Look inside the sketchbooks of Adebanji Alade, artist and President of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. A prolific sketcher, Adebanji’s sketchbooks are filled cover to cover with drawings from observations of his daily life. Here, he shares his advice for making the most of your drawing practice on the move.
Adebanji Alade Takes Us Through His Sketchbook Practice
I love sketching and it has been something I have done naturally for the past 45 years. I started at the age of five or six by sketching football players from a comic called Roy of the Rovers and I haven’t stopped sketching since then, it’s been a lifelong obsession! I probably use four sketchbooks a year, depending on the size, one for each quarter would be an average amount that I can say I use over a year. I got affected during the pandemic, as I could not go out and about, so my output has dropped a bit, but hopefully as we have gradually settled down in normality, I hope to get back to four a year. I use every single page, back and front and I try not to leave any gaps, I literally want my money’s worth from each sketchbook.
My sketchbooks are mainly used as a medium to practice, to train my draughtsmanship and to make me better at drawing skills. This means I use all my sketchbooks for this purpose, once in a while I might use them to build up an idea for a painting.
I have used a number of different sketchbooks but the ones that really stand out are Moleskine, Stillman & Birn, and Daler Rowney Sketchbooks. Most recently I use Moleskine for all my sketching purposes. For instance, I use it for sketching on public transport, sketching landscapes and urbanscapes, and practising. I use the Daler Rowney Sketchbooks when I teach students to use a simple medium like graphite to get great effects. Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks are just great for all my work in general but I choose them because of their supreme paper quality and thickness.
The size and paper quality I love the most is the Moleskine Sketchbook, the size I love best is the A4. It has smooth paper, it’s a bit off-white, creamy in colour and makes the finished piece have this museum-like feel to it. It is versatile and great to use for my pencil work, coloured pencil work and work with Tombow Brush Pens and ballpoint pens. I like the Daler Rowney Ebony series in A4 size too, I prefer this purely for graphite work.
The Stillman and Birn Sketchbooks I love best are the 8 x 10 inch ones. There are different varieties of them, alpha, beta, zeta etc. The key thing here is that they can take a battering of heavy attacks from scrubbing, washing, to hard lines and scratches. For instance, the Beta range has 270 gsm, now, that’s no joke! A pure delight to work on if you love to work with heavy layers of successive washes. I definitely love the hard cover ones, but the soft covers are also great.
The materials I use in my sketchbooks are mainly graphite, coloured pencils and Tombow Dual Tip Blendable Brush Pens with a trusty ballpoint pen. Then occasionally I use watercolour, gouache and Posca Pens.
I love graphite because it’s the most natural, easy to access and trusty medium ever. You can easily get a range of tones with it and it works well by using the sharpened tip for detail and the side for brilliant painterly-like broad strokes. I use coloured pencils because it’s so immediate and not messy. You can easily get high chroma results and it really works well for me as it was what I started out using when I couldn’t use paint, I started by using coloured pencils. When it comes to Tombow Brush Pens and the ballpoint pen, I love this combination because it’s the closest thing to pen and ink washes but without the stains and dripping.
The Tombow Brush Pens give brilliant wash like tones, in which layers can be added to to increase the tones without any mess and the ball point pens make clean lines with no blotting or staining ink. I love using watercolour with gouache because I can get really great transparent washes with the watercolour and whenever I think I need some strong opaque tones, like where there’s a burst of light, then I use gouache, especially gouache white with the watercolour. Then finally I just think the sketchers world was blessed when the makers of the Posca Pens introduced them into the market. Up until they were introduced, I never really enjoyed any liquid paint pens, but the Posca Pens, especially the white ones, are very useful for adding highlights to my sketches.
I frequently refer to my sketchbooks. They are mainly for practice and observational exercises. I use them to improve my drawing skills and to discover the world around me. I use them as a way of understanding all the things that are of interest to me. So maybe when I’m painting and I need a certain figure or face, I can easily use one of my sketches as a reference. This doesn’t always happen as most recently I work either directly from life or from a picture reference with all the information I need. Hence the sketchbooks serve as a sort of gym where I practice my drawing skills, which helps my paintings to have a solid drawing foundation.
80% of my sketches are finished works in themselves, I hardly have to translate them to finished works unless I have a particular project or piece, I’m working on in which I need to generate a number of sketches before I arrive at the finished piece.
The use of sketchbooks is so important to my practice as an artist, without the mileage I have covered in my sketchbooks I don’t think I would have the right drawing skills to help my paintings to look believable and accurate. Because I am purely a representational painter, everything I paint is easily identifiable. My sketchbook practice has given me enough ability to take on any painting project with ease, as the hardest part of painting for me has always been the drawing part. If the drawing in portraits, figures and landscapes are accurate, half of the job is done in my opinion, because a faulty drawing, lacking in right proportion, perspective and placement will not have strength and conviction, and I always love my work to have the power in those areas. Dodgy drawing freaks me out, so to avoid this nightmare, I go to my sketchbook for refuge, for practice and for improvement.
For any artists wanting to make the best of their sketchbooks, I would say, “Go around with it, don’t put it in your pocket or your bag, hold it in your hand and whenever you see something that inspires you, sketch it!” That’s what I do, and I hope this can inspire you to go out there and see all the beauty around you, and make beautiful sketches of it.
Graphite Pencil – Faber Castell Jumbo 2B, 4B, 6B, 8B
Lyra Coloured Pencils – mostly browns and black.
Faber Castell Polychromos Pencil – mostly browns and black
Posca Pens – mainly white and black.
About Adebanji Alade
Adebanji Alade is the President of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and Founder of the Addictive Sketchers Movement. He has exhibited widely throughout the country and has won numerous awards for his dynamic, mostly urban, paintings that are full of people and life. He currently works full time as a painter from his studio on Lots Road in Chelsea, London.
Whether he works indoors or outdoors, Adebanji strives to bring the life, vitality and movement of ‘the sketch’ into his paintings. He is inspired by the atmosphere, historical importance, mood, and the play of light that a particular place can offer at any point in time. Adebanji frequently presents films and interviews for BBC One’s The One Show and his sketches of commuters on the underground have also been made into the Channel 4 animated short film Two Minutes.