Exploring story with multiple imaging

Today we’re going to talk about combining multiple sketches together to develop works that will invoke story and imagination.


The root of making sketches interesting to look is having the ability to spark our viewer’s imaginations. Activating a viewer’s internal dialogue to ask questions, “What’s going on here,” “What does this mean,” or “This makes me think of,” etc…

When you think of story and sketching, most people think of comic books or storyboards for a movie. Something very sequential with a beginning, middle, and an end.

When I say story, I’m not talking about a story in a traditional sense. The context of “story” in the sense of this lesson is about using multiple sketches on one paper to provoke a viewer’s imagination. To create an impression of “something is going on” without being literal in the sense of spoon-feeding a subject to our viewers. To suggest and let them connect the dots, creating their own story based on how they perceive your sketches.

The way we’re going to arrive at these kinds of sketches depends on our process of exploration as we sketch.


The root of the story is imagination. Everyone has imagination, but how do we add it to our work?

When you really break down truly interesting stories, they’re essentially broken down into two different elements. Every creative thought and imaginative idea involves putting together at least two elements in a unique way.

When you combine two of anything in a sketch, an “interesting“ idea is created.

What’s great about adding imagination and story into our sketches is that it can be a natural part of the process. All discovered as we sketch – sketching to explore without any preconceived expectations.

The spirit of exploration and creative play as we sketch is motivated by joining two ideas (or more) in a single sketch. It requires a loose and experimental attitude.

Exploring this concept is where multiple imaging comes into play.

Multiple imaging is where you keep exploring different subjects on the same paper. Layering sketch over sketch. Sometimes creating an illusion of motion as you keep layering studies on top of different sketches.

The two illustrations above are by E. Michael Mitchell. His layered sketches communicate a loose interpretation of the articles.

The three sketches above are by Corny Colle III. These are his multiple image life sketches. He would often spend weeks in life drawing classes sketching from a live model on the same dozen matte boards. His use of paint, graphite, and pen on his sketches really pulls the viewer in.


Sketching in a sketchbook provides the best vehicle for creative play in multiple imaging. There are fewer pressures to create a “perfect” sketch. But what I recommend is to bypass your sketchbook and start working on larger sheets of paper right away. Bring your sketchbook/ creative play at a larger scale.

Also, what helps is if you’re working on multiple sketches at once. For example, let’s say you’re working on a sketch of your cat and a photograph of a Parisian city street. Go back and forth between all three sheets of paper. Rotating the paper and changing your perspective of your subjects. Sketching in bursts of 2-3 minute intervals. After each burst changing your perspective up before diving into another sketching burst.

When you’re in the sketchbook mindset (no matter what you’re sketching on) experimentation and exploration are the most active.

Story and sparking the imagination of your viewer grows out of this experimental attitude. Often ideas will occur to you as you sketch. Not before in some pre-planning stage – just dive right in.

By being curious about your subjects and refusing to be too “result-oriented”, you’ll obtain the best results with your multiple imaging.


Up until now we’ve been sketching from life and using light, form, and shadow to determine how we construct our sketches. However, we live in a world full of secondary sources. Images on the internet, books, magazines, and movies. All offer us insights and perspectives from worlds we’ve never been or seen in real life before. Using these sources allows us to work from anywhere.

But sketching from just images alone can be a little detrimental observation (look-hold-sketch) muscles. To avoid neglecting these muscles, I recommend mixing the two. Observing from both photographs and real-life as you’re sketching.


Continue to sketch on the same dozen or so papers. Erasing, adding on, covering up, and using paint, and watercolors to emphasize certain aspects and hiding the others. (We’ll get into more mixed media approaches in the next lesson.)

Never feel obligated to finish your multiple imaging sketches in one sitting. It’s best if you take multiple days to sit down and sketch. Eventually, your sketches will be a process and sort of recorder of your thoughts and ideas. The interest in these sketches is in the variety and sometimes motion that is communicated through multiple sketches on one page.

Using a previous sketch as a source to observe the next sketch. The first original sketch is inspired by an actual real-life source, but the next sketches are inspired by the sketches that came before it. This process links in sequence – two distinct sketching modes, observations, and personal twists.

When you’re sketching images on a single sheet of paper, your sketches begin to take shape over time. Your sketching process becomes a timelapse of your thoughts and subjects. Each additional sketch you add allows you as an artist to build your sketch in separate stages over an extended period of time.

Sometimes you’ll have a limited amount of time to sketch something and leave it unfinished until you come back to it the next day. When you come back to it later you may be in a different mood or be working with different sketching materials.

I created this sketch over the course of 2 months. It started off as a quick line sketch with a pen. A month later I found it in my sketchbook, where I then added the inking wash in the background. Another month went by and I added the ink brush marks and color washes. Not necessarily a multiple image sketch, but this is a good example of embracing old sketches over time. With each sketch burst, I was in a different mood, mind frame and sketching materials.

When you go back to it it may be months later and you’re looking at a different subject entirely. You simply add new elements to your earlier fragmented sketches. This way you’re working in stages, adding different parts at different times.

Multiple imaging generates countless ideas. They open possibilities for imaginative work because of the time separation between the sketching stages. Your state of mind when you return to a sketch can be quite different than it was when you started it. This mix of mental states can lead to interesting combinations of images, stories, and outcomes.

Multiple imaging enhances and encourages you to embrace fresh seeing, along with radical shifts in your sketching intentions.


  • The root of the story and imagination is adding at least two different elements together.
  • The sketchbook mindset encourages creative play and experimentation.
  • Multiple imaging embraces mistakes, unfinished sketches, and acts as a recorder for your thoughts, observations, and ideas.
  • Secondary sources offer us insights and perspectives into worlds we’ve never been to or seen in real life before.


  1. Work on three different 18” x 24” papers. Looking at a minimum of two different sources (one in real life and one secondary source) and start to develop your multiple imaging sketches.
  2. Remember to sketch in 2-3 minute bursts. Changing your perspective, rotating your paper, or changing your medium with each burst. Work on these same three sketches over the next week so you can revisit each sketch, every day, with an entirely different mood, mindset, and sketching materials.

Does it feel like its always a struggle to fill your sketchbooks?

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