw. Don't compare yourself because here's the thing, even for someone like me, I make a living making art and still constantly I'll start working on a new book. The series that I'm doing for scholastic is it really is genuinely my dream come true in terms of what I want to be doing work-wise. It's a book, though non-fiction. It's full of jokes, I get to make the kind of jokes that I like to make, like, what did the volcano say to the dinosaur and it's I love you, or what's the dinosaur's least favorite it's reindeer and its comet. What if I just pause, what if I just hung up after that? Anyway, so it's the thing that I like to do and yet if I go on Instagram and I see some graphic artist or whatever has a new comic book out or like, James Gee did this new thing for this other book. I don't know, whatever. It's so easy to go like, "I don't ever get anything," like my work's no good or compare style and stuff like that. It's just not super healthy. Does that make sense? Everybody, are we all on the same page on that? Just take a little break from social media. So I have created for myself a bunch of games that I'll play in a sketchbook if I don't know what to draw. Here's an example. So if I can't think of what to draw, I'll just draw something from a moment in my life that I thought was really funny. I like drawing stories about me where I look real foolish, especially traveling abroad where I in the butt of the joke in the story. So here is an example of that just for you all. I'm going to see if I can zoom in just a little bit here. Here we go. Story time with me, Mike Lowery, through Skillshare. Promo code, Mike Lowery, 2020. Here we go. We rode the train from Hamelin to see the Christmas market at night. There's so much to love about German Christmas markets; bratwurst, gluhwein, which is hot wines, mulled wine, smultz-kuchen and currywurst, fried potatoes on a stick. I actually don't know what those are called, fries with mayo. But at night, they're exceptionally magical. The first one I saw, was years ago in the small town where my very new girlfriend, now wife, grew up. We were walking through the streets and we walked around the corner. I had never seen a YX mark before. I'd never been in to a little town in Germany like this before. We went around the corner and I heard this choir, a kids choir was singing when we got there and it started snowing. It felt like a fairy tale. So here's me and my wife and she says, "What do you think?". You can tell that I'm just in love. Now, all of a sudden it's a decade later and we have a son that's laughing and playing in front of the little wooden market houses. I noticed two older ladies watching him play. They had big smiles on their faces. I beamed. My kid was clearly making their day. Then one of them started walking towards me. She kept her eyes on Oscar. I liked that she wanted to complement my kid, but my German isn't great. So if she said something complicated, I wouldn't understand. She put her hand on my shoulder and leaned in very close to me. What she whispered in German, was not complicated. I understood it immediately. What she said was, "Your pants are unzipped.". That is amazing. This is a true story. She said, "Deine hose ist offen!" I recognized the words, but I didn't recognize the saying. So I said, "Yeah, [inaudible] " which just means, yeah, thank you. Then I realized that what she had said to me and I of course just started laughing, because like I said, I don't mind just being doublet foolish in front of other people. I was bright red. So I learned what my strengths are and my weaknesses in drawing. I learned all these things because I keep a sketchbook. All of these things come from a sketchbook. When I started doing freelance illustration, in early projects, magazines and stuff like that in the early 2000's. So I was born in 1998. I lied about it, I couldn't even say it without laughing. That's not true. I was not born in 1998. That was a joke. So I started doing freelance stuff in the very late '90s and early 2000's and right out of college and everything. I started doing everything vector because I thought they had to be these vector portraits that were drawn with a computer, real clean and everything. At one point, I had an art director that said to me that she loved the sketch and she didn't love the final, can we make the final look more like the sketch? So I went back and all of my work started looking like my sketchbooks after that. Does it make sense? 3. Sketchbook Draw-Along: So I could do a drawing now. I could keep answering questions. I could do a drawing while I answer questions? Yeah. Do you want to give a little prompt, one of your favorite drawing things, just to get over the hump of a blank page? Maybe I'll hit you with some questions, Lowery. Yeah, let's do that. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to see if this will move over here in a decent way. Let's draw some bugs camping. I'm going to try and it draw off to the side like this. You are also welcome to ask any questions while I'm doing this. I'm going to have to tilt this a little bit more this way. Somebody is asking, "How do you learn spacing to make that aesthetically pleasing spaced out when you are drawing a bunch of little ants? I hate to say that, I don't want to just keep saying keep a sketchbook. Practice and everything. But in terms of spacing, one little thing you notice right away, what I did, I started by putting an actual rectangle down on the page. I do this a lot because it gives me a border. Here's some matches that I got in India. I don't remember the person's name who is in India, but here's some matches that I got, tennis matches. I didn't even think of that, tennis matches. I just never thought of it. But one good trick is to start with a rectangle like I'm doing now. I think this comes back from my [inaudible] School for Graphic Design. I think that it forces you to think about the way your objects interact with the page, rather than just having all these free-floating stuff. I always think of my work is being used for something, maybe for a book or something like that. So it's nice to have the format of it. So let's think about it here. Then there would be bushes over here. So next question. Well, "What pen are you using? What sketchbook?" People want to know. They want to know. People want to know. This pen is a Tambo WS-BH150 calligraphy pen. Anyway, the bar code on it is 49z. I'm just kidding you guys. I like this pen pretty well. It holds up against water. I'm going to show you what media thing that I like to use over it. So there's a tent over here. "Do you ever draw in other styles?" You obviously have an amazing personal style. But do you ever go, "I'm going to go really out of my wheel house just to see what happens?" I think that since I'm classically trained in photorealism like this, it's hard for me to simplify. Do you know what I mean? Yeah. I had this professor once, his name was Rembrandt, and he said the funniest thing to me one time. I didn't understand it because I didn't speak the language, but he laughed a lot though when he was looking at my drawing. So does that answer the question? Yeah. Was he telling you your [inaudible]? How dare you? I told you that story in confidence. I wouldn't say I necessarily draw in a different style very often, but I draw with different materials a lot. I think for me, it really is the thing that I do all the time. So it's just the thing that I feel very comfortable in and very practiced in. But I'm drawing in a pen right now, a pen that I don't use that much. I draw digitally a lot when I want to try something a little different. If you're really trying to experiment and find your voice in a digital way, I think one big issue with that is there's no stopping. You can use any material. You can download all these packages for drawing. Different brushes and stuff like that. I think that that can be really tough. It's also pretty amazing. So my wife's German. I keep getting distracted and I want to make sure I get this part right, we would go to the town where her dad is from and her mom. One year, I was working on a project and I had to do it digitally because it was a pretty big project and everything. I ended up having to carry it. You guys know what a Cintiq? It's like a big monitor that you can draw on. I had to take a separate bag that had the Cintiq in it with my laptop, and all these cables, and everything like that. So the idea is that now, I can just travel with an iPad, and to be honest, I travel with my laptop a lot too if I have to work on a project, that's an awesome ability to be able to do that too. Anyway, the sketchbook that I'm using, because I know that that question has come up already or it's going to if it hasn't, it's a sketchbook from a company called Global Art Materials Incorporated out of Kansas City. But I think that they were bought out by either Dick Blick. I think Speedball bought them out. So here are some bugs camping. Here is a little sneaky bug. Then I'm going to draw, back here, a little mountain range. Just as a side note, before we get back to talking about sketchbook stuff, I've been only reading space facts and writing about space facts for the last few days, this is one is smiling, and I'm reading about all these moons. This universe is so big and it's just stressing me out how big this universe is. I had a good laugh today and if you guys don't mind, I'll fill you in on it. I was reading about all these different moons that have letters and number combinations for their moons and I read about a moon today. So they're all like k1l and all these different things, and I read about a moon today that its name is Miranda. I thought that was pretty good. That's very Sex and the City, in my mind. Hey, we get it over [inaudible] you live in New York. There we go. Am I missing anything here on this little bugs camping? Let's see. You-all see it okay? I feel like I need a few more bugs. Maybe a spider. Yeah. We're running out of space, so I'm going to make some weird bugs here. These little texture lines that you added on the trees, on the tents, on the mountains, where do those guys come from? They add such a fun little dimension. I would say that a lot of that stuff is just over the years of drawing, having little things that are light. I used to draw a lot of hatching on some of my drawings. Here's a really small drawing that I did the other day, where I had this other brush that was smaller and I started to add a lot more hatching, and line work, and texture, and stuff like that. Look who's peeking out. This is like a tiny world. This is going to be confusing right now, but I think you-all can handle it. Look who's peeking out over here. It's this bird. It's going to eat those. Here is the other crazy thing, today is this bird's birthday. So I think that over the years, I simplified some stuff, I made some stuff more complicated. I think that these are vestiges of back when I would render way more. Let's see. This one has little arms. I need another question, please. "Do you invent all your icons or is there a resource that you sometimes use to get inspiration for new ones?" What do you mean? Like the little icon guys that you draw for birds, or mountains, or trees, do those just hatch out of your imagination? No. One thing that I've mentioned before or that I mentioned earlier was picking something like camping equipment or something like that. Right now, I'm just trying to draw something fast to just keep you guys happy just for a minute. [inaudible] But I think that if I was doing something about like Seattle, like picking all these different things from Seattle, I would sit down and I would look at TripAdvisor, and Lonely Planet, stuff like that, and just try and see actually what some of these buildings look like and stuff like that. I want to say, that those things are so fun. You post something from a town, that you will say, "I was there for two days." People will say like, "What about this? You forgot all about this thing. Why didn't you draw this thing or whatever?" Because I didn't know. I was there for two days. Then one other thing I'm going to show you. I really like watercolor a lot for sketchbooks because it can be this very light thing that can go on quickly. You can travel with it. But I'm going to show you this other pen that I have. It's a brush and it has this well in it that you can fill up, and in this well, you can mix water and a color. Now, I have India ink mixed in mine and I can show you that it gives this nice gray value. You see that? I tried a new brush and apparently, it was not water safe, but I have one is. So then what I like to do is once I give this a minute to dry, I like to go through and add just a little bit of value. This is the part where I whisper while I'm doing it, because it's my favorite part. Add a little bit of value to my drawing. A little bit of shadow, texture here. So final question. "So what is your process of taking an idea like this one from your sketchbook to a finished project, like a print or something?" So if I'm working on a print and if I have an idea for a print, typically, what I'll do is I will do all of the line work in a sketchbook and then what I'll do is I'll scan it in before I take it any further. So before I start adding this gray value here or since I did a book last year that's full of just travels sketches. Now, whenever I do travel stuff, I scan it in before I start doing any of this stuff. Let's do a good example. Sorry, everybody. So here's an example. Here's one that I took to final recently. This is the market in old Delhi. This is the reason that I went to India. I really wanted to see this market and luckily, I end up seeing a lot of other great stuff. But I started here, I did this drawing. I started by just going straight to ink. I did not pencil it. But sometimes when something starts getting really busy, I start getting really nervous that I'm going to mess it up and then I will pencil in certain parts. I didn't with this one. So I will scan this stuff in or take high res pictures with my phone, I don't think I have a finished version of that, but it's on Instagram, and then I'll finish it digitally. Here's Love in the time of Corona. It's this book that I'm working on here. This is my quarantine sketchbook stuff or whatever. I will scan this stuff in and then I'll color it typically in Photoshop. But a lot of stuff, I've been just doing the whole thing in Procreate recently. 4. Final Thoughts: If you're watching you're not only wanting sketchbooks stuff but you're thinking like, you want to think more professionally about art. You're thinking about wanting to do art full-time or a freelancer or whatever. One thing that I really urge you to do is try and do a project for someone that you would love to work for or a type of project like looking at magazines for example is a good way. Pick an article that maybe you just like outdoor stuff like run-up outdoor stuff you love it. Maybe you think of doing a project and gearing it towards a very specific client rather than just I want to draw a unicorn today, I want to draw a space stuff today. Think about if NASA had a kid's magazine and they want me to draw an article about how you can't just land on one gas giants, which is what my kids call me. I think that when I would consider is thinking of an article like that you really like and then how you would draw it in your way. So even when I did my class about map making, all of the maps that are really coming out of it they look like in this very specific way that I showed you how to do it, but think about how you would do it. You really like drawing in pencil, you like drawing in pastel, or charcoal or whatever it is that you like to draw. How would you make a map that looks like you made it? How would you make an illustration for? I think while you do that you start figuring these things out. Because I've done illustration for kids, but I've been incredibly fortunate to get to do illustration for a magazine about viruses or whatever or magazines about computers and things like that. You see what I'm saying? Then, I figure out the way that I would approach that. I think that it really helped me figure out the way that I like to do stuff.