Sketches and sketchbooks
Big, marvellous, elaborate, finished paintings and drawings you can see in various stunning galleries on dA and outside dA, while they require time and can occupy artist's workspace even for months, in a lot of cases make a small percentage of created pictures lying around the creator's desk. Sketches aren't just noted concepts or a stage in preparing an artwork - a couple of sketches a day can be the most influential source of improving your skills.
You have probably been through this more than once - far from your room, you got struck with a brilliant idea. In diffrent circumstances you'd most likely rush to transfer it onto paper or canvas, but well, that might be not so easy in a classroom or on a bus. It can be difficult even if you're home - how about more than one idea at once? Using a sketchbook as a notepad for any concepts is by far my favourite use of it. Sometimes it takes months to get done with scheduled work, and for how long can you keep your idea fresh and with all the details in your head?
Sitting more or less comfortably by your desk, with your sketchbook opened on one of your concepts... While unleashing pure art berserk over the paper and making your picture without planning is so entertaining, it may be not the best way to do it with every single work. That's where sketchbooks come in handy, after noting the ideas themselves. Planning. Setting the composition, adding or removing objects, trying out colour schemes. It can take quite a couple of sketches before you make everything in your future artpiece fit - and doesn't it sound better than wrinkling and getting your proper drawing paper dirty by adding and erasing uncertain lines here and there? Not to mention starting everything over again after an accident with colours.
Planning your picture
Sketchbooks are perfect for life studies, for any kind of reference drawing. You can take it around a city, sit anywhere and catch buildings, people, animals, cars. Spending a lot of time daily on a bus or train? Even when you get bored with drawing people around you, you may sketch your own hand. Never enough of that one, hands aren't the easiest to depict and every while is worth training it. Taking very fast, 5-second sketches of the views passing by is an excellent exercise as well. To read more about references, check out this article I wrote last December.
So many kinds to choose from...
Sketchbooks come in various sizes and types.
Binding - mostly you'll encounter sewn ones, glued or with a spiral binding.
- Sewn sketchbooks are the most durable, the pages hardly ever fall out, but it takes up twice as much space when opened, since bending the front cover behind may damage the spine and therefore is not recommended.
Glued sketchbooks are the least durable when it comes to keeping them in once piece. They're rather designed to tear the pages out, so you'll need a nice briefcase to keep your sketches, which usually makes an unnecessary mess with organising.
Spiral binded sketchbooks occupy half the space of the sewn ones and you can tear out the pages way easier, if needed. However, since this type of binding makes a rather loose assemblage, the pages tend to rub against each other (even if you're careful), and you end up with dirty, smudged pictures, so be sure to use fixative of hair spray.
Sizes - while you may find sketchbooks in some really wild shapes and dimentions, often they're based on the ISO 216 system or similiar - this standard is not used in USA and Canada, but the diffrences aren't significant. Basically, the smaller the sketchbook, the more you're eager to make your sketches elaborate and detailed, while the big sketchbooks are more suitable for setting composition. The big ones are also recommended for reference drawing, especially life study, when it's all about avoiding small sketches - simply because it's not that easy to hide mistakes in larger pictures. That way you can spot and correct errors and learn more efficiently, and in effect, improve faster.
Paper - choosing your sketchbook's paper should depend on what you want to sketch with. For pencil/graphite you don't need anything too fancy - it'll be most likely the thinnest paper without any strong texture. Charcoal and pastels go better with textured paper - you need a rougher surface to keep the pigments. For any mediums requiring water, such as ink or paint, you need thicker pages, otherwise the paper will wrinkle, rub off and even tear apart.
Saving your sketches
Obviously, the most common tool is a pencil. But whether you use graphite, charcoal, coloured pencils or any other dry media, you'll eventually notice that the pages rub against each other and smudge your pictures. It can get awfully messy, doesn't matter how careful you are. The first step in avoiding that is not sketching on pages facing each other, which means 1 sketch per sheet, see the photo above. Usually, sketching on the page on the left is also rather uncomfortable, especially at the start of the sketchbook. This step isn't essential as long as you carry fixative with you everywhere... but who does? Much more important is spraying every sketch with the mentioned fixative. Remember to follow the instructions you will find on the can and don't breathe it in! You can also use nice substitute, hair spray. It's usually way cheaper, doesn't smell so awful and is just as effective (actually, I spotted one brand that does the job better than fancy, expensive fixative...).
Sketching + sketching = improving
I do get a lot of comments asking for advice how to get better at drawing. And it's all pretty much about heedful observation and tons of sketches. It might feel useless and seem to be a waste of time at the beginning. But it's like with anything new you try - once you get into it and practise daily, you'll notice a development in your skills. Reference and still life sketches in most cases will prove seriously boring, but it really is brilliant to learn shading, proportions, perspective, anatomy and anything else you need to get better. Try making 5 such sketches daily for a month, and then look back at the start. You can be sure you'll notice at least a tiny bit of improvement.