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Making Art

Sketching Exercises

Engage in Your Creative Calisthenics



Oh man, my favorite types of art books are ones that inspire more than they admonish.

Playing With Sketches by Whitney Sherman doesn't even look like an instructional drawing book from the outside. It's beautiful and cool and looks like something you would peruse in a trendy cafe accompanied by some Rilo Kiley tunes and punctuated with swirly latte art. It's that good.

Latte Art Hearts

Photo by Angela Corpus

In her semi-biographical introduction, Whitney perfectly describes the mood and purpose of her book.

"Please don't confuse this book with one that is meant to teach you rules. This book doesn't teach rules. It is calisthenics for your hands and mind, to help you break away from your norm to create a new way of thinking and mark making, and to give you permission to explore and make mistakes."

Calisthenics for your hands and mind—what a beautiful way to put it. Sometimes I will feel stuck in a rut or directionless, just going through the motions without quite hitting what I want to be doing on the head. Maybe it's this endless winter. Maybe it's just one of those cycles of life (or at least my life.) And then, bam! Something—a word, a book, a quote, an overheard conversation, a good run—knocks the wind back into our sails. We feel reenergized, re-inspired to follow our passions. We find our voice and hit our pace. The warm weather finally returns, and we can take off with energy and conviction once more.

It may feel like a stretch of a simile but the exercises in Playing With Sketches have the distinct possibility of being able to reinvigorate creativity like calisthenics can get our hearts literally pumping harder again.

There is simply too much beauty contained within this book to even begin to cover it. Take, for instance, the examples of finding your letterforms. I would hang this artwork on my wall.

sketching letterforms

Image excerpted from Playing with Sketches

Or how about the "one day, one theme" activity, encouraging sketch artists to focus on one theme or object as the subject for an entire day (or longer) of drawing. The examples are both beautiful and funny. What would your day look like?

sketching prompt

Image excerpted from Playing with Sketches

Sometimes we just have to do something different or take a new approach to see our world and our art in an entirely different light.

What are your favorite creative calisthenics?


Heather Linder

Heather is a journalist and writer living in Chicago with her composer husband and art-loving puppy, Lancelot. She's on an endless quest for the city's best coffee and is endlessly inspired by Chicago's magnificent skyline. Heather is a bookworm, aspiring chef, and NPR fanatic. She's in the process of teaching her beagle to use a French press and overcoming her fear of DIY.



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The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them.

Anton Chekhov

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