Illustration & Inspiration: Keeping a Sketchbook | Leah Goren | Skillshare

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Illustration & Inspiration: Keeping a Sketchbook

teacher avatar Leah Goren, Illustrator

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Leah's Sketchbook Practice


    • 3.

      Exercise 1: Drawing Patterns


    • 4.

      Exercise 2: Drawing from Life


    • 5.

      Exercise 3: Drawing Your Space


    • 6.

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About This Class

Let popular illustrator Leah Goren inspire you to start and keep a sketchbook that helps you stay creative and record beauty in your world.

Leah’s sketchbook practice stands out for its beauty, cohesion, and accessibility — all while remaining experimental and pushing her illustration process. This 30-minute class shares her approach and 3 of her go-to prompts for overcoming creative block:

  • drawing a pattern based on an object
  • drawing from life
  • drawing the space around you

All levels of illustrators are welcome! Bring any materials you love to work with (pens, watercolors, gouache) and any kind of paper. This class is all is about getting your creativity on the page. By the end, you’ll have the beginnings of a sketchbook that feels polished and personal.


What You'll Learn

  • Introduction. In this lesson, Leah Goren will take you through several drawing exercises as you fill up your own personal sketchbook. You won’t just learn how to draw in this class; you’ll also get a handle on preparing for client projects, creating patterns out of everyday objects, and even laying down a complete composition.
  • Leah’s sketchbook practice. Leah will take you on a tour of her sketchbook, where you’ll observe how her sketching techniques have come together to create prints and products she now sells in her shop. You’ll learn how Leah approaches sketching and how clients have found her through social channels like Instagram to commission her work for their stores. From her first sketchbook at Parsons School of Design to her current landscape sketch work, you’ll see how Leah’s style has evolved over time but remained unique enough to adhere to her personal brand. You’ll explore a variety of media, from colored pencil drawing to watercolor. Finally, Leah will show you what materials you need for painting on the go and explain how a sketchbook can act like your visual diary.
  • Exercise 1: Drawing patterns. In the first of Leah’s sketching tutorials, you’ll learn how to use a photographic visual reference (in this case, an old book of cat photos) to create a pattern. You’ll learn how to approach a blank page, apply color repetition to patterns, and fill your space efficiently.
  • Exercise 2: Drawing from life. You’ll watch Leah draw a flower-filled vase from life. You’ll start by making a decision about the colors you’re going to use in your work, and from there, you’ll choose how to interpret the real-life object in a variety of ways. You’ll learn how to fill up space on a blank page by improvising and departing from the real life object just enough to adapt it to an appealing 2-D image. You’ll also learn to see one image from multiple perspectives and how to turn a physical object into a design fit for a pattern. You can always use your sketchbook drawing as a reference image for later, more professional works!
  • Exercise 3: Drawing your space. You’ll observe how to draw a portion of a room, learning to use perspective, contrasting colors, and moving from object outlines to fine, identifying details. You’ll learn to start with objects in the foreground and fill in the background after, and you’ll figure out how to capture moving elements in an otherwise still scene. Additionally, you’ll see how Leah adds fictional elements and seemingly insignificant details to her space to bring increased dimension to her design.

Meet Your Teacher

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Leah Goren



Leah Goren is an illustrator and surface pattern designer living in Southern California. She graduated from Parsons School of Design in 2012 with a BFA in Illustration. Her work spans from surface pattern and product design for clients like Anthropologie and Loeffler Randall, to book covers for publishers including Penguin Random House and Macmillan, to live drawing at events for Kate Spade and Nike.

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Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Hi, I'm Leah Goren, I'm an illustrator and surface pattern designer and work here in my apartment in Brooklyn. I graduated from Parsons in 2012 with a BFA in illustration. While I was in school, I opened an Etsy shop, and because I was still in school and I didn't have any clients yet, I still really wanted to make things. So, I just started making everything on my own. I started printing fabric, and sowing little bags and simple shirts, and just making anything that I could really figure out how to make inexpensively by myself. So, today we're going to be talking about sketchbooks, which I use for so much of my work. If I'm not drawing for commercial work, I'm probably drawing in my free time, and exploring new ideas and colors, and really looking into things that I might want to incorporate into new projects. We're going to do a few different exercises in my sketchbook and you can follow me through how I think about the prompts. One thing we're gonna do is make a pattern based on something that we're looking at, also do a few quick sketches, and then maybe end with a fuller scene or a more complete composition. I'm not really sure what's going to happen because as I do this that's kind f the point, but I'll talk through all my decisions and let you know how I interpret what I'm looking at and how that translates onto the page. 2. Leah's Sketchbook Practice: So, this is one of my most recent sketchbooks and these are a lot of drawings that I usually do at ladies drawing night actually. The way I will approach a night is kind of think like, what should I draw tonight? What is something that I haven't really done before? So, with these next couple of pages, I decided well, I like drawing girls a lot but how can I make that a little bit more interesting? I don't want to just draw girls standing side-by-side anymore like what action can be taken here? So, I ended up drawing all these girls skateboarding and I did a couple of pages of them and then from there, I zeroed in on this one drawing that I really like and I ended up making this an enamel paint out of it that I now sell in my shop. A lot of things in here actually some of the pieces that I end up liking the most, I've made them into prints or other products for my shop. So, this became this print just like scanned and cleaned up a lot and then also made this into an art print. So, even though these aren't really useful products, it's still a way to make it into something that somebody can buy. There are times when drawings I do in my sketchbook end up becoming pieces that clients use, but for the most part I'm doing these drawings just on my own before somebody reaches out and expresses interest in them. So, like these drawings, for instance, I did all these circus drawings and I really did them just for fun. There's like pages of them. I don't know why I did this. It was just like, I remember just being in the studio and being done with work and getting really interested in maybe like vintage photos from the circus. So, I did all these drawings and then Bando came to me and they wanted to use, I think they like maybe saw it on Instagram and they're like "This is great, can we use these for an open-air in our planner?" So, then I took the drawings and I put them into a layout and this just came out this year actually. So, now there's this September open-air with some of the circus drawings on them and the same thing happened with this. I just like these swimmers and they're kind of sporadic, it doesn't even really look like much on here without a background color and I think it's here. So, then this ended up becoming the June opener of these people in a pool. But in all of these cases it's always drawings that I did on my own beforehand and then people see them but I think that's like a way to get work. If no one is coming to you, make the work that you want to make and then maybe people will pick up on it. This ended up becoming this, even though it looks much different here, here it's like all these bright colors but I scanned it and made it into pattern and I changed the colors and then this is some like beach line in Australia that I wanted to put it on this towel and now there's the towel. Towards the beginning when I was in school I was doing a lot of sketchbook as a way to figure out what my style was and experiment with different materials and a lot of the things I did were really all over the place. So, this is my first sketchbook that I did while I was at Parsons and its not my first sketchbook ever but I feel like it's the first one in this a series of me and my work in illustration, studying illustration and is just very different. I guess you can see how my work has evolved and that I've always been drawing with a brush and making these loose lines and colors and shapes but there's just a lot in here that's weird and crazy and there's paper cut outs and I'm like oh this is just like student work but at the same time I like doing all this, it helps me figure out where I am now in a way like you can still see like oh like this little bit of pattern maybe that's similar to something I would do still. So, this is funny because even though this is super old, I feel like this is really pretty and this ended up becoming one of the first really big project I did out of school was a 10 piece collection for anthropology. So, this tiny thing in my sketchbook that I actually did in a class that was called Sketch Book Warehouse. I remember doing this in class and it ended up being on this dress. So that's pretty cool, I still like this. So, this is another one of my sketchbooks those from school and still a lot of exploratory work that doesn't necessarily look like my work does now but these cat drags are pretty interesting to me because one of the things that I really got known for on the Internet was drawing cats. Which is funny because I never even had a cat before at the time, it just like was an interesting subject to draw for whatever reason and like a thing will happen where people will latch on to one part of your work and they'll really like it. So then I'm like okay well, I guess everybody really likes this so I should just keep doing it until I'm exhausted. But since this is in my sketchbook, I imagine that this was probably one of the first drawings of these cat slides and there's some other ones that are in here later on but I do think this page is rather pretty and then these ended up. What I took screen printing at school, there was a tote that predates this one but this ended up being like this kind of final image of these gridded cats and this is like actually pretty much the same as this, it looks like I redrew it but I still sell this, I still make it and it's so old. That's cool, off from the sketchbook. This pattern right here looks like I might have redid it but this is an early commission or an early job I did for a client. This set of cards and both patterns for this were things that had already existed, so this publisher contacted me and was like I really like these two patterns, let's do a card set. So then, it's just like blank greeting cards. I've actually used this a lot over the years because I have a lot of sets of them and I don't know where this one is but this was probably another kind of sketchbook thing. This page I made into a scarf and scanned it really really big so that even though this is nine inches I think, scanning it at whatever resolution that's now this huge thing. So, I don't even make this kind of stuff anymore but I did at point. This is my actual most recent sketchbook and I don't know, I decided to mix it up, I bought this because it was larger and I thought maybe I would work bigger and do something different with it and I actually ended up approaching this much differently than I have past sketchbooks. So, one of the things I started doing at ladies drawing night was painting these fuller scenes of the rooms and before I started doing this I just didn't really know that it was something that I was capable of or that it would end up looking good. I had to just try it out and then I ended up being really into these scenes. So, I started doing them more and more. That's Julia in her apartment. Even Max in his studio. Julia and Rachel and another, we got Julie and Rachel at drawing nights. There's some that I really love of my grandma's apartment. That's my mom's yard. My grandma's apartment that has so much crazy stuff in there. I love this. So, I like doing these so much that I think I wanted to do it more or see where I could go with it and this sketchbook, I ended up treating it more preciously which I've never done before, I always just paint on the backs of everything and everything gets messed up and I don't really care but I decided I would keep all these separately and not paint on the backs of anything just in case I wanted to take them out and do anything with them but your going to see there's like some mess ups, I started this and I was like no I'm going to start it over again. Same with this one. I started and then I did again. So, this is a diary of my summer a little better at least like I went to California a couple times and I decided to do these drawings. So, this is my best friend Taylor at Grandview beach and then oh there's like a whole blank piece of paper. This is Sculpture Garden by Niki de Saint Phalle. That's a quicker one of my friend's kid pool. So, yeah these are a little bit different from before but still you can see this is unfinished, it's messy, that's fine, I still like it. A lot of people ask me what I use when I am drawing in my sketchbook on the go and the truth is it's really not too much different from what I use at my desk but it's just I try to make things lighter a little more simplified. Usually, I'll use a kind of larger heavy ceramic palette but instead I just use this little plastic guy which is really just as good and I try to get all my paint and stuff to fit in this little Ziploc bag and I'll probably take out half of these, I'll just take the few colors that I want to take with me because if I don't have a full range that's fine, I'm just doing casual drawing and then this goes right in there, my paintbrush goes right in there, paper towel goes right in there and then just like this and my sketchbook and I'm good. Then as far as paint water goes, sometimes I'll bring like this little plastic dish with me. Ideally, if I am working on a desk, I'll have a large jar of water but just select pour a little bit out of the water bottle into this, if I'm at the beach or whatever is totally fine or all like have had a nice coffee or something and I'll have an extra pasta cup and then I'll fill that up from my water bottle and I can throw it away as soon as I'm done. So, it's all just for convenience. 3. Exercise 1: Drawing Patterns: So, for this first exercise, I'm going to be making a page of drawings in my sketchbook using photos, which is what I usually do for reference. Well, I guess it depends. Sometimes I'm drawing from life, sometimes I, as I said earlier, I like to think, "What's something that I've never drawn before? I want to try to do that and see what happens because that's a good way to find a new subject that you're interested in." It's a new way to be surprised by how your drawings end up. So, I think what I'm going to do today to show is a page of cats, which I have done so many times before, so I don't know if that really counts. But I have this fun vintage book that's called 'Cats, Cats, Cats, Cats, Cats.' So, there's probably going to be some interesting images in here that I might be inspired by, and I can see how that translates into my sketchbook. Even though this isn't the pattern exercise, I kind of have a feeling that it's going to end up looking a little bit patterny because, as I arrange things on the page, I'm going to be seeing where they fit in, where they fit together, and it might just end up being a whole cluster of objects. Starting in the top left corner, I don't know if that's the best idea, but it looks like that's what I'm doing. I think there isn't really any rules to this. I think you should just start anywhere, really, and then as you go, you'll figure out where to fit the next object around it. You could just draw those exact image with those cats coming out of the wicker house, and that could break up the page and add some interest. I guess one thing to think about might be color, and how you are going to tie the page together with color, and I didn't really think about it at all because I feel like I'm just trying to do some really fast drawings. But I just put two colors on my palette, so that's going to force me to have a limited palette, and everything I do now, unless I decide otherwise, is either going to be red or yellow, and I think then as a default, it's all going to look unified. I'm just kind of fitting these things together as I go. Maybe I want to play with scale, maybe I want to do something that's really big or really small. This might actually be a better example of a pattern than what we're going to do for the floral. I mean, the floral could end up being a pattern, but it also could just fall into the category of drawing from observation because here what I'm doing is really thinking about how everything is going to fit together and filling all the space because even though I'm looking at this cat here whose tail is in front of it, I have this little gap here. So maybe I want to make the tail go that way, unless that's weird. Let's just try it anyways. So if it's weird, that's okay. Maybe it won't look natural. Sometimes when I make things up from my head, they look wrong. Okay let's see. What could I even fit down here? Maybe nothing, and that's okay. If I wanted to, I could scan this and edit the space so that it worked a little bit better. So now, I want a darker color to paint detail on top, so we'll do a dark purple because that could be nice. I think this is done because I ended up filling up the space as best I could. It's not perfect, there's some little gaps at the bottom, but I think it was a good exploration of the subject matter. If I wanted to make this into something, I could scan it and I could rearrange the elements a little bit to make it fit a space in a more balanced way. This could become an art print or something, this could become a repeat pattern, but in terms of just keeping it in the sketchbook, I think it works really well as a page, even if it's not perfect. 4. Exercise 2: Drawing from Life: So, for this next exercise, we're going to draw from life from these flowers here and we were originally going to do a pattern which we can do, but I think it could be interesting to show how looking at this one object, it can be interpreted so many different ways. You could draw the whole vase, you could hone in on one individual flower, you could draw them with stems loose, just as you see them or you could just draw clusters of flowers and a pattern on their own. So, I think I'm going to try, I'm going to see if I can fit a few different things all on one page and see how that looks or might end up going onto two pages, but I'm just going to mix some colors and see what happens. Another thing I like to do is make stuff up, if it feels like it isn't filling the space up properly because when I look at the flowers, it's like these are very full and lush and I look at my drawing and I'm like, okay this is a little sparser than how it looks and I want to fill this out, but I'm not going to do it exactly how it looks in real life. So, I think, I like this leaf right here and even though there's one of them, I'm just going to draw it a few times in order to add some more color back here and there's nothing wrong with that because nobody will know. The same with the vase like, I do this really fast just like everything else. I didn't draw these stems long enough to actually fit that whole jar on there, so I'm just going to make it up and make it a little bit shorter and no one's going to know or care. Again, I have this awkward space at the end of the page, but maybe that's version one this. Then, I'm just going to keep going and it's not going to look like a pattern, but let's fill up the page with something else from what we're looking at. I think I did this first one so fast that I want to slow down a little bit now and maybe just focus on those purple flowers and stick them right here. So, I think this is a little bit similar to what we're doing with the cat pattern because even though I'm not exactly making a pattern, I'm just really looking for what space is left on the page and what I can put there even if it doesn't exist there in real life and this is all a mess, but that's okay. So, I think now that I tried that a couple of ways, I'm going to use the rest of the spread to just maybe focus on the individual flowers. I think I'm going to spin this too because I can get a different perspective on some of these things that I've been drawing and they draw them in a different way. So, this is a mess still, but it's a different interpretation of what those flowers look like. I might add a little bit more even. So, now I just have a little corner of something that could be scanned, could become a pattern or maybe it's just a study for something where I decide, oh I like these colors, I want to do this later and do it a little bit neater, or I like the shapes that I made but I want to change something, I don't know, but a lot of flowers. So, what we ended up with is a few different interpretations of the same vase of flowers and I would say they're all quick studies, nothing's really final here. But I might go back and look at these later and decide I want to redo something neater or that I really loved the colors that I used and I want to use those again for something else. Or maybe I want to take this pattern and scan it in and arrange it a little bit better and then turn it into something. Overall, it's a little bit messy and the spacing isn't perfect, but for a sketchbook, this is a pretty good spread. 5. Exercise 3: Drawing Your Space: So, for this last exercise, I'm going to be drawing part of a room. These are drawings that I've been really enjoying doing recently because wherever I travel, I just like to record the setting in my sketch book. So, I'm going to draw the corner of my living room just the end of the couch with a couple of pillows. Maybe get my cat in there if she stays still. I feel like this is the best I can do right now. It's not perfect but it's fine. Think like the busy areas are good, this blank wall is a little bit boring for me. I mean what I could even do is add in that beige electrical outlet and that might even give it a little bit more interest and I just ignored that before because it was ugly but this isn't quite the right color but that's okay. Maybe it would be more interesting to like have that on the wall right there. I think to make this better, I would want to extend it onto another page so that this wall could end and then you could see everything else that was busy, that was happening past it but I think for a quick drawing, it's fine. So, thanks for hanging out today, we came up with three different sketchbook pages. We did the pattern of cats, we did the flowers in different ways and we did the room and I hope this inspires you to draw in your sketch book and see what you can come up with. 6. More Creative Classes on Skillshare: