6 Surprisingly Easy Ways to Improve Your Sketching Skills

ABD Guest Post by Esther Jongste

Sketching is a skill you can learn if you so choose. To introduce myself my name is Esther Jongste and I’m a Netherlands-based surface designer. Ashley asked me to share some thoughts about my sketching process, and you guessed it…I said yes. Below you will find information on how I developed my sketching skills and tips on how to improve your own.


For the last fifteen years, I worked as a desktop publisher. Then, I was in between jobs and decided to make a career shift to surface design. While I enjoyed drawing as a child (and I did so often), as time passed I lost those skills, and it was years until I held a pen to create again. For that reason, learning to sketch again became imperative.


To discover and develop your style in design work, sketching is essential. Your hand drawing shows your personality; it shows your style. For me, it was important to make sketching a natural habit again. I needed to create resources I could reference for future projects. There are several ways to improve your sketching skills. Let me share 6 with you (and a 7th as a bonus!).


1. Make your mile

To come from A to B you have to travel. You have to make miles. If you want to grow a plant, seed it, feed it, water it. It will grow. If you want to grow your sketching skills, if you want to bring your sketching to the next level… walk your miles. Research, practice, and your skills will improve. They will grow along the way. I think ‘making miles’ is an essential element to improving your skills. You’ve got to do the work. See it as a muscle that must be trained.




2. Know your style

You may be thinking, where do I start? What will I sketch? Or I can’t draw at all. A few years ago. I asked myself those same questions and felt the same way. I didn’t even know I had a style. Discovering my style opened up the motivation to get back to my sketchbook again. Knowing your style helps you focus on ‘what’ and ‘how.’


Researching always helps you find and discover your favorites and foretastes. Pinterest is perfect for this job. You can also borrow books from your local library, or something similar, as well. Drawing Lab and the How to Draw series are two of my favorites!


Once you’ve spent time researching, collect your finds and discover recurrent themes throughout your outings and favorites. Do you like simplicity or detailed work? Have you a favorite color palette or just black and white? Do you like perfection or imperfection? Do you like line drawing or prefer painting? Try to describe what you see, to pick out keywords that match your style and foretaste. All those discoveries will help you make choices in your sketching process. It will give you direction to the questions of ‘what’ and ‘how’.



3. Find your favorite tools

What tools are needed? When you are an experienced sketcher, you will have found your favorite tools. If you are just starting out. My tip is to keep it simple. Your tools will grow and develop while you walk your sketching miles. A pen, a micron or a pencil. Some (blank) sheets of paper or a sketchbook. That will do to make a start.


Later on, you will experiment with other materials. It will develop naturally when you grow in your drawing and sketching skills.
The most important thing is that you discover the tools that fit you the best. Which tools feel natural? Which tools express best your taste and show your personality? Use those.


My favorite art supplies (currently):


I love the varying of transparency. Of course, I have plenty more other art supplies, but these are far away my most used items.


When your are in for some new art supplies, try out some tools you aren’t familiar with. Experiment with pens, paper, paint, crayons and you will find what your favorites are and which are not. And have you thought of your tablet or mobile device as drawing tools? There are plenty of apps out there, which will let you play and experiment drawing and sketching. My favorites are: Sketches, Pen & Ink, SketchbookX and Inkpad.2015-Esther_Jongste-sketching_process-tablet-collage2a-web-650pixels


Remember, your choices are a part of who you are and how you want to express yourself.



4. Challenge yourself

If you want to make sketching to be a habit, if you want to improve your skills, challenges are a great tool to reach those goals. I like to challenge myself all the time. Sometimes I have daily projects, for a shorter or longer time, which I eventually share on the internet. I like to join (short) classes. Consider teaming up with fellow designers, where you can share your thoughts and experiences. Add books to your library with new techniques. And so on.


Each year I set goals for the upcoming year. One of them this year is a goal to improve my sketch and design skills. I picked up something that needs improving, that I find challenging. In 2015, I pushed myself to improve my flower drawing skills. I bought books, I gathered flower photos, I collected flowers and seeds for inspiration and direction. I took a course. All with one goal: to be inspired to draw flowers and to develop my style in drawing florals. Now at the end of the year, I can look back and see the effect of my efforts in my work.


Think about what kind of challenges suit you best. Maybe a 365-day project or just short ones (ex. a week). Add a theme or set limitations to your drawing project. Search the internet for new techniques. Choose a book that will challenge you to think out of the box. Maybe you need a buddy to stay motivated; maybe you work best on your own. Maybe you like to team up with others on the Internet or in your neighborhood. Discover what suits you best.


Challenge yourself and sketch, sketch, sketch!



5. Create libraries

I recommend creating libraries as an inspiration source for future projects. They will feed your sketching and design work. While you walk your miles, you will collect inspiration source material. Don’t throw anything away. Even if you don’t like it! Make sure your sketch ends up in a book or special box. This way you build up your sketch library.


Don’t throw anything away. Even if you don’t like it! Make sure your sketch ends up in a book… Click To Tweet


For an ‘inspirational’ library you can collect books, magazines, souvenirs, photos you took with your camera or mobile device, pins you collected on Pinterest, and treasures you found in nature. Collect anything that’s a source of inspiration for you.2015-Esther_Jongste-sketching_process-mushrooms-collage2a-web-650pixels


Note: We all have cameras nowadays. Take photos from anything that interests you. The photos don’t have to be perfect. Rather collect them and organize them in one place. Original pictures are great resources without worrying about copyrighting, because they are all yours.


Pinterest – I didn’t care about Pinterest before my career shift, although I was pretty active on other social media. Times and insights change. Now I couldn’t imagine living without my pins and boards. Let me tell you why.


Pinterest is a great tool to collect your favorite finds online. Every pin links back to the original resource and gives credit to the creator (which I think is important). Essentially, your Pins are visual bookmarks your internet finds. The use of Pinterest is very intuitive, which is certainly a plus. Pinterest boards can be public or private. Private boards can only be viewed by you.


One of my favorite moments in the day is searching for new pins. I have to limit my time, because I know I can get lost easily. :-). I’ve already made so many inspirations boards, I cannot count them. If you haven’t already created a Pinterest account, I recommend it and undergoing the power of this tool. When the photography of your pinned pins is done beautifully, it is a delight to flip through your boards and pins and find new inspiration.


Quick Tip: Review all your libraries regularly to pick up fresh ideas to work on your sketch and design projects.



6. Don’t be afraid

Too often we hold back because we are frightened. Let’s be reasonable, in case of danger we are not supposed to ignore these feelings! But please don’t let it influence your design and sketch projects.


So don’t be afraid:

  • of blank pages; set your first mark or take a not so blank page. You could think of vintage paper of magazine finds, older sketches, etc.
  • to fail; to fail is accepted and necessary; they are given to us, so we can experience what does not work or needs improving.
  • to experiment; your sketchbooks are meant to be a playground to experiment as often as you want.
  • of disapproval. Your sketches are private and for that reason, you are the only one allowed to judge. And in case you need my advice: don’t! 🙂


Recap and bonus

It is not important ‘how’ or even ‘if’ you reach your set goals. ‘Doing’ is the key.



’Making miles’ are the magic words. Make those miles!Make it necessary to complement your drawing tools, because you run out of ink, paint or paper. Decorate your grocery or to do lists. Sketch a page after lunch. Draw if you are waiting till the water boils. Use your tablet to draw. Or a quote hand lettered to share on your social media and/or blog.


Just draw. Pick up your pencil and draw lines, circles, funny faces, flowers, hearts, lines, circles, cats, more funny faces, letters, butterflies, birds, cars, triangles, more circles, more cat, etc etc.


Find your style and favorite tools.
Challenge yourself.
Don’t be afraid.
Create and review your libraries and be inspired again.


And last but not least a bonus!
Have Fun!


Additional Resources:


Last year, I followed Dionne Swift’s an online workshop about sketching. A nice experience and it did free up my idea of a sketchbook.

Two of my favorite platforms for courses and classes are Creative Bug and Skillshare. For a reasonable price you can follow video tutorials regarding many subjects and skills.


I really enjoyed the following Creative Bug classes:
– ‘Drawing and Illustration Basics’ by Heather Ross and
– the Lisa Congdon series ‘Basic Line Drawing’ and ‘Sketchbook Explorations’


My Skillshare recommendations are:
– ‘Drawing on Everything: Discovering Your Creative Voice’ by Shantell Martin
– ‘Drawing collections: Illustrating stories through Taxonomies’ by Kate Bingaman-Burt

– ‘Exploring Your Illustration Style: Exercises to Push Your Work’ by Ryan Putnam


And as an example of library, take a look at one of my Pinterest boards: drawing | howto.
Do you have other experiences, suggestions or tips? What are your favorite ways to improve sketching skills? Please share in the comments.


Esther Jongste, www.emsurfacedesign.com

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  1. 1

    Hi Ashley, Esther is an amazing artist! I love her way of breaking down the process and showing us how to “make the miles” … I love to paint with big, wide strokes, but I’m bad at sketching. I’ll give Esther’s advise a try and see if I can work on it little by little and make my own miles. Thanks for sharing!

    • 2

      Hi Monica,

      I agree, Esther’s tips make it sound as sketching is a skill to be improved! I’m working on “making miles” as well. Best of luck to you and thanks for visiting!

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