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Fearless Sketching – 12 tips!

Posted by Koosje Koene in ArtJournal, Draw Tip, sketchbook on March 12, 2018

Yesterday I shared the first drawing I made when I was in Sevilla two weeks ago, to attend a workshop, taught by Spanish illustrator Inma Serrano.

I’d love to show you the drawings I made during the workshop that followed. And hand you some tips I picked up during the experience.

For the workshop we all got an accordion sketchbook, which I loved, because I really like the way you can work in it as if it was a regular sketchbook, but if you run out of space, you just fold it open and continue your drawing. When the book is all folded out, it tells the story of your days.

Tip 1: Unify the elements

We started in the studio to warm up a little, making quick drawings of a still life we threw together. Instead of drawing every item apart from each other, we focused on the shape that is made out of little shapes, trying to unify the elements. A bit like continuous drawing, but different. Also Inma explained how you can lead the viewer’s eye using color.

Having done that we headed outside to take that approach into action.

Tip 2: Use your foreground

I drew the kiosk, putting a not too elegant trash can in the foreground – but the trash can is really important here because it creates a window, or a frame. And entering point for the viewer.

If you look at Inma’s work, you’ll notice she ALWAYS puts something in the foreground.

Tip 3: Stop before it’s too late.

I asked Inma how she decides what to include in a drawing, if she plans what she’ll be drawing and she answered that she. Ever knows what part of a scene or situation will end up in her drawing. She just starts with something that draws her attention and from there in she just adds whatever she sees around or next to it. She kind of ‘knits’ shapes and lines together. And also – know when to stop. Before it’s ‘too late’. in the drawing above I could have drawn the roof of the kiosk, add the letters on the awning, but it would probably have been a distraction. So I just indicated the round roof with a few lines and left it alone.

Tip 4: Color can lead the way

With her color, Inma intends to lead the viewer’s eye. That’s why she leaves a lot of white – you don’t need to color a whole page. Just a few splashes of color can indicate what you’d like to tell the viewer.

Tip 5: Keep an open line to create a pathway

The viewer needs to do a bit of work by finishing any unfinished shapes. An open line for example really helps to draw the viewer in, create a pathway for the eye.

Man, these are almost literally eye-openers for me!

Tip 6: Draw the sky first

Sevilla has so many small alleys. You can just stroll around and get lost, and each time you turn a corner, something beautiful catches your eye. It’s easy to get inspired to draw. To capture the perspactive of the buildings, you start with the outline of the sky against the buildings. From there, you can add as much or as little details as you want. 

Tip 7: Keep going

‘Las Setas’ is a very interesting building that allows a fantastic view over the city from its rooftop pathway.
I don’t think I have ever done anything like this. Looking at an overwhelming view and not quite knowing where to start, I was completely out of my comfort zone. I started with blobs of watercolor to indicate the big shapes, and on top of it, I started my line drawing. In the beginning I didn’t have much faith that this was going to work (and the view over the rooftops – how I was going to capture all that in the limited time I had). But I just kept going and figured out an almost continuous line technique to fill the background and to indicate all the rooftop shapes, without having to draw them in detail individually.

It’s really great how you can surprise yourself when you push yourself a little (or a lot)

Tip 8: See shadows, draw shadows

Sometimes when the light is low, the shadows are long and strong. Sometimes, when the sun is really bright, the shadows are very hard and dark. You can make use of that, by drawing the shadows, and being courageous, just making black shapes. If you look at Inma’s work, you’ll see many examples of how well it works… the result of my 15-minute-drawing-before-the-sun-went-down isn’t that great.

Tip 9: Grab any opportunity to sketch (and eat tapas)

When you’re in Spain, there’s tapas and wine. A wonderful way to end the day and start the evening…. and make another drawing.

And before ending the day – I had to draw some more (channeling my inner Inma, using dashes of bright colors) at a very cool Jazz club:

Tip 10: Filter out details and colors

Looking at a view, you can divide it into 3 layers. Close by, middle and far background. Then you can choose to use a line drawing for the far background or put the detail in the foreground. Using just grey tones, you filter out the distraction of color and focus on values only. I didn’t love this exercise particularly and was very happy to move on to the next exercise which was all about drawing people.

Tip 11: People are like sausages or churros

A brush or a brush pen is a fantastic tool when studying people’s poses or gestures. Wit your brush strokes, you indicate the gestures and the placement of the heads. It’s important to look where that head is positioned (and to not draw it too big!), because it really influences the whole body posture (slumped over? upright? energetic?). I love doing this exercise – it’s also great to do when you’re waiting in line somewhere, or are at a busy train station, or just have a few minutes to spare. It’s amazing how just a few lines can tell a whole story!

Next step in this exercise is to add shadows, so you create volume to the figures.

And once you’re a bit used to this technique, you’ll be able to look at people as if they are sausages (or churros, which may be more appropriate in Spain!). Dare to exaggerate, find the shadows, forget about details. Be quick, draw, move on to the next figure. So. Much. Fun.

During lunch, I couldn’t stop doing this and kept drawing at the lunch table, using a limited color palette.

And with an extra drawing over coffee (left) I kept mimicking Inma’s style, asking myself how I can incorporate the loose and playful style into my own? On the right-hand side, I drew the cafe where we had a glass of wine at the end of the workshop.

Tip 12: Don’t try to draw the whole thing

Inma tends to ‘humanize’ buildings. She sees them as creatures or monsters (and if you take a good look at buildings, you can often see some sort of face. The windows are the eyes, the door the mouth…), and draws them like that. This is how she draws buildings as if they are dancing, or moving. They are never just standing straight – again it’s playful and that gives the drawing so much personality!

Also: why draw the whole thing? Just pick an element that looks interesting to you, and start drawing it Then start drawing what’s next to it, and next to that… etc. A building doesn’t need to be drawns from roof to ground. Part of it is just as interesting, and actually even more interesting then the whole thing!

Thinking like this frees you up – you just draw whatever appeals, and you’re done when you don’t feel like adding anymore. Very liberating indeed.


Whew, that’s it!

As you probably have gathered: I had a blast. It’s SO good to learn new things. To hang out with other artists who are learning too. To hang out with artists whose work you admire. And if then if they portray you in the back of your sketchbook, as a farewell present, the whole experience is just topped off with awesomeness.

The end.

Koosje Koene

Hi I'm Koosje. I'm an illustrator and art teacher in Amsterdam, where I was born and raised. I went to school to study graphic design, then worked for ten years as an award-winning professional photographer. But eventually my love of drawing and painting took over and I became an illustrator. My illustrations have been published in many Dutch magazines and in 2011, I began blogging and started developing and teaching online art classes. In 2014 I founded Sketchbook Skool, which is a flourishing community of artists from around the world of all skill levels.