How Sketchbooks Bear Fruit

pencil trees web A lot of the personal practice of an illustrator involves playing around in a sketchbook, unsure of where it will lead. You plant your little seeds, and you have no idea which ones will grow.

Then, sometimes, you get to harvest! That's what this illustration feels like for me, it's a harvesting of a bunch of little ideas that have been germinating in my sketchbooks. It's impossible to trace back all of the roots, but here are a few:

First of all- until pretty recently I was not at all a fan of colored pencils. I found them tedious, I thought the soft, grainy texture made most drawings look amateurish or like schoolwork, and I resented not being able to have any color I wanted. However, as I've been trying to incorporate more color into my sketchbook, I've found colored pencils to be a really good way to do that. They require no prep, I enjoy how easy it is to craft an interested limited color palette, and I discovered I LOVED the textures I can create with firm pressure and rough, scribbly lines. This lead to a few of my favorite sketchbook spreads:

colored pencil ex

Next, subject matter. Would you believe I used to hate drawing backgrounds? That's really evolved over the past few years, too. I've had to draw plants and forests for various projects, and I've discovered that creating environments is now incredibly relaxing- meditative, even. I've built up a sort of lexicon of plant shapes (which I'm always trying to add to) and I get to pull from it whenever I get to draw something like this.

veg retro

For our latest Sunshine Syndicate assignment, we're working on patterns themed around "green" with a certain color scheme. I really wanted to do something nature-inspired, because at the time I was starving for some springtime! I grabbed colored pencils because they're an easy way to iterate with certain colors, and I started doodling in my sketchbook. I liked the way the sketchy drawn trees looked next to the more filled in ones, and I thought I'd try filling a whole page with them.

yellow green trees


Not only did I really like the results, I realized I had a lot of fun plotting the page out as I worked, figuring out where it needed an extra element or a different color. It was just.. fun! And relaxing. So, I wanted to do more. I also have a big empty wall in my kitchen, so I thought.. why not go big?

And that's when I grabbed the big 18"x24" pad of paper, basically untouched since college. And also when I laid down on the rug and started coloring like a little kiddo!

A photo posted by liz nugent (@liznugentdraws) on

Now, this process of pulling from things discovered in the sketchbook is happening all the time. This is just an example where that growth is fairly easy to see. Hopefully it inspires you to dig into your sketchbook with some new materials- you never know what will come next!