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Pro sketching advice for illustrators

John Howe is a legend in the world of illustration, working on both The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.

But every great illustration begins with a sketch, so here the master artist shares his tips on getting that initial sketch spot on. For advice from other illustrators and artists, don't miss our post on sketching tips (opens in new tab) to help you make your first marks.

01. Don't use spiralbound notebooks

Always try to get hold of a hardbound sketchbook rather than a spiral-bound one. That way you won't dare to tear out the sketches you don't like.

Remember, it's not about making pretty pictures, they're just the record of what you've learned (or not) doing them. In retrospect, you may find the ones that didn't work to have taught you more than the ones that did.

Besides, nobody's perfect; the odd crummy sketch just means that you're human.

02. Make digital backups

While your sketchbook will easily store more or less forever a few gigabytes of greyscale TIFF files, it can go astray, get left on a train or in a departure lounge.

Protect your work from being lost forever, by making digital backups

Protect your work from being lost forever, by making digital backups

Besides putting a 'Please return to…' label inside, scan the contents every few weeks, just to be safe.

03. Avoid smudges

If an idea gets the better of you and that drawing ends up right across to the left-hand page, a light coat of fixative and possibly a sheet of rice paper will save you from smudging it.

04. Invest in a decent sketchbook

Don't skim on the cost of a sketchpad: invest in one with good quality paper

Don't skim on the cost of a sketchpad: invest in one with good quality paper

It's vital to get yourself a good quality sketchbook. After all, it'll represent literally weeks of your creative life when you've filled it up. Acid-free cartridge paper, around 150 grams, is a good rule of thumb.

05. Be prepared

Here's your basic kit, which you can take everywhere with you (no excuses to go without)

  • an A3 sketchbook
  • pencil case
  • pencils
  • utility knife
  • erasers

Find a handy knapsack to fit them in, chuck in your diary (in case you feel like writing a bit) and your camera as well if there's room. Never go anywhere without it – you'll never be lost for something to do.

06. Get the right eraser

Kneadable or putty erasers are your best friends. Because they leave no eraser scraps, you can use them anywhere.

Furthermore, you can model them into creative shapes and wee critters when you're bored. I make pretty decent mushrooms and snails…

Words: John Howe (opens in new tab)

This article was originally published in ImagineFX (opens in new tab).

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