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What Does Your Sketchbook Look Like?

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

what does your sketchbook look like?

After being on a brain-break hiatus for the past couple of weeks, I dug into my YouTube subscriptions for some blog-writing inspiration. In the archives there, I rediscovered some of Jake Parker's old sketchbook reviews.

In it, he talks about how sketchbooks provide a snapshot into your inner life; where your head is, what you were really interested in, and when your break-through moments as an artist happen.

Curious about this, I dug out the sketchbooks that I've kept over the past several years to see what I could dig up and glean from where I've been and what I've tried to create over the years.

I tried to remain as honest as I could with the work I shared below because even work that looks like it was struggled with is valid. It means an artist tried something new to grow and that is not only brave, but also what art is all about. Growing.


Breakthroughs: Renaissance Shading

Areas for growth: Stiff/awkward figures and expressions

In 2006 and 2007, I was making it through my freshman year of college. I made a close friend out of a kind and talented music education major that year who introduced me to her music ed friends that graciously accepted me into their circle.

Some snapshots of work from this period of time.

I had just learned about renaissance shading in my drawing 101 class in school so I was practicing it as often as I could. I had only just come out to my parents and I was still dealing with a lot of internalized homophobia, while also being totally enchanted by the lesbian romcom DEBs. (Thus the Lucy Diamond drawing. )

My figures and expressions are stiff, but the first drawing in the slideshow indicates a breakthrough. It was the first time I placed a figure in a setting that didn't look completely out of place. I wasn't able to do this again for almost another 12 years. (That makes me feel so old.)


Breakthroughs: Picked up a pencil again.

Areas for growth: Everything.

In 2012, I was two years out of college, working my first big girl job and had recently exited a relationship that had drained me of my self worth. I had barely picked up a pencil to do anything art related for three years. So, when I finally did, I discovered I had a lot of relearning to do.

These are the least embarrassing examples of my work from that time. Included is one of the very first drawings I ever did of Dillon and Kael together. They've both come a long way since that drawing! When I said these characters have been with me for a long time, I wasn't kidding. Ha.

Breakthroughs here include finding the time to do some drawing at all! Areas for growth are still similar to those from 20016-2007; stiff figures and expressionless faces, because I picked up where I left off.


Breakthroughs: Slightly less awkward figures and expressions.

Areas for growth: Composition, boob armor.

In 2014 and 2015, I was a newlywed with my lovely wifey. We were living in a crummy little apartment that housed mice in the bedroom walls and I had been recently laid off from my first big girl job. I was applying to jobs daily and also supplementing our income with some freelance writing.

I worked on some art in 2014, but most of my work happened after we moved out of that apartment and I started working as an after school homework help teacher.

Dillon and Kael and their story still permeated my work. I was working on oil paintings as well during this time, so many of the drawings in my sketchbook were simply plans for paintings that I made later. My figures and expressions were starting to become slightly less stiff, but there was still an awkwardness about them. Also. Breasts for some unholy reason, are extremely difficult for me to draw. I was very much grappling with that. And, I hadn't let go of the XWP boob armor yet either. Women don't need metal armor cups for their boobs. It is both impractical and unsafe. Just saying.

I started some experimentation with ink and sort of started to notice the composition (or lack thereof) of my work and made a mental note to work on that as well.


Breakthroughs: Figure and character drawing, started playing with watercolor

Areas for growth: Figure drawing, composition

In 2016, I put my nose to the grindstone and put myself to work. I tried to identify the areas that I needed the most help with. I made myself draw every day. I'd get up at 5:00 a.m., when the world was quiet, and get to work.

Instead of asking myself "What should I draw?" and staring at a blank sheet of paper, I just drew everything I was wrapped up in that year. I drew my wife. I took selfies making weird faces and then tried to draw those to help develop a skill for drawing expressive faces. I was reading Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Chronicles, so I drew Kaladin and Adolin as lady versions of the characters. I was obsessively playing DragonAge Inquisition, so I drew my first pieces of DA fanart. I made femslash Harry Potter drawings (Hermoine and Ginny 4eva). I gender-bent Beren and did a drawing of Luthien and Beren together. I did head studies and hand studies and torso studies to improve my figure drawing. I continued to experiment with ink and I started using watercolor as well.

2016 was a year full of growth and experimentation. I don't think I made one single actual piece of art. I just studied everything I could and had fun doing it.


Breakthroughs: Watercolor

Areas for improvement: Composition, figure drawing

In 2017, I started creating work that I was proud of. My figure drawing was better but still needed work. I started using an app that let me pose figures to use as reference, but that elongated my figures unrealistically in a way I didn't like.

I did some Witcher fanart and Kael reappeared in my work. You can see in the Sleeping Beauty piece where my figures began to get a little bit too elongated and willowy. So, I abandoned the app in 2018 and opted for other ways to practice my figure drawing instead.


Breakthroughs: Watercolor and composition

Areas for improvement: Comic work and composition. Probably still figure drawing.

Last year, I primarily focused on getting my compositions cleaner and finding a way to begin to tell Dillon and Kael's story.

Throughout the years, my interests have remained consistent. Strong women, spirituality, myth and legend all heavily influence my work. In 2019, I plan on exploring these themes further, while continuing to improve my craft and skill set.

What do your sketchbooks look like? What are your identified breakthroughs and areas for growth?

Share them with me @msrmcgaughey on Instagram!

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