Sketchbook Magic


I've spent a lot of time over the past year on improving my drawing skills. Although I got a lot more proficient, and even started drawing a regular comic strip, I feel I have (already!) lost much of the initial drive - just experimenting with different materials and see what happens. This class seems ideal to get the creative juices flowing again. Let's go!

Day 1 - Putting marks on paper

I randomly picked a wooden skewer from the things I collected. Since I usually do mostly pen and pencil drawings, I really felt doing something with paint today! My materials in that department are limited - I could only muster black and blue acrylics and some white gouache.

So, not quite knowing what I wanted to do, I dipped the stick into the paint and tried various ways of putting marks onto the paper - rolling, tapping, dragging it through the paint.

Soon, swirly blue things and what seemed to me like a water surface emerged, which I tried to define better for a while. I had so much fun with it, I nearly missed my date for the evening :)

Here's the result - nothing finished, really, but to me, the explorative process was quite fascinating. There are some parts of this little page I really like. Since the page is so loaded with paint, it also has a nice texture to it. If I go on like this, my poor sketchbook won't survive the class.


Day 2 - What to draw

First of all, I wanted a better method for randomly picking a drawing tool. For now, I tried this: A photo of my chosen collection, arranged in a circle. I display the photo on my iPad, and put a finger on it with my eyes closed.


Pick of the day: A water-soluble pencil.

Now, what to draw? From the bowl with keywords, I randomly picked "patterns". Now, that was a hard one for me, because I never was into drawing patterns, ornaments, zentangles, what-have-you. Anyway, I started doodling away without much hope of producing anything useful. Soon, the thing turned into a kind of meditation about organic vs. geometric patterns, round vs. straight, lines vs. shapes and dots. Once I had realized what I was doing, I attempted to define and blend the boundaries between the regions. I've used a water brush to blend the pencil strokes a bit.


To my own surprise, some of the ideas and elements actually appeal to me :)

Day 3 - a three-minute sketch

I had three minutes for the "things in my junk drawer" with colored pencils. The result looked thoroughly unspectacular, so I cheated a bit and spent another minute adding a few lines with a ball pen, and when preparing the photo for upload, I beefed up the contrast to create some visual interest.


Day 4 - at the dining table

That's where the fortune teller told me to do my art for today. It felt like cheating, because I often sit there doodling anyway. Whatever, I picked "words that inspire me" from the magic bowl. Truth be told, I felt completely uninspired and spent quite some time skimming my bookshelf. Eventually, while flipping through my old copy of Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, I rediscovered one of my favorite paragraphs and put it on paper. It turned out to be fun, and I DID feel inspired afterwards. I just love the spirit conveyed in this passage.


This was done with sepia ink, a nib, and colored pencils.

Day 5 - To Infinity And Beyond!

My project is going to last for another 30 days! Since I am planning to go on sketching forever, I am happy with that :)

For today's sketch, I had already decided to use my pastels, just because I felt like doing something bright, colorful, and rough. Also, there wasn't much time, so I settled for some 10 minutes. From the magic bowl, I picked - monsters! Yeah! So I let out the six-year-old in me and blocked out some colorful chalky monsters. Didn't feel like "making art", just having fun!


Day 6

Today's random picks: Colored pencils and "birds". So I did this drawing of a bird sitting in the grass, from a reference photo. the German name is "Morgenammer", which should translate to "Andean sparrow". Getting the colors right was a challenge with my 12 cheap pencils. But I am happy with the result, and it was nice to do a careful study.


Day 7

The magic bowl prompted my to do "food". Found a red pepper in the kitchen and set out to do a watercolor sketch. I love watercolors, but am always a bit shy of using them because they are so hard to control. Lack of practice of course doesn't increase my abilities :) I found the result somewhat lacking, but adding definition with ink really helped.


Day 8

Felt like a random tool pick today: my monochrome hard pastels. Random topic: Elephants. This is a sketch of a plush toy - it's actually blue, and quite a popular TV character here in Germany.


Day 9

Today, no magic was necessary - bright sunny Sunday afternoon, an invitation to do some sketches in the park. These are my favorite drawings today (fineliner): tree trunks (couldn't decide which one is better, so here are both of them). I believe they are called hornbeam or ironwood (Hainbuche in German).



Day 10

No magic today, either - I just wanted to stick with the idea of doing something I am not used to, and chose a quick indoor architecture study with watercolors. Normally, I would be very meticulous about getting perspective and straight edges right, and work in a very linear fashion. Today, I put down only a few quick pencil strokes for fixing the composition, and went ahead with my water brush.

It's not too bad as an impression. The colors could be better, and I prefer to have more definition. But I discovered I really love to work with the water brush! It becomes a lot easier to adjust the amount of water than with a regular brush and a separate water container. And you need fewer hands for holding everything :)


Day 11

Resorted to the magic bowl and random tool pick today - "Every Objects" and my trusty pitt oil base pencil. I eventually picked this glass and did a little study of reflections and refractions. This is something I usually find boring, and thus avoid, but it is good to practice it once in a while.


Day 12

I felt like ink today. The magic bowl suggested 'People". Searching for an idea, I browsed my collection of reference photographs, and found this newspaper ad page with dozens of students posing. I liked the idea of showing variety in a crowd, so I went ahead and tried to put as many of them onto one page of my tiny sketchbook as possible. Afterwards, I colored everything using water color pencils.


Day 13

Random subject: "Imaginary Creatures". Now this is a favorite of mine! And I knew immediately I wanted to draw an Ouroboros. It's one of those instances where an idea is in the back of your mind for quite a while, waiting for a chance to get out. And for some reason you never get around to it. Until now :)


I started this with a light pencil sketch, and went over it with a fineliner. This was a lot of fun!

Day 14

I picked "song lyrics" today. One of my favorite songs is "Rock Paper Scissors" from Norwegian band Katzenjammer, so I sat down and did a little watercolor sketch including a few elements appearing in the lyrics: sun, moon, stars, bass, drums, and lead guitar (which I totally messed up).


Day 15

Picked "geometric shapes" from the bowl. Not really my preference - all the arrangements I tend to think of seem boring and meaningless. To make it more interesting, I picked a wine cork as my painting tool, and some diluted indian ink. I wasted a few pages of my sketchbook experimenting with different patterns of wine cork marks. I liked how the marks changed when the wine cork went from wet to dry, and also decided I should not blend the circular marks into each other too much - after all, the challenge was about geometric shapes. The resulting pattern needed more structure, so I tried to roll the edge of the cork over the page to create line structures. This looked rather organic, more like berries or something... but not too bad. I added a few accents in black ink. Done.


Day 16

Seems I am really getting into the habit - it's late, I need to go to bed. But still, grabbed a subject from the bowl: "flight". Soon, "flying fish" popped up in my mind, and this is what came out of it:


Ink pen and watercolor pencils, blended with a water brush.

Day 17

Summer went from cold and wet back to hot and sunny today. I felt like going for a walk and do some sketches sitting somewhere in the shade. Found a bench somewhere and started scribbling my surroundings with a ball pen, but ultimately focused on the small dry leaves around my feet. Back home, I applied watercolors, and turned this into a masking fluid application exercise :)

Day 18

Picked a random topic today - "gratitude". Now that one I almost gave up on. After turning it over and over in my mind, I came to the conclusion that such a vast big word had to be scaled down a lot to avoid producing sentimental kitsch. In the end, I settled for a little cartoon that serves the purpose well enough, I believe. Once I had the idea, it was a quick fun thing to do, as it ought to be.


Day 19

Random subject from the bowl: "fruit". But I didn't have any at hand, and also felt more like doing a creature. "Fruit bat"? Much better! I didn't have too much time, so I just did this fineliner study, with a reference photo. Not so very creative, but it's useful for learning about the details of an animal, and also for experimenting with how to translate shape, color and texture into strokes.


Day 20

Today, I felt like doing something sci-fi. In an older sketchbook, I found an idea for a cyborg eye, and decided to iterate on that. Drawing eyes is so hard! I spent a lot of time with this, and it still feels not quite right. But it's better than my original sketch, so, as an iteration, it is ok.

I used a pencil for a loose sketch, a fineliner for outlines, watercolor pencils and my trusty waterbrush for shading. I also learned that sketchbook paper can only take so much water - nearly destroyed the page :)


Day 21

A quick fun sketch today - randomly picked "characters" from the bowl, somewhat ambiguously.... so I attempted to do character characters. Got from A to P, then the page was full.


Day 22

Picked a random subject from the bowl as usual - "wild animals". Fortunately, I was able to witness something really rare at the zoo today: The hatching of a baby elephant from its egg! This is a quick impression of what it looked like (colored pencils):


Day 23

Even though I pick a random subject almost every day, I then typically choose an "obvious" tool I feel comfortable with for the given task. Which is okay, but doesn't lead to more experimentation. So I randomly picked subject AND tool again: "Portraits" and waterbrush. Hm. So I filled my brush with diluted ink and attempted to do a few quick portraits. It's an interesting technique, you work from light to dark by going over and over again. The result is still very low contrast, but interesting. Here are two examples:



Day 24

Random subject picked from the bowl: "Places where I want to be". I love camping, so I came up with this little tent site scene. Also, I am currently looking into inking techniques, so this presented an opportunity to try inking with lots of blacks. Of course I had read about many possible mistakes and how to avoid them - I think I made all of them here :) But it's a start, and, as usual with my sketches in this class, a few details came out to my liking. Remember those and keep practising!


Day 25

Today, I felt like drawing animals. One of my cats had just fallen asleep on my backpack, so I jumped to the chance. They are an extremely furry breed, and I always find it really challenging to depict all this fur and describe the shape accurately - even just looking at the cat in this position, you can hardly make out where all the legs are! And, of course, they never lie still for the whole session.

I decided to do this with pencils, which I rarely use except for scribbling ideas. The grey graphite look never really appealed to me, but the advantage of varying softness was great for shading the fur. I used B2 to B8 for this one.


Day 26

For some reason, I haven't yet used charcoal in this project! So I picked that as my material of the day. The random subject from the bowl was "everyday objects". Now I wanted to have a not-so-ordinary constellation of things, so in the end I hammered my teacup (it was empty, don't worry) to the table with a fork, and sketched that. All these objects have hard and shiny surfaces and precise edges, which is just the opposite of the coarse and grainy charcoal texture. On the other hand, the contrasty appearance of metal goes well with the charcoal blackness..


Day 27

I watched an animal documentation DVD today, and there was this scene with a Fennec hunting a snake, which I really wanted to draw. To add a bit of a challenge, I chose a composition that didn't correspond to any frame of the footage, so I had to watch this scene scrubbing back and forth over and over again to figure out the shapes and textures. This was done using a fineliner and colored pencils.


Day 28 and 29

It had to happen - I failed to do my daily sketch. Well, I did draw something else, so at least no "day without art" :) To catch up, I did two sketches in one day.

First: "favorite things". I was really tired this morning, so the absolute favorite was COFFEE!


This was one of these instances where the things you draw get more and more interesting while you're observing them, because you start to see all those details and different shades. In this case, the coffee beans cast these nice shadows - mostly blue, but a little  grey / brownish on the left. Fineliner and watercolor pencils.

One more sketch, late at night, let's just do something quick. Picked "booktitles" from the bowl. Skimming my bookshelf, I found "The Black Swan", so I sketched a black swan and decided to add a little color to the water, too. Inkpen and watercolor pencil.


Day 30

Browsing a Star Trek picture book on a lazy Sunday afternoon... time for another sci-fi sketch! Started with a light pencil sketch, put in fineliner outlines, used masking fluid for stars and the tiny spaceships milling around, colored everything with watercolors (as always, using only my trusty waterbrush). One day, I will use proper paper, too. For this project, I want all the sketches to be in the same sketchbook, though.


Day 31

Didn't feel like doing any random picks today, either - I watched a wildlife documentation yesterday and got quite fascinated with the hyenas. So here's my hyena portrait, in fineliner:


This is a Brown Hyena - I have no clue, whether they would actually laugh like this, but I like the expression :)

Day 32

As I get closer to the end of this project, I feel (again) my sketches should be a little more experimental.I've found myself getting comfortable with random subjects and different materials, but stylistically, my drawings are not tremendously diverse. So, for today's random pick "flowers" I tried something remotely inspired by pixel art: I used a ruler to randomly partition the page into tiny irregular polygons. Sketched a few simple flowers into it. Filled all the little areas, hatching them with a fineliner. Very laborious, but I like the result - completely different in style from what I usually draw.


Day 33

Today, I kind of went back to the beginning of the class project. Random pick: "my junk drawer". I found a nice ball of yarn, and picked a plastic ice cream spool as my tool. Here's the sketch, painted in black acrylic (with a touch of white gouache):


Day 34

My random pick today: Furniture. Which spells FURniture for any cat owner! Here's an accurate depiction of one of my chairs:


Done with watercolor pencils and indian ink.

This concludes my Sketchbook Magic project! It's been great fun, and the realization that I can come up with something for just about any subject on a daily basis is very encouraging. I will try to keep up the habit of sketching daily, and the "magic bowl" of prompts has definitely earned its place on my desk.

Finally, after a little hesitation, I very much enjoyed sharing my sketches on Instagram. Can only recommend that.


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