I’m a BIG believer in the power of small drawings and what they can help you achieve.

I have posted about the small drawing before at the start of my sketching journey which runs through some of the major reasons everyone should have a go keeping small sketchbooks.

My profound interest in the small drawing started on a visit to Vienna where in one of the galleries I fell in love with Kolomon Moser’s design for the jubilee stamp. (I love the idea of sketching a set of designs for postage stamps! See below for my take on Moser’s stamp.) As I dove deeper into the subject I also discovered that many of the great masters kept small sketchbooks. Klimt for example, was known to have carried one with him everywhere he went in the folds of his artist’s cloak. (All unfortunately lost in a fire.)

I cannot, however, hand on heart say that my small drawing interest was purely driven by my artistic ambitions, but rather simply down to the fact that I actually do not have copious amounts of time to sit and fill a sketchbook. For that reason alone it is enough of a medium to luxuriate my artistic ambitions and feel as if I have produced something.

But…never mind not having enough time (which most of us don’t) I have some other things I have stumbled upon which I want to share with you.

In today’s post I am going to be focusing in on the POWER of small drawings. It may sound slightly dramatic but I truly believe that the small drawing format is a faster way in which you can find your artistic and creative voice.

Here’s how.

The Power of Small Drawings!

The Benefits of Going Small

Small drawings are a great format to use as they can support you create the space you need to practise and discover your personal style. Following on from an article I posted earlier on how to start a sketchbook and the daunting prospect of filling a first blank page, the small sketchbook is a great medium to take the pressure off!

I want to stop and think a little about the concept of the pressure we put ourselves under when you draw. How many obstacles do we put in our way before we event start to create anything? Perfectionism, fear of creating something we don’t like, not knowing where to start, fear of the blank page…and so on! All of these things reduce us to not getting started with ANYTHING!

Added to this, if you are a beginner, chances are you might spend a lot of time watching demo tutorials but still come away feeling slightly stuck.  You watch and then copy what you have seen being drawn. This does not, however, absolve you from still getting frustrated that what you produce doesn’t quite have the zing of the artist you are looking at.

What lies at the heart of this frustration is that you have yet to uncover your personal style and personal confidence as well as the practical knowledge to start drawing.

How can a small sketchbook support you to do this?

Smaller Size

Working small or smaller is a great way to become familiar with keeping a sketchbook. It allows you more freedoms than a larger sketchbook can. If you are stretched for time, for example, but have pledged to sketch, here is the format you should look to try. You can make mistakes more liberally (if you allow yourself too). When one sketch does not work, try it again over the course of the next few pages. Working smaller means you may be less invested in a sketch in comparison to working in a larger book.

I now carry an accompanying small sketchbook alongside my larger notebooks to quickly practise or use it to check colour swatches.

Fill it Faster!

One of the things I advocate in the success of keeping a sketchbook is this notion of momentum. Having a small sketchbook to hand that you make a concerted effort to draw in will encourage you when you notice the momentum you can generate with simple effective drawings.

By focusing in on something in more detail but with less space you can be forced to capture the very essence of an image. By this I mean the strokes of line that describes movement, or a particular shape. You will find that your definitions become more defined.

I also think there is something liberating about setting yourself a challenge of just getting something down on paper in the space of two to five minutes. Imagine that no one need ever see the picture you are sketching ever again. Imagine that there is no wrong or right answer to the technique you adopt. Allow yourself to become less inhibited on the page.

Develop your Personal Creative Style!

This is the area I get most excited about. As you are drawing smaller you are forced to simplify what you include in your drawing. You can’t possibly include every piece of information that you might in a larger drawing.

And yet, you still get the basic premise down on the paper.

This is the first step in discovering your personal style. Think about it. Basic lines on paper. How will you delineate the lines you set down on the page for the objects, things, people you come across on a small scale? Will you like using a pen or pencil or paint or all three or just one. What about the shapes you produce? Is there a consistent pattern that emerges to your work? One of my favourite things to try is colour. Many artists have unique and distinctive approaches to using colour. What might yours be? All of these factors can be scoped out much much faster in a smaller sketchbook. Rather than obsess too much about a larger drawing that will take you time to build in stages, the smaller sketch allows you to get straight to the point quickly.

As mentioned above treat your sketchbook as a little bit of a playground where psychologically you discard the perfectionist.

What strikes you about what you enjoy during this process?

The practise and the knowledge with which you do this will transcribe neatly to the larger scale drawing. The confidence you discover drawing small in your style will give you the impetus and confidence to draw larger.

Make Mistakes Easier

One of our largest failings as creatives is the need to attain perfectionism.  Perfectionism inhibits growth and even stops us still in our tracks, leaving us wishing we could be like others, frustrated at our own attempts. We are terrified of messing up a page. I keep a small sketchbook for this purpose. Wouldn’t it be great to have a sketchbook to fall back on and make mistakes in and encourage it as its purpose?  Except that no mistake is a mistake. It’s an experiment.

I now actually enjoy picking up the small sketchbook as I have come to associate it with creating art that comes with no pressure to be perfect or get it right.

The ability to see how a sketch evolves without my perfectionist head meddling underpins the very foundations of how we develop our creative identities.

Perfect for Beginners!

(…and advanced!)

When you start to learn to draw you are naturally tentative and a little inhibited, if not shy. You will work with smaller strokes and may lack confidence in your hands to draw more confident and larger lines. Even the way in which you hold your pencil will evolve from the starter phase. You will also tend to look at your paper more than you do your subject. Starting small is the perfect place to start you on your drawing process and support you build confidence.

As you start to learn in the pages of a small sketchbook you will begin to pay attention to the marks you make on the page.

Try New Themes

You can dedicate your small sketchbook to set themes.  I have a range of them that I use for different purposes dependent on what I am doing. Do you have a passion or passions that you love to sketch and want to expand upon. Perhaps it is teacups, landscapes, birds, or houses. I currently have 3 themed sketchbooks on the go as I am keen to develop my drawing skills in figure drawing, landscapes, and fast sketches where I don’t review them just keep moving forward to chart my development and progress.

A Small Sketch Exercise for You to Try!

Go on a treasure hunt around your home and collect up as many small objects as you can find no bigger than a coin or that you would class a small object.

Be as creative as you can possibly be finding different types of objects.

I’ve chosen a 50 pence piece, tape measure, tube of my favourite Rembrandt colour cerulean blue paint, compass, buttons (LOVE buttons – so whimsical!), my vintage ink nib tin and ink nibs, bull dog clip and a paper clip.

If you are new to this try and find small objects that may be linear in shape so that you can practise drawing lines. You may want to do a sketch page full of buttons for example and focus on their designs and colours. Focus on the small object as a starting point.

Choose your medium to use. Pencil or pen or ink.

I’m using my small square sketchbook open on a double page spread and a pencil.

Then copy what you see in front of you using steady strokes and lines, keeping it small. Focus on steady lines. Look at your object more than your page and keep your strokes simple.

You can watch my sketch here (which by popular request I have not sped up.)  It takes me 6 minutes to sketch a page.

Go make yourself a cup of tea, collect your objects and join in. If the video is too small open it on my Vimeo page and watch it there!  Why not use this 6 minutes to draw yourself?

Over the course of the next 7 days why not then sketch a page a day of small objects you find around your home, adding colour or trying different mediums as you go!

Remember that the small drawing is a gift that keeps on giving when you are an artist. It should form an essential part of your sketch kit and become an integral part to supporting you shape your creative voice and style. I’d encourage you to have a go filling a sketchbook entirely with small drawings as I do.

Come join me and meet me in the Emily’s Notebook Community!