5 insanely inspiring illustrator's sketchbooks

Get into the heads of five top illustrators, as author and lecturer Anna Wray exposes the intimate contents of their sketchbooks.

Any good illustrator carries a sketchbook with them at all times, be it a Moleskine or any alternative to the ubiquitous designer's friend. This is a very private, intimate area of an illustrator's life where his instant ideas get their first airing, most of which are left on the page as-is, never to flourish as a fully-formed illustration and be given access to the outside world.

So imagine if we were to provide access to five top illustrators' sketchbooks - this would be a mini-window on their world that'd inspire and astound, no? Well that's just what we've done...

01. Frank Hohne

Frank Holne is a Berlin-based illustrator who is known for his anarchic, eclectic, often humorous illustrations that are commissioned by clients such as Neon Magazine, Vice Magazine, and Business Punk. Holne also produces prints and books and lectures widely at Art Schools where he talks animatedly about his work.

Here are a couple of pages from a sketchbook he took on holiday to Switzerland, you would expect to maybe find mountains and meadows? Not here. Instead Frank has drawn a series of faces using an experimetal combination of drawing approaches applying turbulent thick marker-like lines and combining them with fine lines with areas of close detail and dense black. Frank would say it is drawing 'thoughtless'. Which could be conscrued to mean drawing without conventional boundaries or inhibitions.

02. Pam Smy

Pam Smy is predominantly a children's book illustrator who has worked for publishers including Macmillan, Walker Books, Frances Lincoln, and very recently Random House, who have commissioned her to illustrate the recently released 'The Randsome of Dond' by Siobhan Dowd.

Included are some sketchbook drawings for the book. Observational drawing underpins Pam Smys work which have an emotive, lyrical quality about them, often using rhythmical, repetitive lines that add with it, a sense of flow. Her drawings are brisk and immediate, never staid or overworked, capturing expressions and form in a few well placed marks. Pam is one of the few contemporary children's book illustrators whose work is traditional in its medium yet never veering towards being twee and overtly childlike.

03. Blu Blu

Blu Blu is a pseudonym of an Italian street artist, whose incredible images have appeared throughout the world. I first came across Blu's work during a trip to Berlin where I saw his work occuping an 80ft building. Blu is not the kind of artist who works to commissions and is actively against working for any commercial enterprise, rather he earns his keep by selling his own prints and continuing to produce his immense wall art for free, until the local authorities decide to eradicate it, that is.

His sketchbooks are an important stage in Blu's work, acting like a laboratory or workshop to form his ideas. Most often his sketchbook drawings include figures that are radically altered by a series of surreal elements, faces open up, noses become industrial chimneys, a head is built from eyes.

He has also released a sequential animated film on YouTube called 'Muto' (above) which is well worth watching.

04. Anna Steinberg

Anna Steinberg is a freelance illustrator who has worked for many well known clients such as the NHS, Psychologies Magazine, and The London Transport Museum. The key components to her work are spontaneous line drawings using the mediums of ink, pen, and watercolour.

Here are a few pages from her holiday sketchbooks. Her drawings of outings on a boat, the beach, and a long walk are unconstrained and instinctive capturing the moment in time as she travels. Her 'Long walk' drawing looks like it may have even been drawing whilst walking, the line showing signs of the movement of her feet. What is fantastic about a sketchbook is that it is interesting to add little lines of text, fragments of information, of overheard conversations like Anne has done in her sketch of SouthWold beach.

05. Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers is well know for his immensley popular children's books such as 'How to catch a star', 'Lost and Found', 'This moose belongs to me' to name a few. However, he is less well known for his work as a painter, if you are interested in his paintings they can be seen in the book 'Neither Here No There' published by Gestalten.

His sketchbooks seem to occupy a kind of middle ground between his picture books and his work as an artist, as the above title suggests. More experimental than his children's book yet less highly finished and resolved than his paintings. Oliver experiements with the use of mixed media, combining drawings, collage and paintings in a diverse approach to image making.

Words: Anna Wray

Anna Wray is an illustrator/author and a visiting lecturer on the Ba(Hons) Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. Check out her work and writing on her website.

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