I can’t stress enough the importance of sketchbooks in my creative work. I think one of the most important things that anyone with an interest in visual storytelling can do is FILL SKETCHBOOKS. The act of filling a sketchbook is the act of becoming comfortable transferring your thoughts from your mind onto a page.
As your sketchbook fills up it will become as unique as you yourself are. Every artist will use a sketchbook in their own way, but when you become very comfortable in transferring your thoughts onto a page flipping through your sketchbook or notebook will look like a peek into your mind. I try hard not to be precious about my sketchbooks. I don’t expect my sketchbooks to be beautiful pieces of art; I expect them to catch ideas as they fall out of my brain.
II tend to have multiple sketchbooks going at once. One is an all-purpose notebook I carry everywhere. I call it my idea book. It’s usually an unlined Moleskin into which I toss random thoughts, ideas, stories and designs. It’s part journal, part notepad, part sketchbook. It could have floor plans for a dream studio, doodled schematics for trick arrows, character sketches, thoughts from a busy day or drawings of friends made on the sly.
Here’s a quick peek inside my current idea book:
I also have a dedicated sketchbook for every book I write. Even though my books all start written in text, it often feels like the sketchbook is where the magic happens. The pages of the sketchbook are where the look of the characters evolves, where worlds are designed, and where the visual style of a story is slowly uncovered.
I had a particularly fun time filling the sketchbook for my most recent graphic novel, Little Robot, because the story takes place in a fictionalized version of the Shenandoah Valley where I live. So in developing Little Robot I made a point of taking my sketchbook on the road, drawing railroad bridges, abandoned houses and rusting engines. Have a look:
I didn’t know what I would find on my Little Robot sketching walks, but quite a lot of what I did find ended up in the book.
So, as we head into summer, if you have a story bouncing around in your brain, or even if you want to get comfortable putting your thoughts down on a page, then I suggest throwing a sketchbook in a bag and hitting the road. Who knows what you’ll find?
Ben Hatke is the #1 New York Times Best-Selling author of the Zita the Spacegirl trilogy, as well as the picture book Julia’s House for Lost Creatures. His next book, Little Robot, will be in stores September 2016.