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Drawing from Inspiration
See Mark Illing’s intricately detailed black and white creations; Sean Karemaker’s stark comic art capturing encounters with people and places; and Jon Shaw’s vibrantly layered works of city scenes. Discover how similar tools and inspiration can result in different works of art. Whether sketching on location or working from your imagination, we encourage you to put your pen to paper!
Watch Mark, Sean, and Jon's process in the video above or read the exclusive article below.
Interested in some of the products used in Drawing from Inspiration?
COPIC Multiliner Pens
COPIC Sketch Markers
Staedtler Lumocolor Markers
Staedtler Mechanical Pencils
Pentel Brush Pen
Strathmore Bristol Paper
Strathmore Toned Sketch Paper
Opus Cradled Exhibition Panels
Prat Start 1 Portfolios
Golden Artist Fluid Acrylics
Golden Heavy Body Acrylics
Winsor & Newton Artists' Acrylics
Pebeo Studio Acrylics
Liquitex Basics Acrylic Colors
Liquitex Clear Gesso
Opus: What is your drawing process?
Mark Illing: I really like working in coffee shops that have good lighting and good tables to work on. When I’m creating a new drawing, it’s usually completely done in ink, and I don’t do a lot of pencil sketching beforehand. I like to problem solve around that permanent line and negotiate the page with it, rather than endlessly designing something. It’s nice to be committed to whatever is happening and trying to figure out how that’s going to play into it.
Sean Karemaker: I work in public because a lot of my imagery is about people and social observation. I’ll sketch anywhere–in coffee shops, on the bus. I like to work directly on the page rather than doing a lot of preliminary thumbnails. I prefer to get the gesture and the idea out without overworking it. In some cases, I need to do smaller drawings or even coloured compositions to achieve the complexity of the image. But I’ve done a lot of work in uncomfortable situations and that lends itself to the story I am telling in my work.
Jon Shaw: My process involves walking around the city and documenting what I see with my camera phone or SLR camera. Then I go back to the studio and sketch them out. Based on my sketches, I scan the final work into the computer and make changes if I need to. Then I redraw the image onto a primed wood panel, I use a clear gesso so I can show off the wood grain. I establish the ink drawing first with marker pens and then I start painting loosely and spontaneously. I like that contrast compared to the tight line work. I keep going back and forth working over top of the paint and the ink creating layers upon layers. Once it feels finished, I’ll varnish it and hang it on the wall.
What materials are most helpful to your process?
MI: I always carry my briefcase of work. There are very few times when I don’t have my entire portable studio with me. I’m very low-tech in my materials, so it’s easy. The COPIC Multiliner Pens and COPIC Sketch Markers have amazing felt tip qualities and are better than anything else I have used so far. They also have replaceable nibs and replaceable ink cartridges. That is a big bonus because I go through a lot of them. For paper, it’s mostly Bristol because you can achieve great line work due to its smooth finish.
SK: I use mid-toned Strathmore Paper and Moleskine Sketchbooks. I sketch with the Pentel Brush Pens because they are reliable. I can take them on vacation and draw for months with the same pen and it won’t break down. I can also refill it easily and it has a good consistency of black. I also use COPIC Sketch Markers in a painterly type way by mixing them with Golden Fluid Acrylics and black ink to create my comics.
JS: I use a variety of different materials for different processes but I always draw with Staedtler Lumocolor Markers. They have nice black permanent ink, the best line weight variety, and they provide a really clean look. I also use their mechanical pencils for my initial line work. I purchase paint based on trying out new colour combinations so I use a variety of different brands like W&N, Pebeo, Liquitex, and Golden. Basically if I like the colour, I will grab it and start experimenting.
How long do you spend sketching your subject matter?
MI: The longest project was about 174 hours. I was working with pointillism and I really enjoyed the slow pacing of it. I didn’t have to pause to reflect on it because it’s this Zen moment of just flowing with it. If it wasn’t so incredibly impractical to work like that, it’s all I would do.
SK: I will work for 12 or 16 hours in some cases but lately I’ve been giving myself more balance. I try to work for around 8 hours and to work in various locations that may not be related to what I am working on. My work is usually a gradual progression over time because I work on a couple different things at once and I’m not specifically drawing from life. I try to draw from my memory and use that as a filter to create the style of my work.
JS: I like the action of walking around and taking snapshots, and when the time is available, to really immerse myself in those environments. If I like the environment my subject is in, then I’ll really explore it by taking lots of photographs. I get more involved and it becomes more of a situational study as I’m familiarizing myself with the surroundings to help inform my art.
How does being around other people affect your process?
MI: I’ve heard it called the spotlight effect, where you feel that people are watching you so you behave in a different way. It’s nice to be forced to work that extra bit and when people are around, I don’t find that I take breaks that often. I just keep going and trying to figure out a solution to where the project should go. It is just a more consistent way of working.
SK: I like the attention and how people react to my work. Often, the way I see my work is a lot different than other people. So talking with them gives me a heads up on what people might be interested in. Most of the time people are positive with what they are saying and sometimes they are negative. If they are, I just I use that as motivation to work harder.
JS: I enjoy interacting with people that see me drawing and my process doesn’t really change. It definitely adds a bit of an audience factor but as an artist you want to have an audience. When I am on location, it’s more of me sharing my process with someone as opposed to the actual piece. People just add to the fun of being out that day.
What factors have helped your drawing skills evolve?
MI: I’ve been drawing pictures since a young age and so much of my identity is wrapped up in that. I’m interested in making things that haven’t existed already, so by sketching buildings and architecture, I have learned how to create a sense of depth very simply. Then I can mess around with it by putting something that is impossible in reality and continuously build on top of that. At first, I felt a little self-conscious about working around other people because I didn't' want my work seen at an early stage. But you just have to get out, do it, and your work will be better for it.
SK: I take my pen and sketchbook everywhere and I either have that or a full portfolio sized drawing bag with me. If I worked in my studio the entire time I’d probably go crazy. Working in various locations has helped not only my drawing skills but in exposing my art to others. I’m out in public for the feeling of life and I try to capture moments I experience for later. They are filtered through my memory and with the texture of the cities background, I can create context and add richness to my images.
JS: I’ve basically held true to the line drawings that I have done ever since I was a kid. By working with certain ink pens and markers I have learned how to form different line weights. I learned a pen doesn’t just have to be solid black, that it can be really thick or really thin depending on how you angle it and how you hold it. So it’s a sketching process that also becomes part of my finished work.
Are you precious about your sketches?
MI: When I finish a project I usually put it away until I can come back to it with a better way of approaching things. When you spend a lot of time with a piece you get very slowed down trying not to wreck anything. Sometimes for the greater good of the piece you have to take out things and I guess I can be precious that way. But, I’ve also sorted out ways of getting around that preciousness.
SK: No, not at all. I feel I need to produce a lot of work and I’ve felt that urge for a long time. I’ve filled up book after book while still publishing a lot of it. I try to finish my sketches but I don’t care if they’re not perfect. You can only learn by trying new things, but you mostly, you learn from making mistakes.
JS: One of the things you learn when you go to art school is that you can’t be. They teach you as early as first year drawing to experiment and be ready to potentially wreck them. If you are not afraid to experiment you will grow as an artist and your work will become better from it. Give them away, wreck them, and don’t feel attached because there is always something better that will come out. •