Sketches from a Bicycle


Here's my latest discovery on how to boost one's creativity and go about sketching. I'm amazed I didn't think of this years ago. Simply pack up and take the studio out to the nearest cafe or cafeteria.

It's easy to just toss my pencils, eraser, papers, previous sketches and some tea & a book into my shoulder satchel. I also choose 3 or 4 pages that I want to work on and print those out to take along. Then I just hop on my bike and I'm off.... OUT of the dreaded Padded Cell of the Studio!

And later, when I get home... I patch all the bits I've sketched together into the layout of a new illustration. It seems to work best for rough sketches and concept ideas.

Anyhow, I suggest ya'll give it a try if you haven't yet. Artists by tradition sketch in cafes after all.

Here's an example of a bunch of sketches I did yesterday. Just to explain this fun new working method I've been using.

I sketch on architect's tissue paper, that comes in rolls, so I really don't sketch in notebooks.

I find it's easy and helpful to have a transparent paper, so I can quickly rework any sketches I do by placing them beneath several other sheets of transparent tissue, so it's just barely possible to see the sketch beneath, but not too clearly. Then it's easy to resketch very quickly and add in all the changes.


But then when I get home, I just scan them all in... clip them out by circling them with the wacom and paste them all into a 'sketch file' that might have 20 bits of drawings in it. Then when it's time to build a new page for a book, I just drag them out into the new page file and 'process' them in photoshop. Stretching, shrinking, flipping, rotating... until the new sketch is assembled. It's like doing a collage only it's digital and lots faster.

On this page of a book idea I'm working up, I knew I'd need a lawnmower, some kids, a house, a woods. I find it's very liberating to just sketch like this, without regard to size, shape or fitting the drawing into anything while drawing. All the fitting in comes later in photoshop.

I just made this single image file to show ya'll, but in real life, they're just dozens of loose bits of tissue. When I scan them into the computer, they're 15 different sketches each on their own layer in one photoshop file.

I find this working method very LIBERATING... quick, flexible, portable and easy to edit.
And it provides both lifesaving excercise along with a brief reprise from the shackles of the padded cell. A definite win-win situation!

And probably best of all... I get some faux socializing in... pretending to be a part of society, even though it's mostly socializing by proxy.


farah said...

Shhhh...don't tell anyone...the cafes are crowded enough...(just kidding) I've begun doing the same thing. It really works!

I had this complicated huge illustration with children and landmarks around the world and was tearing my hair out a few months ago (that is why I'm nearly bald now)...and did the same thing: tissue, pencils, pens, and a little reference printed out. It took me less than 2 hours to do what I couldn't do in weeks!

Then just scanned in those bitsy sketches at home, collaged and tweaked and had a sketch to send by the end of the day.

I recommend this method too!

salmonowen said...

You're absolutely right, John, sometimes you need to shake off the "bad vibes" of the studio or it becomes "that bad vibe place." Though it's SNOWING here today, so I can't see hopping on my bike to go anywhere!


John Nez said...


Then there's always the bus, to get out of the studio.

But I have concluded that it's true, we spend WAY TOO MUCH TIME in our studios! Doin' solitary.... ugh!

I'm still waiting to read that 'white paper' written by some Harvard psychologist that exposes all the mental health hazards encountered in the job of being a free-lance illustrator.

Isolation, rejection, deadlines, insecurity, boredom... the list goes on and on.

Why do we do this? Why aren't we all just earning frequent flyer miles working on a highly paid corporate team? WHY?!!



Phyllis Harris said...


You know why! Because we are luckiest people in the world to be able to do what we do every day!!! Yes, we're somewhat isolated but we can make our own schedules and ride our bikes to the nearest coffee shop to write and sketch whenever we get the urge! ;o)

Btw, I love working the way you do as well...sketching all the seperate components and then scanning them all in and playing in Photoshop.

Thanks for sharing!
Phyllis H.