Drawing & Composition for Visual Storytelling

Epic Epilogue

The secret to becoming a kick-ass storyboard artist is…

Always have a Sketchbook with you and draw in it constantly!

Believe it or not, this is the best advice I can give you about becoming a better artist, and that’s to carry a sketchbook with you all the time and to doodle in it whenever you can.

There are many reasons why very few people ever do this. Some excuses are:

  • “Carrying a sketchbook takes effort, it’s annoying having to haul one around all the time.”
  • “I find drawing people and animals too difficult, they keep moving all the time.”
  • “I can’t draw very well, so I can’t be bothered.”
  • “I don’t like it when people look over my shoulder or ask to see my sketches.”

These are all poor excuses, you need to get past these and any other reasons you may use to convince yourself to NOT carry a sketchbook around. Carrying a sketchbook is extremely important. A sketchbook is your best opportunity to catch real life as it passes by you. Why is this important? Because what makes great storytelling, animation, characters and films of every kind is that they capture a truth about real life. Any film that can show us a reflection of life as we know it will always resound deep within us, and the most popular and successful comic books, TV shows and video games all work in the exact same way.

The truth never gets old or uninteresting. Any film that captures a truth about life will be compelling to an audience, no matter what other flaws it might have. There are so many films made today by people who don’t try to say anything about life or attempt to portray real people – they’re too busy trying to be slick or clever or stylish or something else. Don’t believe me? Listen to animation master Brad Bird as he covers this same sort of thing.

You MUST start getting in the habit of carrying a sketchbook and using it. Ultimately, you won’t do it unless you enjoy it, some people are better at doing a great sketch on the first try. When I’m storyboarding, I never use the first sketch I do. I always go over it at least once to improve it, sometimes I go over it five times and sometimes I go over it fifty times. The sketchbook, is for practice, for experimenting. Whether you’re doodling some designs from your imaginiation, or sketching your cat laying on the floor, or dreaming up some cool robot designs, try to find a way to make sketching fun.


Moleskine make the best quality mini-sketchbooks

Moleskine make the best quality mini-sketchbooks

There’ no excuse.

Get a pocket-sized one if you must.

Moleskine make the best quality mini-sketchbooks.

Find them here and here.

There are many other cheaper versions available, so there’s no excuse to not to have SOME kind of sketchbook.

Equip yourself creatively by exercising daily. No excuses, it’s a pencil not a dumb bell, just do random sketches and designs everyday. Spontaneous doodles from your head don’t have to make sense, and they don’t have to be perfect. When you’re drawing from life, the sketches don’t have to be complete, they don’t have to be clean and accurate. It’s all about simply capturing spontaneous thoughts and ideas to doodle, writing down notes and ideas, and drawing from life while developing those observational skills.

Don’t focus on how good or bad your sketches are, instead focus on doing your best to capture what you see and learn from it. In order to carry a sketchbook around I had to just tell myself that my sketchbook is just for learning, not filling it with beautiful pictures. Focus on just doing a drawing. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You’ll get a lot out of just moving your pen around and trying to capture what you see. You’ll inherently sense what could be better and apply that next time.

Draw & study with a purpose!

It is important to have some sort of goal or idea in mind before you start drawing. And it could really be anything. If you can identify areas you are having trouble with, then you can spend time focusing on those areas. It doesn’t matter what your goal is as long as you have one in mind you won’t drift around aimlessly when you start drawing.

Fear is the mind killer!

Learning to draw takes time. People are impatient. Don’t be impatient! I’ve seen a lot of people stop trying because they weren’t seeing results fast enough. Or people worry so much about improving that they just freeze up and don’t do anything. Don’t worry so much about where your drawing level is. Focus on the task at hand.

Buy/borrow some books and research!

Another thing I started doing when I started learning about design and animation was buying books – LOTS of books! I tried to surround myself with artists and things that I found inspirational. I would go down to the used book store once a week to see if they had anything new. I also scoured the net for artists and images that I liked. Learning to draw is like learning a new language and the best way to learn a new language is to constantly be surrounded by it and the culture it comes from. Learning about other artists also helps you to identify what you like and what you don’t like aesthetically and it ensures that you will always have new ideas to draw from.

If you really want to get better you have to make time to draw. Carry a sketchbook wherever you go and take every opportunity you can to draw. It will become a habit and then the progress never stops. There is no magic secret. To quote Ivor Hele, “Only your own hard work teaches you anything of value in the end.”

No matter what specialization you go into in the field of visual arts, filmmaking, special effects, or video games; a sketchbook is more than a way to improve your drawing, it forces you to focus on the world around you and to analyze it. And it’s a great way to thumbnail down some ideas for characters and compositions as well.

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