Sketchbook Prompt #3 - working on eyes and mouths and finding inspiration

Our prompt will be working on eyes and mouths and finding inspiration to guide you.  My sketchbook offers me many things, some days I am working on a new idea for a large painting, other days I am recording a wonderful image I saw earlier in the day, and at other times I am practicing what I hope to refine and make my own.  I look at other artists to see where I am going.  I have a large collection of artist books to help guide me.  I am going to talk about how looking at images you enjoy can help you find your own style.

We are all trying to be different types of artists, even if what we are doing might seem similar.  The way I go about drawing eyes and mouths, may not be the way you see yourself doing this.  However, I can offer some words of encouragement on how you might strengthen your own practice.  

I grew up (as an artist)  being inspired by Margaret Kilgallen .  Her work defining bold beautiful fearless women, going beyond what might seem standard for gallery practices, and being absorbed in her ongoing daily art adventure.  Unfortunately Kilgallen died young, but thankfully her legacy lives on.  One of her most famous quotes is "I do everything by hand... Even if I'm doing really big letters and I spend a lot of time going over the line and over the line and trying to make it straight, I'll never be able to make it straight. From a distance it might look straight, but when you get close up, you can always see the line waver. And I think that's where the beauty is." 

Clare Rojas is also inspiring for me as well, in both of these women and at different times in Rojas' career she has looked to pattern, folk imagery and the ambiguous stories of women. Rojas and I went to grad school at SAIC together, we did not know each other on a personal level but I remember her work fondly.  You can find her book here on Amazon. 

Another source of inspiration for me in my collection of Dover Publications that have hundreds of books on anything from American Folk imagery, Pakistani patterns to Ancient Greek designs.  These books offer a pictorial collection to draw from and since the images are open source you do not need to worry about borrowing imagery.

How to get started:

Amass your own collection on artists how draw portraits, find a variety of sources.  This can be done digitally, at your library or buying books for continual use.  I recommend having print outs of the images so you don't have to keep refreshing your devices, that can lead to frustration.  

Now study the features, for our purposes this week, look at the eyes or mouths.  Work on them in isolation, creating several pages of eyes repeated over and over.  Make sure to draw/paint them from different point of views.  When you are doing this, think of them as shapes rather than getting stuck on the fact that they are eyes.  Consider dramatizing them, distort, play with colors that are not even close to eye color.  

I know the question of copying, or ripping off someone's style comes up all the time.  I think when you are in your sketchbook trying things out, it's fine to make master studies.  When it is time to create your own finished work for sale, you want to be sure you have made enough of the piece your own so that it might be noted what you were inspired by but that the work is uniquely your own.  I believe that one should be mindful of this activity, but also know that your own style will shine through.


  • Sketchbook
  • books to work from
  • micron pens
  • graphite pencils
  • brushes 
  • I use Acryla gouache, but I suggest watercolor too
  • water
  • paint tray / palette