Keeping an active sketchbook & visual challenges

For me an active sketchbook is an important part of daily practice. I find it strange for any aspiring artist not to have one. Especially in a program like Tony’s. There’s no better program to develop the discipline and accuracy required for realism than Tony’s, but for me, loose daily sketching provides a refreshing counterbalance to the repetition and rigor of his studio training, and the two compliment each other well. While something like LOD helps you develop technicianship, pressure control, strategy, accuracy, and many other useful skills, loose, more stylized sketching can help you notice, embrace, and develop the expressive qualities that are unique to you as an artist. Increasingly I try to spend at least 15 minutes every day doing either some loose sketching, or challenging myself with little visual experiments. Take the simple value study below. This was referenced from a random screen capture of two girls playing video games on a couch. Normally when approaching a sketch like this, I would start drawing in figures and faces and features that I’m predisposed to find “interesting” – the content that we tend to focus on as human beings when scanning visual information. But even the most cursory exercises quickly expose how wildly prejudiced our assumptions and instincts are. Here I used Photoshop’s “cutout” filter to break the desaturated screencap into 2 or 3 simple, abstracted values. Tools like this can be a terrific aid in learning to better identify value weights and delineations, which sometimes trace very unexpected borders. We tend to be in a hurry to add detail to faces, but often times less is more when you put them into a broader context of value. And it always surprises me how far down an image can be abstracted before it becomes unrecognizable or loses its emotion. This is pushing hard towards that edge, but despite the wonky stylization and the fact that there are only two tones, the figures and content are still reasonably discernible even without/before any extra detail is added. Studies like this can help you “let go” of some of your go-to (usually bad) habits when it comes to your visual exploration of the world around you.


I keep a tiny journal to record my entire experience. I once had to take a course where I had to write down how I FELT every 15 minutes while I was working on a technical drawing. It was shocking the amount of not helpful things that were running around my head. I was “should-ing” self out of the studio. Now I include inspiring ideas, visual or otherwise in my sketchbook. I’m no longer “keeping score” as I journal because I see the value of looking back and what I intuitively include helps me in ways I later can see more clearly. The ego wants results and I value that determination and grit, but sometimes things just happen and I want to capture those too. Great expression includes emotions. I include my internal process in the sketchbook too.


Very interesting. I definitely feel that if I worry too much about technicianship and accuracy, personality and expressiveness suffer. But if I consciously prioritize expressiveness, my technicianship stagnates. When I lock into a zone where I’m hyperattentive, working fairly quickly, and prioritizing spatial relationships more so than spatial placement … that seems to be the sweet spot. It’s like a balancing act though, hard not to tip one way or the other.

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Our dear departed Angel Leah (she was on loan to us) recommended this free course ( which has some interesting insight into how the diffuse and focused brain states interact. I find technical drawing to be a direct smack-down with my unconscious. After years of needless suffering, I’m starting to ride this wild horse. I’m super happy for people who do not have this issue!