Growing up as an artist
I’ve always loved to draw, doodling constantly as a kid. This was often met with the disapproval of my teachers, but a few of them knew it was how I tuned in best. Keeping my hands moving kept my mind from wandering.
I knew as a kid that I would work in the creative industry, but the phrase “starving artist” scared me away from pursuing a career in fine art and illustration. So, as a freshman in High School, I discovered—and fell in love with—the world of graphic design.
I’ve been a graphic designer for nearly ten years, currently doing business as Seekfire Creative. Fortunately, along the way, sketching has been a major part of my design process, and illustration has found its way into my projects when appropriately supporting brand strategy. You can view some of that work at jonnybobgan.com.
Despite the privilege of drawing and creating art as part of my design process, I was doing it for commercial purposes. I missed that creative spark I felt drawing as a kid with nobody to draw for but myself.
Rediscovering my affinity for sketching
I shared in a recent blog post that I dove back into sketching as a way to honor my deceased Nana and Mom by finishing their old sketchbooks. However, it was only a piece of the puzzle that shaped Drawn to Sketching.
When I began sketching again, I found it difficult to find any time for it. In addition to working full time, I spent 15–20 hours commuting every week. I would get home to my family just in time for dinner, followed by an hour with my kids before putting them to bed. Then I would have about an hour with my wife before I went to bed so I could be up by 5 the next morning. I had to find time for art without neglecting my job or my family. I resolved to devote my dreaded commute as an opportunity to draw, and so began my habit of sketching on buses.
Out of my comfort zone
I started sketching on buses using pencil, a lot of eraser, and a significant amount of frustration. The ride was bumpy, dark on the way into the city, and there was often someone cramped against my side. My first reaction was “This is exactly why I don’t sketch on the bus.”
However, for weeks I suppressed my negativity long enough to see the light. I began enjoying not worrying about mistakes as I adapted my style to work with the rough ride. Additionally, the support and encouragement I received on Instagram helped me realize that mistakes and imperfections are not only acceptable, but seen perceived as beautiful and honest.
My sketches riddled with shaky lines and other contributions made by the bus driver or road became some of my followers’ and my favorites.
Organic style for an organic subject
I began my Instagram account with quick explorations of different subject matter, but I naturally gravitated toward sketching landscapes. It helped me feel closer to the mountains that I missed so much while I was stuck in the city.
Not only is it a subject I love, the naturally rough edges of our natural world lend themselves well to scribbled renderings. Trees are messy, water is squiggly, and mountains are bumpy.
Reaping the rewards of expanding my comfort zone
In a matter of a few months, I concluded the one place in which I actively avoided sketching for years had become my ideal art studio. I found myself using the pencil less and confidently jumping straight in with pen.
When you accept imperfection, you let go of hesitation that so often limits creativity. Also, when you have limited time to sketch, such as from the start of a route to the end of it, the limited time forces you speed through the sketch. Between this and using a smaller canvas in the limited space, you are able to crank through more sketches, which means more practice with less commitment to each piece.
There’s beautiful opportunity when you don’t hold your artwork too dearly.
The non-creative benefit to sketching on the bus, train, or in the car is the sanity saved in passing the time in a useful way. This is especially important for restless people like me.
My favorite tools for on the road
I keep my mobile art kit simple; paper, a pencil for a rough outline to get my perspective or scale right, and then a .005–.03 Sakura Micron Pen for the rest. I also recently started using Tombow pens. I use a small 3.5”x5.5” Pen Sketchers Pad by Bee Paper.
This setup worked great for me while I was commuting, and continues to be useful as I can sketch anywhere while packing light.
Tips for sketching on the road
Sketch, sketch, and sketch. Just keep doing it, because you will get more comfortable with it, and you will naturally develop your style and your own methods of overcoming the road. I personally work in quick, short strokes and race through the sketch between the rougher stretches of the road.
Another key to producing quality sketches on the road is to take full advantage of stops, whether in slow traffic or at bus stops or traffic lights. If there is a line you need to execute without unexpected marks, save that stroke for the next stop or a calmer stretch of road.
I knew I had to use my commute as an opportunity for growth, rather than just a jail cell between home and work. I no longer commute by bus, as I now run my own business at home. But I still find myself applying the lessons learned on the bus to sketching at home, and have adapted these methods to working in much larger formats.