I’m not a big fan of fantasy, anime, comic books or anything else in that wide genre of imaginative art. I’m not even a minor fan – it’s not on my interest radar at all. But recently when I was surfing the online catalog of the Seattle Public Library with the search term “sketching,” I came across a book called Sketching from the Imagination – an Insight into Creative Drawing. Reading reviews of it on Amazon.com made it clear that the book was more than a vast collection of fantasy art; it also contained commentary from the artists about their creative process, which is something I’m always interested in. Curious, I checked it out.
Rather than the finished work of the 50 artists in the collection, the book focuses on their personal sketchbooks – what they doodle in while relaxing or where they come up with initial ideas. Most of the artists, many of whom are professional designers or illustrators working in the gaming or entertainment industries, eventually finish their professional work digitally, but it was interesting to read that almost all of them begin sketches and drawings the old-fashioned way – with a pen or pencil in a sketchbook. Some even noted that they went back to sketching by hand after years of working primarily on the computer because they missed the tactility and direct brain-to-hand connection of putting pen to paper. Although some of the drawings are the creepy stuff of nightmares, all of them are beautifully and amazingly drawn by hand. Whatever I might think about androids and dragons, they exhibit artistry and skill that is stunning to view.
What interested me most was the relationship the artists have with their sketchbooks and how it relates to their creative process. Concept artist and illustrator Avery Coleman wrote, “My sketchbooks have been my greatest teachers: new ones are quick to show me exactly where I need to improve, and my old ones comfortingly point out how much I have grown in my craft.” Another concept artist, Cosmin Podar, said, “After you realize how much sketching improves your work, you never stop – you want to do more and more.”
You might think that these artists who pull entirely fantastical and speculative images straight out of their brains have no use for drawing from life (regular life on earth, I mean) – the kind I do as an urban sketcher. But Ian McQue confirmed that drawing from reality is the basis for imaginative art: “Draw from life as much as you can,” he advised budding fantasy artists. “Whether you’re drawing a goat’s skull or a galaxy-spanning spacecraft, the thing that’s going to make them look convincing is how their form is defined by your understanding of light and shade.”
Even if I can’t relate to the content of the work, I thoroughly relate to the creative process of keeping a regular sketchbook. And I can certainly relate to form being defined by an understanding of light and shade.