Working Small for Big Returns

Lately I’ve been struggling with motivation and finding new subject matter. This means that I am not working/ practicing as much as I would like. I realized that perhaps I have been going about things all wrong, or that at least a new approach would be worth a try. So I bought the smallest sketchbook I have ever had.


It’s about 4”x6”. I know it’s not that small, but it seems small to me, since I have never worked on paper smaller than 8”x10”. And it fits into my purse! I was initially hoping for a sketchbook where I could add splashes of watercolor, but I couldn’t find anything like that. The paper in this one is only something like 60lb. But if I decide I need some color, this will be the perfect place for a touch of colored pencil. (And it only cost $3.) Though I am generally focusing on small sketches, I got the hardback sketchbook so I have the ability to do a double-page spread if I want to (AND so that I can’t be sneaky and tear out pages that don’t turn out so well).

In the past, I used sketchbooks as if each page were a complete, final drawing (more on that in a future post). The sketch was the end in itself, not the means to an end. Now, I am looking at a different end, with quick little sketches as the starting point. My strategy with this sketchbook is to reduce the pressure of trying to draw everything “perfectly.” If literally anything is fair game, I won’t have to struggle to find things to draw, which will help me keep working and improving my skills. Then, when the mood strikes, I can apply those improved skills to completing a larger piece, perhaps even based on something that moved me when I was out and about with my little sketchbook.

I bought a narrow felt-tip pen to sketch with (by LePen, no idea if it’s technically any good but it seems fine to me). The idea behind using pen is to improve first-time accuracy and try to let go of perfectionism. When I misplace a line, I can just draw a new, darker line until I get it right. If I don’t feel like doing that, I still have a chance to assess where I’ve gone wrong in terms of angles or proportions and keep it in mind for the next time, since nothing is in its “final” version. I also made the decision that in this sketchbook I would focus mostly on lines instead of shading. I am planning on getting into adding background figures to my pieces, and working this way lets me draw something quickly in the moment—before a person changes position or stands up and walks away.

In addition to working small, I am trying to work fast and loose. No more spending hours on tight, fussy details. These details, I’ve come to see, have been sucking the life out of my drawings. I want action, liveliness, and energy to come through in what I draw. I’m learning that there is more to creating art than just copying what I see in front of me. There is that extra, human element that is what makes one artist’s portrayal of a subject so different from that of the artist sitting next to him.

So, in addition to gaining the opportunity to translate small, quick sketches into enormous masterpieces (or, you know, relatively nice medium-sized pieces), I seek to instill more life into my artwork. These are the big returns I hope to see from working small (and fast, and loose).

So far, I have just been doing quick sketches wherever I happen to be—at my house, in waiting rooms, etc. I’m looking forward to delving into more substantial subject matter in the future, especially as it becomes nice enough to get outside!


I’m quite happy with this one, the first in the new sketchbook, because I feel it has personality and I think I captured the figure(s) minimally and loosely but with relative accuracy. I drew this from a photo—a safe place to start!—but the rest are drawn from life (half page)

IMG_3580 (1)

Here, I was experimenting with redrawing misplaced lines. This is a small wooden figurine. I like the effect! (half page)


This sketch was a little less successful, but I did manage to get it done before she moved her head (half page)


While angles and proportions are clearly off and the scene looks relatively flat, this sketch has exactly the swift, loose, illustration-style look that I have been aiming to create as I move away from strict realism and go more for atmosphere and character. I like that it looks more playful than what/how I usually draw. The music gear belongs to my husband (full page)



  1. I am a huge fan of this idea! I’m doing something similar with this handmade sketchbook for scribbling in, practice figure sketches, doing thumbnail sketches, and doodling and all the other stuff I’m too reluctant to do in my ‘good’ sketchbooks. I always feel like I’m wasting paper when I do it in them (even though I know it’s really good). Silly brain XD

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great idea. You’ve totally inspired me! I am travelling os in a few months and was wondering what to do. Like you I draw large and every piece is the ‘final’ image. I will definitely being travelling small!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear it! I definitely recommend taking a small sketchbook with you, whether you sketch in pencil, ink, or whatever you like the most. It’s so refreshing have some of the pressure taken off, and you don’t have to show your sketches to anyone unless you feel like it.

      Liked by 1 person

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