Get Inspired: Four Tips To Get you Drawing Again

BY Taylor Rebhan

Brooklyn-based illustrator Libby VanderPloeg joins us April 6 in our Tribeca store for a Sip & Sketch event — an event we’re launching at several stores this year where local artists will lead fun workshops to teach you how to create your very own illustrations in our sketchbooks. With clients like Wall Street Journal, Condé Nast Traveler and more, we couldn’t think of a better person other than Libby to launch this event series with. 

Tickets are still available for purchase and you can find all the event information, here. We hope to see at the Shinola Tribeca store this week!

To prep you for what’s in store, read below for the drawing exercises that Libby recommends we all try the next time we’re in a creative rut…


Libby VanderPloeg shares her advice below

“Drawing has always been a huge part of my life, but there was this period of time when I took a considerable break from my sketchbook practice. It started not too long after graduating from art school and taking a full-time job as a designer. At first, overwhelmed with work and life changes, I kind of forgot how much I enjoyed the practice of drawing, and then even if I’d think about picking up a sketchbook I’d get intimidated by not knowing what exactly I should draw. Eventually my pencils started giving me dirty looks, and the guilt of neglect crept in. I knew I had to find a way back into my practice, but what held me back was not knowing where to start.

So I gave myself an assignment: I would create one short illustrated story, a sort of micro-journal, every few nights or until I ran out of paper (working from a scrap pile I had stashed away). Within a couple months of doing this, I had a funny little volume of sketchbooks, telling a pictorial story of this time in my life and the people and places that made it interesting. And as with any practice, the more I drew, the more comfortable it felt. Now it’s part of my everyday routine again. Without question, drawing helps me work out ideas, catalog inspiration, and, make no mistake, functions as a graveyard for bad ideas too. I’m better for the practice regardless.”

Sometimes when I’m feeling uninspired, I go back to giving myself little drawing exercises. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Circle Game:


Start by painting a bunch of circles, varying in size but not in color, on your page with gouache. Let them dry and then with a black brush-tip pen add a bit of detail to turn them into a bunch of related things (e.g. a bunch of round green things: tennis ball, lime, grape, apple, etc.)

2. Favorite Thing Index:

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This relatively relaxing exercise doesn’t require any conceptual thinking, so it’s low-pressure. Fill up a page in your notebook with little drawings of the things in your life (e.g. your favorite red blanket, Ethiopian coffee, vintage overalls) that make you happy, and label each one. Maybe give the grouping a title to pull it all together thematically.

3. Random Subject Generator:


Cut 20 or so small pieces of paper. On each piece of paper, write down the first word that comes to your head (e.g.dinner, work, Montana, seashell).

You could also walk over to your bookshelf, close your eyes, slide your finger over the book spines, stop, and use the word you are pointing to. Put these words in a small box, shake it up, and pull two pieces out. Let’s say it’s Montana and Seashell. Now you have a random, perhaps challenging, subject to draw! Maybe it’s a seashell with a cowboy hat on, or a mountainous landscape all framed in a pretty scallop shell. There are so many ways to go that this could keep you busy for a while, so don’t feel bound by your first interpretation.

4. Abstract layers:


If you’re not feeling still life or narrative, then maybe you’d enjoy just working with line and shape. Start by putting a few large, solid-color shapes down on your sheet of paper with gouache or markers, whatever you prefer. Layer over those color blocks with black lines and and more shapes, working the whole sheet at the same time to try to keep things in balance. Work quickly and lightly, and move on to another rendition. Keep going and see how far you can go with these variations on a theme. This is a nice way to brush up on composition skills.

I hope these ideas will help defeat your creative block, and get you back in a good working relationship with your pencils and paper. — Libby


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