My Sketchbook & Me with Dawn Carlos

From exploring ideas, brainstorming concepts, and so much more, sketchbooks are one of the most versatile tools in an artist’s toolkit. On ArtStation Learning, concept artist Dawn Carlos shares a peek into her thoughts, processes, and philosophies surrounding the use of a sketchbook and how it can make you a better artist.

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Dawn Carlos is a San Francisco based concept artist and illustrator with over 9 years of experience working in games. Passionate about drawing and painting, she loves to push pixels or traditional media to make characters, creatures, and environments inspired by nature, space, and the world around us. She loves her sketchbook, fog, and fungus lined trees in mossy wooded hikes, skulls, music, craft beer, Nat20’s, and Nat 1’s.

“The sheer amount of knowledge in a resource as accessible as ArtStation Learning is awesome! There are so many cool folks to learn from and so many different ways to approach things. I highly recommend sitting down and watching the ones that pique your interest. I learn a lot by listening and seeing the thoughts and the processes from a lot of different artists and there is a lot of awesome educational content on Artstation Learning! “

Behind the course:

I’ve been working in my sketchbooks for years, but it was probably early 2018-19 when I started letting the idea of doing a sketchbook talk, podcast, video lecture, or tutorial simmer in my head. It’s a subject that’s very important to me because it’s where I have the most fun making art. It’s where most of my personal work and projects start to take shape and where I can really take a deep dive and explore ideas and studies for myself. It’s less of a “1-2-3 step” type of tutorial and more of sharing some of the ideas and practices I’ve come to develop over the years framed as one way an artist can go about it. I think this talk can be for anyone! From an artist starting to learn the craft, to more seasoned veterans in our industry, to anyone who just wants to doodle more in a book.
I wanted to shed some light on how I came about doing what I do and how I get through some of the common hurdles but frame it in such a way that encourages people to find the way they want to do it. I think a lot of how people draw or work in their sketchbook is a very personal thing. My hope is that people can learn to develop their own practices and philosophies and discover their own ideas and drawing skills by sharing some of the things I’ve learned trying to find my own way and embrace the ever-evolving nature and fluidity of drawing.

Most memorable learning experience:

This is a difficult question to answer because I feel like I have been so lucky in my career to have had the fortune to learn from so many amazing people. There have been lessons & experiences from school, workshops, panels, lectures, portfolio reviews, work as a concept artist, advice from friends, discussions with artists who I admire all the way to hearing how folks in other industries like music solve their own creative problems!
Ultimately, I think it’s important to be a sponge. Stay curious and keep hiking forward. Try to learn something from every experience, job, or gig. Keep drawing and have fun with it.
Specifically, I did get a really great portfolio review from Ian Mcque & Darren Bartley in 2013. Ian looked at both my portfolio and my sketchbooks. He told me (and this is paraphrasing) to take the energy of the sketches I had in my sketchbook into my final concepts. I had been watering down and losing a lot of the life the sketches had, over rendering and sort of sterilizing the paintings and characters I had done. Darren also encouraged me to run with my own ideas and projects more and develop that.
I’ve heard similar advice and lessons from many artists throughout the years but that particular moment was when it finally clicked in my head. I still continue to check-in and make sure I’m following it because it’s really helped me figure out my own processes and ideas.

1 piece of advice:

Just have fun. Keep drawing and know that this takes a lot of time and practice. You won’t see progress right away, but at some point you reach the top of the hike and see how far you’ve come. Frustrations and moments of victory will come and go along the way. But, if you keep drawing, practicing, and moving (though make sure you give yourself time for breaks and recovery) – you’ll keep getting better and move forward.

My sketchbook over the years:

For one, my handwriting was way better 10 years ago. I can barely read my notes nowadays. That’s been problematic for some of the character and illustration ideas I’ve written down (and recipes)! I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten more confident with my drawings in it and am less afraid to muck things up. I now care less about perfection. That has made my work less timid and more deliberate. It’s pretty freeing. I definitely feel that now is when I finally can just enjoy my sketchbook fully and have more fun drawing again.
Looking back at the older work, it was cool to see that I spent more time drawing from life back then and now I want to incorporate more of that study into my week. I had some ideas that I’d love to revisit more now that I’ve improved or come up with a fun way to remix some of my old drawings. I also realize that I need to be less clumsy and messy with my coffee and snacks when I sketch! There’s a lot of splotches and scrapes from coffee and chocolate croissants.

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See more of Dawn’s work here.

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About the author

Sierra is the Editor of ArtStation Magazine.