Now that World Watercolor Month is over, what are your plans? I’m hoping to build my sketching skills as I finish out 2018. Last spring, I contacted Firefly books and received their library of 5-Minute Sketching: Super-Quick Techniques for Amazing Drawings books written by four popular urban sketchers. Each book focuses on a different area of expertise: People, Architecture, Pets & Animals, and Landscapes.
What kind of sketching can I do in 5 minutes?!?
Since sketching means different things to different things to different people, let’s first determine what the 5-Minute Sketching Series covers.
- Each of the authors gives a clear explanation in the introduction for what can be accomplished on their subject matter in only five minutes. None of them anticipate a beginner being able to punch out an entire finished sketch or sketchbook page in 5 minutes.
- Each topic (presented in a double page spread) can be read in about 5 minutes.
- The specific tips for each topic each take about 5 minutes of sketching time: dropping in a believable sky, sketching hair on a figure, placing eyes on an animal, using thick lines to reduce the busyness of an architectural sketch, etc.
The 5-Minute Sketching books feel like you’ve just scored the unbelievable luck of landing in a sketching group with the author. While all of the authors cover basic proportions and perspective for their subject, most of the tips share alternatives or tweaks for traditional drawing methods.
Overview of the 5-Minute Sketching: Super-Quick Techniques for Amazing Drawings Series
All four books in the 5-Minute Sketching series are full color, 6-3/4” x 9” (B5ish) and 128 pages. I was impressed Firefly chose to have the series Flexi bound, a sturdy form of binding that falls between paperback and hardcover. The covers and spines on the 5-Minute Sketching books feature each author’s artwork set into a standard format. The books beg to be picked up; and shelved the series forms a handsome library.
Every book is a dance between the publisher and author, and this series pulses with that shared energy. All four books are divided into four sections, but the sections vary in focus and length between the different authors. Pete Scully’s book, People, and Liz Steel’s book, Architecture have the warm conversational style of an Urban Sketcher’s location workshop. Gary Geraths’ book, Animals & Pets, teaches broad concepts using terms and illustrations that reflect a more traditional artist’s approach to sketching. Virginia Heins speaks teacher to student in Landscapes, but her loose, light-filled landscape sketches are clearly her finished art. In all of the books, the individual authors’ personalities and passions shine through. If you’re interested in getting to know the authors further, you’ll have to find their website: Firefly doesn’t include photos or biographical information in the books.
Each section is further divided into about 15 individual topics. Each topic is given a double page spread broken into three parts: Explanation, 5 tips to get you started, and 2-3 annotated pieces of art.
- The explanation contains a paragraph by the author explaining how the skill being presented on that spread fits into their subject as a whole.
- The five pieces of advice for each section are the kind of feedback you get from an instructor during the portion of a live workshop where you’re drawing and they’re walking around observing and helping. The 5 tips are not 5 chronological steps. As an experienced sketcher, I appreciated both the vision and execution of this format.
- 2-3 pieces of annotated art help the reader visualize how the topic being covered looks in a real life sketch. Most of the ink and watercolor scans are not post-processed with graphics to directly illustrate the tips, however.
An extra feature in all four books that I appreciated was a section entitled “Key Elements” that gave a single annotated reference spread for drawing common components.
The 5-Minute Sketching series was written by and for people who enjoy sketching in pencil, ink, and watercolor from life, usually outdoors. The tips in each book are the kind of gold that come from someone who has spent countless hours practicing and teaching their craft. Having trouble drawing a person in profile? Pete Scully encourages you to pull a coin out of your pocket and use the head as a reference. That drawing of your dog that looks like a sticker? Try shadow stitching with Gary Geraths. While you could sketch from a tv show or photo using many of the techniques, the tips were designed for the real world.
The 5-Minute Sketching series is best suited to someone who has a little bit of sketching experience. The subtitle on all four books is Super-quick Techniques for Amazing Drawings and Firefly delivers exactly that. Fundamental drawing skills and at least a passing familiarity with perspective are assumed. The authors also assume you have a sketching kit and know how to use your supplies. Although I no longer need that type of information included with every book I buy, I would have enjoyed an annotated picture-peek at the author’s own kit.
The 5-Minute Sketching: Super-quick Techniques for Amazing Drawings series is a unique and welcome concept in art books. The books are crafted to withstand years of use as reference for artists who enjoy sketching as an art form unto itself. The internal organization of the books and series is impeccable. Firefly books also maintained laser focus on quick sketching techniques while still allowing the individual authors’ ideas and art to take center stage.
The next book in the series, Watercolor, changes focus to a medium rather than a subject matter. 5-Minute Sketching: Watercolor was written and illustrated by one our first Doodlewash Guest Artists, Samantha Nielsen, and is set to release at the end of the summer 2018. I look forward to reviewing and using her book after working with the rest of the series. What about you? Do you enjoy sketching or just use it to prepare for a studio piece? Do you have (or want) any of these titles? Let me know in the comments!
I owned Architecture and received People, Landscapes, and Animals & Pets from Firefly books at no cost in exchange for my honest review. I was not paid for my review, nor will I receive any money from future purchases of these books, though this post may contain affiliate links which help support Doodlewash. Hahnemühle also provided their A6 Report & Art Book for use while reviewing this series. The paper in the Report & Art Book allows for clean pencil erasure, crisp ink lines, and light watercolor washes. The hard cover is hinged to allow the book to fold back on itself easily.
5-Minute Sketching: People: Super-Quick Techniques for Amazing Drawings by Pete Scully, 2016, Firefly Books. ISBN: 978-1-77085-758-2
5-Minute Sketching: Architecture: Super-Quick Techniques for Amazing Drawings by Liz Steele, 2016, Firefly Books. ISBN:978-1-77085-757-5
5-Minute Sketching: Animals & Pets: Super-Quick Techniques for Amazing Drawings by Gary Geraths, Firefly Books, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-77805-917-3
5-Minute Sketching: Landscapes: Super-Quick Techniques for Amazing Drawings by Virginia Hein, Firefly Books, 2017 ISBN:978-1-77085-918-0
Want to see the books in action? Head on over to my Instagram, where I’ve been sketching up a storm for the last few months using the tips and techniques from these books.
I’m a science and math educator who has been creating since childhood. I picked up watercolor four years ago and have been on a grand exploration discovering its playful and enigmatic personality. Follow my adventure on Instagram!