The art of sketching

Sketching a project is often misunderstood as a sketch or preparatory drawing. If the sketch also serves as a preparation for the final work, what is the difference with other types of pencil drawings, what equipment is needed, and how to do it properly? We answer these questions and provide some tips for making your best sketches.

The sketch: a necessary step

When one wishes to draw and paint, the sketches are, in the practice of drawing, and graphic arts in general, an essential stage before proceeding to the final work. To make a quick definition of them, they are pencil drawings, which are preparatory to the works that we want to realize. These drawings in black and white are necessary to have a final overview of the painting or drawing in ink, pastel or felt pen, among others, that we want to achieve. In the history of art, the sketch has been used extensively by designers, painters and creative people, especially when it comes to making commissions, such as oil paintings, acrylic paintings or to make an artistic drawing or an engraving. The sketch allows to show the basis of the final drawing to the client, before inking or painting, while proposing changes, by the possibility of erasing or replacing certain aspects of the work. That said, although it is a work done beforehand, the sketch remains a technical and complete drawing. It allows the draftsman to emphasize the proportions and the drawing techniques used, but also the details, the shadows, the general hue of the painting, the shades of colors to come, and thus gives an idea of the pigments that will be used. One could compare the sketch with the first draft of a complete project, which would need to be validated by his/her boss, who reserves the right to request some changes. Sketches are therefore precise drawings, giving a real glimpse of the painting to come, close to the final result, but still subject to modification.

Sketch, line drawing, drafting, preparatory drawing... What is the difference?

The sketch

As we have already seen, the sketch is a pencil drawing, often in black and white, combining different techniques to provide a result that can be modified, but close to the final result. However, the sketch is often confused with other types of drawings, a mistake not to be made when one wishes to follow the different steps necessary for the production of a work. Indeed, making a sketch or a preparatory drawing, although the difference is tenuous, will not have the same objective as the sketch.

The outline

Outlining may seem very similar to sketching at first glance. However, drawing a sketch does not have the same function as making a sketch. Although it is a realistic drawing, with proportions, shading and details of the subject, it is primarily an observational drawing. Sketching can be a finished work, which can be done with any material (why not watercolor paint or oil pastel if you wish), and beginners, as well as experienced artists, can see it as a practice drawing to improve their skills. Sketching a subject will thus be the equivalent of "taking note" of an idea, an observation, which can then be used to make a sketch.

Line drawing

The line drawing precedes the sketch. Often used when one wants to learn to draw, or for complex works with many elements, this simple drawing consists in drawing with hands, the proportions and the forms of what will be later a more accomplished drawing. It can be seen as a quick sketch, seeking to model only the outline of the main shapes. This technique is mainly used to draw the anatomy of the human body, or complex objects, as it allows to bring out all the proportions of the subject before moving on to the shading and details that will transform this line drawing into a sketch or a sketch.

The preparatory drawing

Among all these nuances of pencil drawing, the preparatory drawing can be considered as the final phase before inking, painting or any other technique of drawing arts. It follows the sketch, which is a model whose size is adapted to work and easy transport. Once the sketch has been validated by the client or by the artist, the preparatory drawing consists of transcribing this sketch in life size, directly on the final medium. The artist will then be able to go back with his or her inks, paints and other pastels to create the work he or she wants.

How to make a good sketch?


When you want to draw a landscape, a live model, a still life, or even something from your imagination, observing your surroundings is key to a successful sketch. Indeed, it is during the observation of his or her subject that the draftsman must pay attention to the main shapes, the proportions, the details, the light and shadows, as well as the elements of light and shade. A good sketch must be able to capture all of these elements, and it is imperative to observe carefully before embarking on the design.

Make the overall shapes

Start by making the general outlines and shapes of your sketch. Your lines will be an indication of the volumes to come, and should respect the proportions of your subject. Don't hesitate to trace and re-trace to get a clean and synthetic initial draft of your drawing. This is the time to test, to make choices about what to keep and what not to keep, to erase, and to start over some of your lines. It is also at this stage that you can put the main geometric lines that will give the layout of your drawing (horizon line, circular shapes where the eye should be attracted, etc.). Don't forget that these lines can be erased later, so take advantage of them!

Add details and shades

Once the general shapes are done, you can add the details to enhance your design. Next, add the colors, by pressing more or less hard on your pencil, starting with the lightest colors, and going to the darkest. This will give an indication of the color values of your drawing or painting, once you move on to the final mediums. This is also when the drawing will be finalized, as the positioning of the color values will show the volumes of your subject. At the end of this stage, you should have a complete sketch, ready to be transcribed into a preparatory drawing, unless you or your client wishes to retouch it.

Don't emphasize your strokes too much

Be careful, during the whole sketch creation process, do not emphasize your strokes too much. They must remain erasable in order to be able to be reworked and retouched if necessary.

What equipment is needed to make a good sketch?

Suitable pencils

If we often know in advance which medium will allow us to draw our final work, we can ask ourselves the question of the equipment to use to make a good sketch. It must indeed be done in black and white, the use of pigments being much more expensive, but above all, it must allow the draftsman to make drawings that he or she can blur and erase. So forget about oil pastel pencils, like dry pastels, which smear or mess up the paper, without erasing the initial line, or felt-tip pens, colored pencils, ink, and brushes requiring the use of paint, which do not allow erasing the strokes if necessary. You can then turn to pencils known for their durability, but also for their ability to disappear under the effect of an eraser bread crumbs. Beginners can choose a graphite pencil HB, which will be easily accessible, but where the pressure a little too pronounced can prevent the erasure of a line too marked. There is also a blue pencil called "non-photo", which in addition to being one of the easiest mediums to erase, does not appear in the image during a scan or photocopy. However, the tool that all art schools will recommend is charcoal. Charcoal can be blended and erased to perfection, while still having the perfect hold and precision to make your sketches. Charcoal comes in different forms. There is the compressed charcoal, which is precise and easy to handle, but, like the graphite pencil, will have difficulty fading under the effect of the eraser if the line is too strong. Sketch charcoal, as its name indicates, will be more suitable for sketching, as its hold on the paper is sufficient, and its capacity to be worked and erased is the best among all the mediums available.

Adequate paper

When sketching, you can't use just any kind of paper. Since this part of the process requires a lot of retouching, scratching and erasing, the sketch paper must be solid, with a weight greater than that of conventional printer paper, in order to resist all the hazards it will undergo. In addition, its grain must be thick enough to accommodate the charcoal, without it fading at the slightest contact with the hand or during transport. Don't forget that sketch paper should be transportable, either as a notebook or in a drawing pouch, so that it can be reworked and transported easily. Canson paper can be used to make a quality sketch, but you can find specific sketch paper in specialized stores, which will be totally adapted to this stage of creation.

And the indispensable graphics tablet for drawing

Today, digital drawing has become part of our daily lives, and the use of a graphics tablet has greatly expanded to make all kinds of drawings and digital paintings, thanks to the many tools that graphics software offer. It is thus possible, thanks to a good quality drawing tablet, to make sketches and drawings directly on the computer, using the layers available on the software. However, many designers still appreciate the use of paper, either to carry out an observation phase, where they do not necessarily have access to their computer, or simply for the comfort that traditional drawing with pencil and paper provides. It is in this perspective that hybrid graphic tablets, such as the ISKN Repaper, were born, in order to propose to the draftsman to realize his or her sketches directly on paper, as he or she would usually do, while having access to the digital version as soon as he or she has access to his or her computer. Thanks to this type of graphic tablet, it is indeed possible to place a sheet of paper directly on the active surface of the drawing tablet, and to draw with your favorite pencil, thanks to a magnetic ring placed around it, and retranscribing the movements and the inclination directly to the tablet. Thus, you can draw on paper, and see your drawing broadcasted in real time on the graphic software, or be saved in the memory of the graphic tablet to be reworked later. So, no more blue pencil, scanning, adapting to hand-eye coordination between the tablet and the computer screen, or having access to your computer hardware when you're on the go! With a hybrid graphics tablet, you can sketch, outline, and draw in a single stroke, and enjoy all the benefits of digital artwork by switching your device back to screenless mode, and using it with a pen, just like a traditional graphics tablet.

The simplicity of pencil and paper, the power of a graphic tablet


To sketch a project is to make a work that will give an almost completed idea of the final drawing or painting, while having the possibility to rework and modify it if necessary. If it is possible to make a sketch in different ways, the sketch charcoal and a suitable paper will be ideal to realize it. If you wish to use a graphic software to draw your digital paintings, you can also turn to a graphic tablet, preferably hybrid in order to keep the best feeling of the paper, and to be able to rework your sketch wherever you are.