Do you begin your day with a creative exercise? Freelance designer, illustrator and editorial cartoonist Kevin Necessary starts with a sketch. And he believes it’s a habit that can do wonders for any creative professional (even a word nerd like me).

How do you start your workday? Do you cannonball right into your most pressing creative project? Slurp some coffee and scan your inbox? Scroll through social media updates and hope the urge to procrastinate magically dissipates?

Me? I have a history of doing all of those things upon plopping down at my desk. But thanks to illustrator and designer Kevin Necessary’s Instagram, I’ve realized there might be a better way to begin my day. Necessary is an avid morning sketcher who occasionally posts his drawings along with the hashtag #warmupsketch. (It turns out a lot of other people do this too.)

Necessary will sometimes wake up and head straight to a coffee shop to sketch cappuccinos and customers (see top image); other times he sits in his kitchen and draws his breakfast before eating it.

I found this creative endeavor so inspiring that I’ve resolved to make warm-up sketching a part of my morning routine. I’ve realized there’s great value in this creative exercise even for me — a writer and editor who can’t outdraw my 7-year-old son. While I haven’t produced any artistic masterpieces yet (OK, my doodles have been downright horrid thus far), that’s not the point. Sketching does seem to activate parts of my brain that deadline pressure, Twitter and email do not. Plus, it amps up my motivation to create.

I reached out to Necessary to learn more about the upsides of sketching. “The warm-up creative exercise has a lot of benefits for all creative professionals,” Necessary says. “Personally, I tend to overthink everything I do. When I just let things flow by doing warm-up sketches, I loosen up and carry that flow into my professional work.”

Necessary adds that the creative exercise is also fun and freeing. “As a creative professional, I always try to take joy in what I do. I get to design and draw for a living! How awesome is that? But the bottom line is that it can still be a demanding job. Warm-up sketches allow me to let go and have a blast drawing. The sketches are not for money or a client. They’re for me. I can experiment, get weird, learn new techniques and explore.”

To some observers, Necessary’s sketches might look more like polished pieces of art. While most of his creations are done in 15 to 30 minutes, Necessary admits that he occasionally gets carried away while trying out new techniques. Still, he says, an hour or two spent on non-work-related sketches is a worthy investment because it fuels his creativity on client projects.

Here are several of Necessary’s sketches and some commentary on his morning creative exercise in his own words:

Creative drawingI did this sketch of a banana as an excuse to use watercolors, which, as a primarily digital artist, I don’t often get to do. Doing small still life sketches forces you to slow down and draw what you see. I view warm-up sketches as a way to play. On days when I don’t do a warm-up, I definitely feel it. My work is stiff, ideas don’t come as easily and I have to work harder to not be sloppy. And I’m grumpier.

Creative drawing 2
The most basic warm-up sketches I do are gesture drawings. I’ll grab a soft, dark pencil, a bunch of cheap paper, and then go to to do timed drawings. There’s nothing more fluid than sketching the human body, which helps with creative stiffness. And because the drawing exercises on the site are timed, I can’t worry about what I’m drawing; I just draw. Each sketch is done in about 45 seconds. In purely practical terms, gesture drawing gets my eyes, brain and body in the mode to create.
Creative drawing 3
I’m always trying to learn, so I watch a lot of different drawing and design tutorials online. This one came from watching several tutorials about creating science fiction sketches. Though the work I normally do is a world away from this sketch, I was able to apply some of the techniques I learned and use them in my daily professional work.

Creative drawing 4
I did this sketch while I was working on a freelance project focused on architectural imagery. One morning I felt I needed to draw something organic, something with character, and there’s no bigger character than my cat Huckleberry.

Creative drawing 5As a creative freelancer I have to tailor my work to fit the needs of my clients, and as an editorial cartoonist for, I have to reflect the news. Digital sketches like this one allow me to dive into my imagination and just have fun. You get the chance to explore when you do a creative warm-up. There’s no pressure. There’s no art director or editor over your shoulder saying, “No, it should look like this!”

Creative drawing 6

I keep all the sketches I do. The late Disney animator Walt Stanchfield said you have to do 10,000 bad drawings before you get to a good one. By saving all of these sketches, I provide myself a constant reminder that every day I’m working towards becoming a better designer and artist.

Thinking of doing a daily creative exercise? Looking for more ideas? Check out our post, A Year of Creative Habits: Everyday Creativity Exercises.

All images courtesy of Kevin Necessary.