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The Value of a Sketch!

Since I started my college career in Industrial Design I have really never been without at least one sketchbook in the works.  Early on I was taught the value of sketching, and especially “thumbnails” in particular. The term “thumbnail sketch” refers to a small, quick sketch. Whenever I was given a problem to solve through design, the very first place I’d always go was brainstorming through thumbnail sketches.  The beautiful thing about thumbnails is that they don’t have to be beautiful. They don’t even have to be seen by anyone but you. They can be chicken scratches on a napkin with a ballpoint pen, but if they get the idea out of your brain and into some visual form that you can look back on and recall as an idea, that’s all they need to be.  

My current face painting sketchbook!
Focus on Quantity, NOT Quality!

I’ve found the best way to come up with any ideas, whether it was in my product design and retail display design days or more recently in face and body painting, is to get as many ideas out on paper as quickly as possible. Get it down just enough to convey the idea, then move on to another. I tend to be a perfectionist so I purposely sketch with pens or colored pencil so I can’t erase and “fix” my mistakes. Fill the page with ideas, good or bad, and don’t even critique them yet. Just get them out! 
Every Idea Has Value!
From there the creative process seems to flow so much easier when you have a page of ideas to explore, vs trying to evaluate them in your head first.  It enables you to perhaps go back to an idea you thought was bad, realizing it has merit, whereas if you had never sketched it in the first place, it may be lost forever. You never know when some old sketch will spark a new idea!
Conquer the Blank Page

When designing products I didn’t usually use color much…just a pencil or ballpoint pen on white paper. However, color is important in face & body painting (and I want my face painting sketchbook to be FUN and full of COLOR), so I use colored pencils more now. Some of my sketches are just the start of a design, just enough to convey the idea, while some are almost exactly what I end up painting.
How most of my sketchbook pages start!

When I turn to a blank page in my sketchbook, I’ll first quickly sketch out pairs of eyes with a nose…usually between 4 and 8 pairs of eyes per page.  So if you’re imagining my page, each design sketch is usually 3 inches square or so. (I like to sketch small!)
The eyes of course don’t have to be uniform or perfect!! This immediately removes any intimidation of a blank page staring back at you. Well, okay, now there are 10 eyes staring back at you, but we’ll call that less intimidating than a blank page. 😉 The point is, now I have a goal: finish these 6 faces with 6 designs.  If I’ve sketched 5, it makes me push myself for one more! It gives me the drive to complete the page. My goal from here may be to draw 6 versions of snake designs, sharks, butterflies, dogs, or whatever. Maybe I’m working on something for a competition, and in that case they follow the theme of that competition.  But in the end, I’ll have a page of concepts, and can choose the one I want to explore further, without losing all the other ideas that were in my head.
Sometimes I’ll add another step to my design development before painting on an actual face, and paint a practice head or PainterTemplate. However, if I feel I’ve sufficiently worked it out on paper, I often go right to the face.
Sketchs vs Final Designs…
Here are just a few samples of my tiny sketchbook sketch, next to the final design…
Some of my sketches with their final designs!
As you can see, some of these vary in the end in their placement, detail, etc.  But the sketch gives me enough of an idea to paint from.  
3 Rewards of Sketching
There are many rewards of keeping a sketchbook, but one of them is just having a physical book of ideas to flip through and look back on. It’s almost like a scrapbook or photo album of my face painting adventures! This doesn’t happen with wipe-off practice boards. Among my design sketches, I have pages of notes from face painting workshops and conferences, ideas for my business marketing materials, etc! It’s always rewarding to look back on where I’ve been and recall projects from the past, all while being inspired to paint something I sketched years ago and never painted.
Having a sketchbook also enables me to improve my face painting without face painting. Say I’m sitting on an airplane or in the car on a road trip. It may not be practical to be practicing with my brush and paints, but it’s easy to sketch! So when I’m having an influx of creative ideas, they don’t have to wait or get lost…sketching enables me to work through designs when I normally couldn’t.
The third thing I love about having a sketchbook is that on those sometimes rare occasions when I have a kid around who’s willing to let me practice on them, I have a pile of ideas to pick from! I don’t have to sit and think about what I want to practice…I just open the book. Sometimes I’ll let my boys flip through and pick a sketch they think is cool, and I’ll paint that. They are always more willing when they pick the design!
So give it a try! You don’t have to be an amazing artist or great at pencil drawings. Paint in your sketchbook with a brush if you wish! I can almost guarantee that if you give sketching a try long enough, you’ll see just how much more polished your final designs will look, and will love looking back at your ideas!
Happy painting!! 🙂