Why you should fill your sketchbooks with "ugly" sketches
Here's why I think you should start filling your sketchbooks with "ugly" sketches and artwork!
This advice might sound silly or counter intuitive, so I'll start with a personal story. When I started out I used to think that the greatest artists were the ones that could draw anything at any time, and everything they drew or painted came out "instantly" pretty. I remember when I was still a student in architectural school, when I couldn't even admit to myself that I dreamed of being an illustrator, I took a workshop with a fantastic Brazilian illustrator on the topic of creating sketchbooks. He was amazing! He would draw anything in any medium and it would look beautiful. His sketchy strokes were gorgeous, had character and personality, truly inspiring. But when I sat down to sketch whatever it was at the time, it looked a bit odd or not too special. So I stopped. You see, at the time I believed that "real" artists had some sort of magical gift from the universe where anything they made was just beautiful, and in my mind at the time, I didn't have that gift.
But I loved art, I loved it so much. So I kept "trying again", I'd sketch something out, decide that it looked average or not "unique" enough and I'd stop. "I'll never be good at this because I don't have the gift". I spent years doing this. Drawing, painting and experimenting with a variety of media for a few weeks or months and then stop because I felt like I just wasn't good enough to make it.
Until one day I realised just how much I loved it and I decided I would do whatever it takes to become good at it. So I started doing art consistently. And magic started to happen!
" Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
What I realised at that time was that the special gift wasn't talent, it was perseverance, consistency and believing in yourself. That's what it takes to succeed. Because when you have that drive that doesn't go away, that love that doesn't fade, even when you feel like you are not good enough, it's the love and passion that fuels you to draw and try again over and over.
You can't let your "ugly" sketches stop you. In fact, creating "ugly" sketches is proof that you're showing up! It's evidence that you're trying. So get those out of the way. Fill sketchbooks with them. Draw hundreds if not thousands of ugly sketches, because you know what will happen when you start practicing consistently?! You'll start improving and getting better! Your sketches will start looking prettier and they'll start shaping your style.
That unique style everyone is looking for, the effortless beautiful sketch, they're a consequence of years of creating "ugly" artwork and practicing. Of trying compositions that don't work. Of creating colour combinations that are weird and don't feel right. Of experimenting with all sorts of different media. Of creating tons of art that doesn't represent you. Until one of them does. And the truth is that all of us artists have a collection of artwork we don't usually share and privately hide because we feel it doesn't represent us. At the time they feel random and inconsistent, and quite frankly can make you feel like giving up. But they are the foundation for your style! So don't give up! Show up! And things will start falling into place.
And you want to know the real difference between awesome professional illustrators and beginners? Practice!! Years of practice! Practice makes better and ugly sketches are a crucial part of that!
Until today my sketches are still rough and messy, but now I can see beyond that. I know now what I need from my sketches so they turn into beautiful illustrations, the proportions, the position of the elements and rough ideas. It's a crucial part of my process and I always sketch by hand on very cheap simple paper and later refine the sketch in Procreate.
Sketchbook page - Pomegranate and birds sketch 2022
Rough sketches on paper - 2022
Cleaned up sketches from Procreate - 2022
So don't be scared of your ugly sketches and artwork! Be proud of them! Be proud of yourself for making them and showing up, it's worth it in the long run!
And here are some of my early drawings and artwork! You can see I already loved flowers birds, but played around with different media and styles, and they guided me to exactly where I am today. Right here on the other side encouraging you :)
Blue Jay artwork from November 2017
Bird artwork from October 2017
Hummingbird digital collage from 2013
Cockatoo dreamland digital collage 2013
Bird nest collage 2013