The Artist’s Guide to Sketching by James Gurney and Thomas Kinkade is a wonderful reference guide for established artists. This is not a “how to” book; this is a book detailing the experiences and methods of two famous, splendid artists. James Gurney is the author of the Dinotopia books, and has worked as an illustrator for such clients as National Geographic; Thomas Kinkade is known as the “Painter of Light.” The two artists took off across America, living the life of a hobo, with nothing but their sketchbooks and knapsacks with some clothes and food (at least that’s the adventurous description of what happened). They “drew their way across America.”
Please note that this book is, at present, out-of-print but available for a premium on Amazon, eBay, and other websites. Why is it so expensive? It’s a great book. I believe the best way to explain why is to say that this book will invariably alter your way of thinking about sketching, and place that activity in the spotlight as the key to adventure, imagination, and recording your life and times.
The first and most important premise of The Artist’s Guide to Sketching is that an artist should get outdoors and draw from LIFE, not photographs, as much as possible. They authors take great pains to explain that the process of sketching is not just drawing a specific subject such as a tree; it’s about incorporating the rest of the environment, including sounds and interactions which are not directly in the picture you are drawing. Carrying across the feel of a lonely tree out in the middle of an abandoned field is a much different task than accurately recreating the feel of a tree in the middle of a park, filled with families and pets, noise and bustling life.
You are in control of what you draw; the subject matter you are drawing is merely a reference tool. Most realist artists — myself included — will feel at times as though they need to render the subject matter the way it looks exactly, and that the successful translation of that subject matter to the paper or canvas is therefore a successful piece of art. However, everything that you use in the creation of your picture is merely a reference. You may omit or add anything you wish. You may invent extra color in some places, texture in others. You may mix and match realities, taking two unlike things and merging them together. You are in essence the god of your sketchbook.
The most important aspect of the sketch is the feeling you convey. You must decide upon a specific mood, and make all judgments about the drawing based on the theme you’ve chosen to work with. It is best to write down keywords for this theme on the paper you are working with, to help prompt yourself. The lonely tree vs the tree in the middle of an active park immediately call forth certain lighting and color schemes — maybe even specific line work, paper size, and drawing mediums.
You should record everything via sketching, and keep a sketchbook with you always to jot notes, draw quick doodles, or compose fully rationalized pieces. The artist’s sketchbook is a point of reference for their daily lives, their adventures, their experiences, their minds. The great masters of art all had sketchbooks filled with mundane objects and scenes regardless of their fantastic oil paintings. This is your window, your reference tool, your way of preserving memories, thoughts, and situations. You should draw, write notes, add in quotes, jot down ideas, and so on. And, you should have several sketchbooks.
You must distinguish between a sketch and a study. A sketch is a picture you create based on one or more references. You “take artistic license” with these references in order to further your goals for the picture. A study is a rendering of a specific subject matter in as faithful a manner as you can create. Studies assist an artist in being able to recreate objects, learn about their inherent properties, learn about their forms, lighting, and so on. Studies are learning tools. All artists should actively draw studies, but should also be conscious of the difference between a sketch and a study and set out with intent to draw either one or the other. It is also a good idea for an artist to dedicate sketchbooks to studies of specific subjects, such as a sketchbook dedicated to drawing trees. This is an invaluable reference tool for an artist to return to whenever composing a painting. All sketchbooks are invaluable to the artist and should be kept in an easily accessible place.
There are several other points that this book makes; the above are just a few summaries of certain key ideas. Gurney and Kinkade explore everything from how to get a stranger to pose for a drawing to handling curious onlookers to what materials work best for plein-air sketching. This is an essential reference for any artist, as sketching is the cornerstone of all visual art regardless of medium.