ARTIST INTERVIEWS: Iwai’s Daily Sketch Booking

First off, thanks, Chris, for inviting me to do a guest post! J
You’ve continued the daily sketch practice …in spite of lots of paying projects… how?!  😉  (from Chris with great interest!)

I’ve always loved to sketch from life, but I never maintained the discipline to do so on a regular basis. When I was in art school, I remember they always told us to keep sketchbook journals, and I was terrible at it! I think part of the problem for me was that psychologically, I would get a little self-conscious at the thought that whatever I sketched would be “captured” forever in a sketchbook. So I always had the feeling that it had to be “good”. This focus on the end product held me back, I think.

I would sketch occasionally from life if the opportunity fit – that is, I’d have to have my sketchbook on hand, and there had to be someone sitting in front of me not moving much. Here is a sketch I did, dated 2013.

iwai lawyer 1

Often, my subject would be Jamie, my son, because he was there, and he didn’t mind being drawn (unlike my husband, Denis!).

Iwai 2

Jamie and I even participated in the Sketchbook Project that is organized by the good people at the Brooklyn Art Library in Williamsburg after reading about it in the New York Times.

Here is a sample page from our sketchbook which had a food theme:

Iwai 3

As you can see, it is pretty “tight” and looks more like a finished illustration. My mindset at the time was still trapped in that focus of “it has to look ‘good’”.

I honestly don’t know how it happened that I decided to consciously change this thinking. I big part of it was reading about habits and making little daily changes in one’s life. I love the writing of James Clear on this topic. He makes the analogy of working out, putting in the reps, to learning new skills, whether it is writing or creating art. The focus is more on the process, rather than the end product.

I also loved Malcolm Gladwell’s, Outliers, which underlines this idea of doing something repetitively in order to improve one’s skills. He mentions that it takes ten thousand hours of doing something to achieve mastery of it.

Another bit of inspiration came from seeing all the sketches another CAT artist, Priscilla Burris, does. You had mention that she does these and how they actually had gotten her book deals! They are lovely and whimsical and have the feeling of spontaneity which I love.

I decided last fall to do a daily sketch in my Moleskine sketchbook of people in Brooklyn and post it on Instagram to keep me accountable. I chose people because I really, really wanted to get better at drawing them. And I love looking at people. There are so many interesting characters in our neighborhood too!

Another thing I decided was that it didn’t matter how it came out—that I would just keep plugging away and focus on the practice of doing a daily sketch. One of the things I promised myself was that I wouldn’t spend more than 30 minutes on it. I hoped that doing this daily would help me to lose my attachment to the end result, and with a 30 minute cap on it – there wasn’t much expectation for it to be great, anyway, and it would certainly allow me to fit it in every day.

A friend of mine, Jennifer Orkin Lewis, has kept up a daily sketchbook practice for a long time now, and I liked her method of limiting her dailies to 30 minutes or less.

This is my first post:

Iwai 4

I drew this at my son’s annual school picnic and painted it at home. Last week, we attended the picnic again, and I was trying to remember if I had started the sketchbook project last year or the year before! It seems like I’ve been doing it forever!


Here are the sketchbooks I’ve used throughout the year. I still love Moleskine, but I’ve since switched to their watercolor sketchbooks (they are a slightly different shape).

Iwai 5

These are my favorite because I can get the small ones and they are durable and well made.

In the beginning when I started, I was sketching in pencil, then painting loosely and quickly in acrylic at home. I used acrylic because I have been painting in that medium for years and I was most comfortable with it.

Iwai 6

I really liked that, flipping through my sketchbook, you could see the changing of the seasons. It seemed like winter lasted forever!

Iwai 7     Iwai 8  Iwai 9

Later, in the early summer, I switched to watercolor, because I decided I wanted to learn how to paint with it better. Watercolor is also easier to transport and we were traveling in the summer.

Then I started doing sketches in watercolor and pen and then later with India ink.

Iwai 11   Iwai 12

Recently, I’ve been having fun using a combination of watercolor and brush pens (these are also easily transportable!)


People often ask me how I do my sketches and whether or not I paint on site. There are five different methods I use depending on the situation.

1.  Draw from life; paint from life(I don’t usually do this, as it’s difficult to paint in public places inconspicuously!

 Iwai 13        Iwai 14


2.    Draw from life; paint at home from memory (court house line)

3.   Draw from life; paint at home with photo reference(Bear playing guitar)

4. Draw and paint from photo reference.  (grand Dad)

Iwai 15    Iwai 16                                       

5. Draw and paint from memory

Iwai 17

I still try to only spend 30 minutes on a sketch. But sometimes it is less and sometimes it is more, depending on how complicated it is. I just got by how I feel and how much other work I have.

I’m really glad that I’ve started this practice and kept it up. I have missed a day or two (I didn’t do it in December because I was doing an Advent Challenge that I was doing in its place!), but I don’t stress about it. It really has become a habit, and I feel my drawing has improved. I don’t freak out about an empty sketchbook page anymore and just enjoy the process. It’s kind of become a meditative ritual for me. And I feel that I SEE more in my environment on a daily basis. So there are only positives.

As for work, I got a random job on a tv commercial as a “Water Colorist” from my postings on Instagram. And I’ve gotten a lot of ideas from my dailies that I later incorporated into my illustration work.

This is the sketch that inspired the fall CAT promo.

Iwai 18         Iwai 19

And here is the promo piece.

If you’re interested in doing a similar practice, tag me on Instagram and we can follow each other! J   I’m at:

thank you Melissa! this is wonderful advice and a worthwhile challenge for all artists!  

About catugeau

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3 Responses to ARTIST INTERVIEWS: Iwai’s Daily Sketch Booking

  1. Thanks, Chris, for featuring me. 🙂

  2. susanmiller1 says:

    Really great interview, very motivating. I like the idea of limiting it to 30 minutes so it doesn’t get overwhelming.

  3. Pingback: PLAY! so important….more from IWAI on that! | THE WAY TUGEAU

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