Speed Sketching Dojo


Last summer my son started taking karate class. It didn’t take long for me to realize that while it’s fun for him, it’s BORING as a parent just sitting on the side the entire hour. So I decided to turn my son’s class time into my own dojo of speed sketching.  I have a classroom full of cute models so I had to take advantage of that.

Since I’m mainly a digital illustrator I try to keep my analog skills fresh by keeping a sketchbook (so no iPad sketching for me). My goal was to loosen up and try to exercise my drawing hands. It seems obvious but trying to draw a dojo full of moving kids is tough. Eventually I landed on a strategy where I just focused on capturing the general motion. I filled in the details like the face and hairstyles later.

TracyBishopKarateSketch14 Another strategy was to use a pen instead of a pencil. That way you avoid the temptation of being timid and laying down light lines so you can draw over it. With a pen you’re forced to commit to a line and it either works out or it doesn’t. You can’t be precious with it.

With this kind of sketching you end up with a messy sketchbook with half-formed lines and blobs that don’t make sense. But once in a while I hit on that little drawing where everything comes together and that makes me happy.


Tools used:

  • Sketchbook: hand•book journal co.’s sketchbook

    I really like the weight and texture of the paper. It has just enough tooth that it takes ink and watercolor really well.
  • Brush pen: Kuretake Fountain Brush Pen

    I know this pen is a little pricier than the popular Pentel Pocket Brush Pen but the Kuretake’s brush is shorter than Pentel’s and this makes all the difference in giving me more control over the lines I make.
  • Ink: Platinum Carbon Pen Ink Cartridge

    I use this ink because it’s waterproof.

Watercolor my World

It’s the beginning of Spring here in Boston, a time of new beginnings and rebirth. There’s no mistaking a change in the air when you get that one extra hour of sunlight! In the Spring, I start to reassess where I’ve been and where I’m going. This year I chose to focus on my art style. Lucky for me to find three talented ladies in the same boat!

As we previously mentioned, the goal of coming together on this blog is to help not only each other, but offer advice to anyone else who might need a lift. I’m thinking of it like a journal. Down the line, there’s bound to be a story you’ll connect with to help steer you in the right direction.

Here’s my first story:

I studied oil painting in school by choice. 15 years ago, I had different goals and different influences, but things change. After school I got a job in the animation industry and suddenly I was a digital artist frantically learning new skills and software, letting my paints dry and crumble. How sad to forget about something you studied in such depth!?

A few months ago, tired of leaving them half full, I started to make myself draw in my sketchbooks. I thought it might be helpful to use Instagram to share photos of my sketches (social media "cheerleaders" are your best friends). Because of the reactions I got, I kept going. I learned to draw more freely and be less dependent on the Cmd+Z.


A few months into posting sketches, I pulled out my Pentel brush pen:


Having that solid pencil sketch made adding a more permanent line actually fun to do. Being able to manipulate a brush pen got me to thinking (uh-oh). 

Here’s the conversation that happened in my head:

"I need to relearn how to paint."

"But oil paint is too messy."

"And smelly…"

"What if my cat eats the paint and dies?"

"There has to be another way."




It sounds so silly listed like that when actually, over time, I just developed new influences and became more fascinated in a particular picture book illustration style. (A style you just can’t replicate in Photoshop, believe me I’ve tried!) My husband focused on watercolor in school and we had a "Painting Sunday" where he showed me some techniques. Our cat, Timmy, was happy I chose water over oil and so eager to pose:


I kept dabbling for a bit on my own:image

Then I discovered a local watercolor class with illustrator, Dan Moynihan. I can’t imagine taking a class these days unless the teacher is someone I greatly admire and want to learn from. Dan’s style is cartoon. My style is cartoon. Perfect! I was relieved to find that class #1 had us starting from the very basics. There is absolutely no pressure to finish anything and make it look "perfect," which I have been trying to do for 15 years.

I’ve only been to a few classes so far, but taking a giant leap backwards has been extremely helpful. It can seem gruesome to have to start all over, but it’s never too late if you don’t freak out (*quote of the day). Patience is so hard to find, I know.

The reintroduction to value and hue studies is one of my particular favorites:


Through this simple test, I’m discovering what colors I like best and realizing I can probably subtract a few from my palette (i.e. second row from the top left – ultramarine and cobalt look close enough to probably choose just one):


My first palette (that I will eventually condense):

-Cobalt Blue


-Viridian Hue

-Sap Green

-Burnt Umber

-Yellow Ochre

-Quinacridone Gold

-Cadmium Yellow Hue

-Burnt Sienna

-Alizarin Crimson

-Cadmium Red Light Hue

-Cadmium Red

There you have it, the beginning of my sloooow, messy process of getting back into painting and the end of chapter one. If this ends up being a 25 chapter book, so be it. The second you stop learning is when the creativity stops as well, right? I’ll do my best to share what I learn on this blog and I’ll definitely keep posting frequent sketchbook photos on Instagram!

Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, and so forth. I would love to keep the discussion alive!




Welcome to our new blog! We’re four children’s illustrators that are simply– messing about! Collectively, we are all on the same page, always experimenting and trying new things with our art. We’ve decided to come together on this blog to share these new experiences and techniques with you. With this blog we hope to not only document our progress, but encourage conversation. Think of it like an interactive art journal and please feel free to comment! Without further adieu…allow us to introduce ourselves:


Hi! I’m Tracy Bishop and I’m a children’s illustrator in San Jose, CA. For the most part I do my illustrations digitally but there is a lot of experimentation and influences outside the computer. I always like to try to combine the best of traditional and digital art but the process can get quite messy! In this blog I’m hoping to show all the behind-the-scenes thoughts and experiments as I try to constantly improve as an artist.image

Hello! I’m Christina Forshay, an illustrator specializing in creating art for kids. I’m coming to you from sunny southern California where I live with my husband and two kids. My art is usually super colorful and I love to create worlds of wonder for the viewer. My absolute favorite medium when painting is oils, but lately I’ve been working digitally to create my finished pieces. However, I’ve been getting a serious itch to use more paint, pens and collage in my work and I’m looking forward to sharing my artistic explorations here with you!image

Hi there! My name is Renee Kurilla and I’m an illustrator / animator living in Boston, MA. I’m currently one of the Lead Artists at FableVision Studios where I spend my days creating art for all kinds of digital children’s media including: books, games, and apps, to name a few. I devote all of my free time to making picture books and art for children, because I love what I do and the ideas never stop. After spending almost ten years as a digital painter, I have an undying urge to relearn the painting skills I once practiced in depth. I’ll be sharing the entire process of getting back into painting, including all the hiccups and the mess-ups, on this blog!


Hello! I’m Laura Zarrin. I’m an illustrator living in San Jose, CA. I used to paint with color pencils and though I love the control of this medium, not to mention the sound of the the pencil on the paper, deep down I craved getting looser with my work. I left control behind and spent the last couple of years experimenting with all sorts of media. Now I’m working with acrylic paints, collage, digital, and sometimes color pencils. I’ve left my comfort zone far behind while I sail through uncharted (for me) waters. Here I’ll be sharing all kinds of bumps, triumphs, messes of my creative life.

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