To Sketch Or Not?

Let’s talk about sketchbooks.

When I was studying art formally, sketch books were a big deal. Instructors had us keep sketch books of various sizes….16×24 for figure drawing, 11×14 or smaller for random sketches, Bristol books for ink work, watercolor paper for, you know, watercolor…and they would often grade students on the sketch books we kept.

These days I still see sketch books as valuable. I often use a sketchbook to work out ideas for paintings, and just as often to sketch randomly. If I feel ‘dry’ or uninspired to paint, or I’m not sure what to paint next, sketching is a good way to jog my creative mojo a bit.

There are MANY good blogs and Youtube videos on sketch books, and I wondered if, in light of those, I should even bother posting something about my sketch books. But what the hey, I say. I may as well do a post about the ways in which I personally use my sketchbooks. So here we are…

sketch 17

Above: I always prefer sketchbooks that can take mixed media, so that I can sketch, use pen-and-ink, use watercolor, etc. That helps me work out ideas for poses and forms, and also ideas about colors.

Finished or rough? Do i treat my sketchbook as a book of art works, or as a place to work out rough ideas? Both. Sometimes I’ll work a sketch until it looks ‘finished.’ Other times I just sketch to get a rough idea of a pose or to work out the details of a particular feature, such as a face. There are times my sketches look cartoon-ish. That’s fine too.

Here are some ‘finished’ sketches, meaning I treated them as a work of art, and got to a point where they looked like an actual art piece:


sketch 16

Pencil, ink and conte crayon, above: pen-and-ink with watercolor below.

sketch 18

In contrast, here are some ‘rough’ sketches:

sketch 15

Above: working out poses. Below: cartoon stuff, done while my GF was arguing with a little Raspberry Pi computer.

sketch 7

As I mentioned, I will often sketch to work up ideas for a painting. Taking a piece from sketchbook to canvas is a struggle for me. Things might look ‘just right’ in a sketch, and not as right in the finished painting. Or visa versa.

Here are some pose ideas I sketched while working up a set of paintings depicting the Muses of Greek mythology:

sketch 12

And here is one of the three finished pieces. As you can see, in this case, the sketch was a work in progress, and the painting took on a very different set of poses:

muses 2

More often the sketches look like the final result. Here are some sketches for a painting I did of model Aimee Fitzgerald (

sketch 13

And the finished painting:

aimee 2

Sketches for paintings of musicians:

sketch 11

And the resulting paintings:

electric guitar 2


In each of these two, I feel like the sketch was maybe better than the finished paintings.

At one point I became a little obsessed with an Internet model named Koika, and began doing a lot of sketches of her from photos…

sketch 6

sketch 5

sketch 4

The above is a sketch that became somewhat ‘finished’ in watercolor. As I keep mentioning, I really like a sketchbook that can take mixed media, as I often sketch with watercolor or ink as well as pencil.

sketch 9

Above and below, pose sketches that have not yet become paintings.

sketch 8

sketch 10

Above, a sketch of model that became a painting depicting the Welsh Goddess Bloudewedd:

Bloudewedd 3

sketch 1

Poses above that became the Goddess Epona, below. In these sketches you can also see notes that I’ve made on reference photos, measurements, etc.


sketch 14

The sketches above, from a pose reference book, became a Selkie, below. By the way my sister gave me a small sketchbook with photos of ABC stars that can be seen in the background. It’s a nice little sketchbook otherwise, with a soft faux leather cover.


Not every piece I paint starts as a sketch. Sometimes if I have a clear idea of the pose I want, I sketch right onto the canvas in the forgiving medium of vine charcoal, and work out the sketch on the ground itself (‘ground’ is a term for whatever you create art on, be it paper, canvas, board, etc).  When I painted Jabme-Akka, for instance, I drew her onto the canvas with no reference sketch:

Jab 1

So sketching is a very up-to-the-artist kind of thing, with no right or wrong. Sketching can help hone in on what you want to paint, or it can be an end in itself. Sketching with various media, like paints or ink, can help you discover new ways to create art, or it can produced finished pieces.

I follow some Youtube channels that are all about sketchbook work. I recommend these:

Sketchywitch is a really talented young artist who works a lot in her sketch books, and shares that work on her Youtube.

An art instructor named Matt who shares his students’ sketchbook work. Some very amazing sketching!

One more…

Comment below on how you use your sketchbook. As always, thanks for looking!



  1. Swinghammer · December 1, 2015

    Beautiful artwork. Very talented indeed!


    • KillTheHero Studios · January 16, 2016

      Thank you.


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