3.4 Creating your own version of reality

The purpose this this exercise is to analyse how other artists interpret people and places in their sketchbooks in order to gain insights that can be applied to my own practice.

Key words from the brief:

  • Visit this website: http://www.book-by-its-cover.com/sketchbooks
  • Look through as many different illustrators’ sketchbooks that you find interesting
  • Use your learning logs to make notes in response to some of the questions


I selected six illustrators because of the range, variety and inventiveness of their sketchbooks and because their work resonated with me in some way.

  1. Ana Botezatu
  2. Lauren Tamaki
  3. John Garcia
  4. Mattias Adolfsson
  5. Rachel Levit
  6. John Hendrix


Consider the various ways that other illustrators respond to figures and environments.

Each illustrator brings to bear their own likes, dislikes, experience and personal voice to bear.

The following adjectives to describe the range of responses used by my selected illustrators in response to the subjects in front of them:

  • Carefully observed
  • Exaggerated/characatured
  • Imagined
  • Imbued with a sense of narrative or purpose
  • Reportage
  • Interpretation
  • Stylised
Lauren Tamaki - figures
Figure 1: Lauren Tamaki – figures sketch

Their approach to making the sketches vary from quick expressive gestural marks to slower more considered compositions.

John Garcia Rich Girls
Figure 2: John Garcia – Rich girls

Some combine captions, speech and other written materials in their images.

A general observation is that all the drawings/images have some form of narrative and are communicating something. In other words there is a focus of intention by the illustrator to explore or say something about what they are recording or interpreting.

I think this goes to the heart of the purpose of the exercises within PART 3 People and place.

What materials do they use?

John Hendrix - pentacost
Figure 3: John Hendrix – Pentacost

Different illustrators use their own combinations of materials and techniques, constrained by the circumstances and the environment they are working in. My selected artists use:

  • Dip pen and ink/liquid watercolour
  • Ink pen
  • Pencil
  • Collage
  • Coloured pencils and marker pens
  • Watercolour
  • Splattered paint
  • Carefully applied washes of colour

Do they sketch quickly or are the drawings more sustained?

Most of the sketchbooks demonstrate examples of both.

The work of Mattias Adolffsson is considered and resolved to a fine level of detail. The visual treatment is uniformly applied and the imagine is laid out on the paper for the viewer to enjoy.

Mattias Adolffsson - Kitchen
Figure 4: Mattias Adolffsson – sketch

Alternatively, Lauren Tamaki (Figures: 1, 5, 8) works fast, and the focus of the sketches are on specific subjects with much of the rest of the image left unresolved. For me this gives them more personality because I’m being asked to use more of my own imagination to fill in the gaps.

If they draw fast how is this achieved- how is the content edited ?

I understand editing to mean the things that the artist chooses to consciously or unconsciously leave out of a drawing; those things considered unimportant and/or unnecessary to the purpose or impact of the image.

Lauren Tamaki - I love your hair
Figure 5: Lauren Tamaki – I love your hair in this picture

For rapid drawings, editing by the artist is probably expedient and required to save time and provide focus on important content.

In Figure 5, the girl is isolated with no additional foreground or background. The only additional clue is the written caption or speech ‘I love your hair in this picture‘.

Which subjects or parts of the images are edited or stylised?

Ana Botezatu - Collage
Figure 6: Ana Botezatu – collage

I understand stylisation to mean the visual qualities that the illustrator applies to the image usually expressed through their personal voice.

Stylisation and editing can be applied to any aspect of an image.

How does the stylisation affect the communication process and the sense of documentary?

 I understand documentary in this context to mean how a part or whole of an illustration describes a situation or event; in other words the narrative.

Stylisation can have a huge effect on the reading of an image. It can set the whole tone-of-voice for the picture and how an image is read.

In Figure 7, Rachel Levit’s highly stylised portrait of the girl with dense pattern and detail force the viewer to slow down their reading of the picture in order to focus and uncover meaning which is not immediately obvious.

Stylisation can add a whole other set of association and meanings to an image.

Rachel Levit - Sea girl
Figure 7: Rachel Levit – page from sketchbook

Are there any parts of the images that are unfinished and what impact does this have on the overall image?

Most images, particularly those drawn fast leave areas of the page blank or unfinished. In Figure 8, Lauren Tamaki’s beautifully observed drawing from a waiting room or airport lounge focuses on the two slouching characters in the foreground with not much visual information in the midground and almost nothing in the background or around the edges. The meaning in the image is derived from postures and expressions of the characters, how they are positioned on the seats and what they’re doing. The weight and quality of line emphasises the visual hierarchy. Somehow the overall simplicity of the drawings adds to the pleasure of the reading.

Lauren Tamaki - figure on bench
Figure 8: Lauren Tamaki – page from sketchbook

Are there some images that you think communicate better when drawn slowly?

Fast drawing by its nature means that the artist is consciously or unconsciously editing a lot. As discussed above, this can have a very pleasing aesthetic that can be exploited by the illustrator. Fast drawings can be more immediately expressive because the mark making has to be gestural and rapid.

Figure 4 and Figure 7 are both examples of slow drawing, where the artist has spent more time on composition and/or adding detail. The reading of both these images is more nuanced and requires a different type of engagement from the viewer.

In Figure 7, the nautical references are not immediately obvious until you look closely. When you realise that the whole image is packed full of highly detailed seafaring imagery, the whole reading of the image changes and becomes more complex.

In answer to the question, both fast and slow drawing have benefits that an illustrator can exploit depending somewhat on the nature and complexity of the subject in front of them and the illustrative interpretation they are trying to achieve.

%d bloggers like this: