Build a Drawing Catalog


In a recent assignment, I had to create a sketch of a cat. In my short time as a children’s illustrator, I’ve had to draw many, many cats. At this point, they seem to come almost automatically. Say “Cat,” and I can have several sketches for you in a matter of minutes, without the need to research or look up reference.

The same goes for any number of animals – dogs, chickens, pigs – I’ve drawn them so many times, it’s easy to come up with several characters on the spot.

It’s a good idea for an illustrator to have a “catalog” of subjects that he knows really well and can draw from memory, especially when working in a specific industry like children’s illustration where you are asked to draw the same type of subjects over and over again. This kind of skill will give you a head start on virtually every assignment you receive.

How many things can you draw quickly and easily from memory? What do you need to work on? (see my previous post, What Do You Hate to Draw?) It’s time to whip out your sketchbook and start building your own catalog that will help you in your work. For example, as a children’s illustrator, I find these subjects especially useful:

  • children (duh!) of specific ages, gender, and ethnicity

  • domestic animals – cats, dogs, fish, etc.

  • farm animals – cows, pigs, horses, ducks, goats, etc.

  • African and jungle animals – elephant, giraffe, monkey, lion, tiger

  • baby animals

  • vehicles – cars, trucks, planes, buses

  • a neighborhood

  • towns and cities

  • dinosaurs, dragons, and monsters

  • schools – buildings, hallways, classrooms

  • a playground

  • under the sea

  • a beach

  • wheelchairs

  • bicycles

  • a forest – trees and wildlife

  • grocery store

  • vegetables and fruit

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. If you work in another industry, it probably wouldn’t be too hard to come up with a similar list. If you find yourself struggling with something, do some research and start sketching!

You don’t always have to work from a list; your skills will grow just by sketching the world around you. Every little detail you learn will help. You never know what you will be called upon to draw in the future.

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