What Does it Mean to Draw a Sketch?

Sketches are very important to an artist's creative process.

Sketch portrait of a man
”needs no title” sketch" ( CC BY-SA 2.0) by DoctorButtsMD

In art, a sketch refers to a quick, informal drawing, that is typically done from life. A sketch can be very useful to artists of all mediums for a variety of reasons.

You might sketch a couple on a park bench or a horse in the morning light to preserve the moment visually. Maybe you're traveling and want to quickly draw out a beautiful scene that you will paint when you get back to the studio. You can also use a sketch to work out ideas, play with composition, or capture a thought before it passes.

Quite simply, a sketch captures the moment and the idea, much like a photograph, but it is drawn by hand. It can lead to elaborate pieces of art that you have planned or simply act as a reminder for an element that you typically don't see in your daily life. A sketch can be a great tool for any artist and that is why many choose to carry a sketchbook with them wherever they go.​

What is a Sketch?

A sketch is not designed to be a detailed drawing that gets every element perfect. Instead, it captures the essentials of the subject - the overall form and perspective, a sense of volume, movement, and feeling. The sketch may also include the suggestion of light and shade.

A sketch should not be labored or overworked. Consider it a snapshot of life drawn out on a piece of paper. 

Sketches are often part of the preparation for a more developed drawing or painting. The sketch allows the artist to rough out their ideas and plan the finished piece before embarking on a more precise work. 

A sketch may be created in any medium, though pencil is the most common. Sketches are often done in ink or charcoal as well.

At times, several small thumbnail sketches on a single page are used to explore composition. It may be this practice that led to 'Sketches' becoming the name for the layouts used for album pages in the popular hobby of scrapbooking.

Why You Should Carry a Sketchbook

Carrying around a sketchbook is a great way to remind yourself to sketch what you see when you see it. It prevents the regret of coming across a great subject and having no paper around to capture it.

Your sketchbook can be any notebook in any size that you prefer. You may also want to have a large sketchbook available in your studio and a smaller option for when you're out and about. The 5x8-inch sketchbooks are perfect for traveling as they fit easily into most bags you would typically carry around.

Choosing a Great Sketchbook

Sketchbooks come in a variety of styles and here are some tips for choosing and using your sketchbook.

  • It's best to use a book with unlined paper so you're free to sketch without any background distractions.
  • Draw on only one side of the page. It's very common to have pencil and charcoal imprint or rub off onto the back of the facing page.
  • Many artists prefer books with thick paper between 60 and 80 pounds in weight. This allows you to erase mistakes easily and they're nice to draw on. Many sketchbook papers have a good tooth and take pencil, charcoal, and ink very well.
  • A spiral bound book is very nice because you can fold it flat to the page you're working on and have a hassle-free surface to draw on.
  • Sketchbooks with hard covers are convenient for use outside the studio because they are more durable than paper covers.
  • Books that allow you to remove pages easily are very useful as well because it gives you the choice of tearing out a page when needed. Look for perforated pages in spiral bound books and avoid messy edges.

Most importantly, keep your sketchbooks around even after every page is full. These drawings can serve as a reference well into the future, so store them alongside all of your other art books where they will not get lost or damaged.

Tip: When you get into an artist's slump, flip through your old sketch books. There may be an unfinished idea that sparks your creativity at the moment.