How Sketchbook Drawings Saved My (Creative) Life

As an illustrator, I was born with a Pilot V5 and a sketchbook in my hand. It’s what I do; it’s how I observe what’s around me and get in touch with my inner thoughts. But I’m also a graphic designer and I use my sketchbook drawings to communicate ideas, and problem solve. Here are some of the ways my sketchbook practice has informed my work and made me a better artist.

Clarifying ideas

Somehow an image of the back of my cat, Galaxy, showed up in the mix.

Usually I use sketching as a way to help a somewhat hazy idea culminate into a strong concept. The spread below served as a venue for exploring a variety of hand-lettering I was thinking of using on a piece of print material (specifically a self-promotional postcard about Seattle.) I also ended up ruminating on ideas of type while drawing random little characters, like these little girls in retro play dresses.

Somehow an image of the back of my cat, Galaxy, showed up in the mix.

Exploring a concept

A lot of T’s. I particularly like the Popeye muscle idea.

One week, I had two projects running at the same time, one was for designing a logo for a local tattoo shop and the other was a series of editorial illustrations for an article for Racked. I began working on sketching out some logo ideas, and then I took a break, and made another cup of coffee. I came back and was still feeling stumped, so I began sketching out roughs for the illustration work. Switching gears for a bit was a great way to really refresh my mind before diving back into the logo work. In creative work, sometimes breaks and working on other things for awhile can lead to an “aha” moment when things really click, and inspiration juices flow forth!

Observing people and places

One Sunday afternoon, I basked in the sunny glow of my porch and drew the hydrangeas growing nearby.

In a super-technological world, it’s easy to get wrapped up in cell phone staring or unintentionally gluing your eyes to a laptop screen. But the beauty of drawing in public, from observation (or of course going on an awesome photo romp!) is really becoming part of what’s around and noticing the charm in the details. It’s really important for me to set aside time to free sketch; totally without purpose and focusing on whatever’s in front of me. I like to go to coffee shops and sketch what I’m drinking, and I’ve probably drawn my shoe-clad feet a hundred times.It’s also really cool to see how what you see is translated through your hand! I have a general principle that there’s no such thing as people who can’t draw. It’s like language: a single language may have dozens of regional dialects and accents, so a universal idea can be expressed in an endless variety of voices and refinements. With drawing, it’s always exciting how different people can see the same object and translate it to paper in vastly different ways! Amazing!

Upping my game

A mixture of old magazine paper featuring a queen, and vellum cut with pinking shears offsets a drawing of a french-twisted ponytail, and lets the viewer create their own story as to how the images connect.

Sometimes I need to sketch to try out a technique, or just to set myself with a challenge: how can I spice up my sketchbooks and keep myself entertained? I was working on a sketchbook for The Sketchbook Project, and decided to completely gut the book and replace the pages with a mix of found paper, translucent vellum, and parchment, and then draw on that. And it was really fun to play around with.

Feeling all the feels

For me, sometimes it’s therapeutic to get down feelings in drawings versus words.

Sketching can also be a great way to explore the emotional texture of my life. On the day I did this drawing, I was feeling kind of melancholy after a visit with my grandmother. I was flying back to Seattle from Wisconsin, and decided to draw what I remembered from an old photo I saw of my grandma and a friend during the 1960s. Then I wrote an optimistic saying that helped give me hope to sit down again soon with my grandma to chat about being a strong woman in the 20th century!

For this one, I was feeling exposed and vulnerable and I decided to draw a kind of double exposure.

Spontaneous doodles

There’s gotta be a Shel Silverstein poem to go with this drawing.

I drew this pic of a log cabin without a plan. It was just what came out of me. Saying that I would live there with Christian Bale is a total joke, of course, but then again if he were to call… Just kidding, but seriously, have you seen the movie “The New World?” I’d eagerly marry that John Rolfe if I were Pocahontas.

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Jordan Kay

Jordan is an artist, illustrator, and graphic designer. She currently works for Starbucks Global Creative and a handful of badass freelance clients. She enjoys long walks on the beach, feeling the sand between her toes, and seeing the stars at night. She works out of her studio in Seattle and consorts regularly with Galaxy the Wolf, and Quozl the Wizard (her cats).