I don’t do sketches

Most illustrators I know use sketches to start their work. It’s a good practice that protects you from making mistakes along the way.

I’m not most illustrators

In the past when I still used traditional media I did use an underlying sketch, but those were mainly for setting out contours. With this gorilla for example I did outline the contours of his face, the place where the mouth and eyes should be and his jaw line. But that’s it.  

I didn’t use elaborate sketches to research my subjects or for trying to figure out how I would place it on paper. I do have reasons for not doing it, two actually: I do the research in my head, so I knew what I want to put on paper. The second reason is that I think it costs me too much time. My work isn’t art but a means to an end, however beautiful. So I do my work in the least amount of time to get the biggest result.

After my switch from traditional to digital it got even worse. Since only the end result ends up on paper (and even that isn’t the case, not always anyway) I even don’t have to do contours anymore.

It got me in trouble in the past.

Because some clients do want sketches.

Back when I wasn’t confident enough in my work I tried to do what clients asked instead of what they needed. So I let them comment on my work process and even let them dictate it. But making sketches when one isn’t used to making them just to satisfy customers is a bad thing. By doing so I made my customer think he or she could decide from the sketches if I am going the way they want to, while those sketches are actually something that has nothing to do with my end result.

I even lost a customer over it because they thought I was just making a photo collage (hey, I had to give them something back then).

Does this mean my work is “perfect” from the beginning? No, not since I started working digitally. Back when I still made pen and ink illustrations I made sure every stroke was the right one and due to an enormous amount of practice I almost never did that wrong.

But working digitally and especially in 3d is a whole different matter. I still am better at making a anatomically correct base in real clay than I am in ZBrush or Blender.

I do always know how to start. But especially with models that aren’t symmetrical to begin with are hard to do.

Take for example the little chicken I made last year.

While in the egg, a chicken always grows in a similar position. The reason for this is that at the end of the hatching period a chicken not only breaths through the air chamber in the egg, it must also be in the position to make an exit. So its head needs to be in a position it can move around. Seen from above, a chicken has its head bent to the right and tucked underneath its right wing. That way the beak can eventually reach the air chamber on the blunt end of the egg.  

Making that in 3d is a fuss. Everything needs to be anatomically correct but starting out with a default posture isn’t really possible because the way a chicken is tucked inside an egg is something completely different.

I did start out with a default posture though. Only to get a basic shape: a body, wings, a head and legs with toes. Immediately thereafter I changed the posture to what I needed it to be: a chicken in an egg position.

In these sketchfab models you can see the way the model evolved.

It isn’t pretty. It takes time to get both posture and basic symmetry right if I am working on such a model.

Can you imagine my reluctance to show this to a customer?


Most customers do want some sort of in between stuff. Sometimes just to ease their minds. That is why, if I am not able to get to a showable stage early on, I do most of the “sketching” in words. I tell the customer what I am going to make, where there are problems to be expected and how I think I am going to solve those.

Most of the time that works great.