Sketching with Carol Fabricatore

By Peggy Roalf   Monday August 3, 2015

The 2015 Summer Invitational: Pimp Your Sketchbooks, continues with Carol Fabricatore, an acclaimed proponent of Drawing on Location. 

My sketchbooks are a place I can experiment and play in. I’ve always drawn in sketchbooks. Working in a sketchbook gives me permission to be fearless and not worry about making mistakes. Most times what I think I’m just playing, becomes what I like most in my drawing. When I let go of everything, that’s when the drawing sings. It’s  very improvisational to me. The good, the bad and the ugly, I learn from it all. It’s essential for always continuing to grow as an artist and to inform all of my other projects.

I love drawing on location and the unpredictable things that happen out there. I try not to judge the drawing as I work. You never know what the time limit is or how long someone or something will be there for. It can be really challenging, but that’s the fun of it. It forces you to prioritize what’s important and choose a personal shorthand, while trying to figure out the process. The intense focus, chaos and adrenaline that takes over is exciting and addicting. 

I also like to experiment with new materials and approaches to see where I can take it and what might inform the next page. I look for subjects I can connect to and find a story to tell about them or the situation. I connect with something that hits me in an emotional, surprising or intriguing way whether I’m on the NYC subway, at Coney Island or Oaxaca. I really try to trust my intuitive process and let it take me where it wants to go. Working from location and the obstacles that comes with it forces me to think in a less analytical way, and lose myself in the energy of the moment. It’s also a nice reprive from just working in my studio and being in my head all day.

Carol Fabricatore is an artist and illustrator living and working in the New York City area. She teaches at the School of Visual Arts in the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Program. Her illustrations have been published all over in magazines, newspapers and books. Clients include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Boston Magazine, Travel and Leisure, Carrier Pigeon Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, Entravision Communications among many more. She has had numerous exhibitions in galleries and has received awards from American Illustration, Society of Illustrators, Society of Newspaper Design, Communication Arts, The Black Book,  Graphis Design USA and Graphis. 
Her work will be included in an upcoming exhibition at SVA called “Street Smart | The Intersection of Art and Design in the City” Exhibition Dates: Saturday, 11/18/17 - Wednesday, 12/20/17

I’ve drawn for as long as I can remember. I always kept a sketchbook, but drawing really changed for me when I was in Robert Weaver’s class in the School of Visual Arts MFA-Illustration program. Robert Weaver was a major influence for me. Before taking his class, I would do these great drawings as preliminary ideas before I ended up doing the finished paintings for illustrations. I had always wanted my paintings to have the life that my drawings had in them.

So after all of the time spent drawing in my sketchbooks I began to change the way I worked as an artist and incorporated more of the drawing into my paintings. Now, I always have a sketchbook in my bag wherever I go. My sketchbooks are my playground for new exploration and enjoyment.

Drawing in my sketchbook is like thinking out loud and it helps me to interpret the world. My sketchbook drawings constantly inform my other work. I love drawing from life and on location, especially in New York City. Finding a narrative in any situation or person is imperative.


I also enjoy drawing a series of images to further explore different aspects of a location or theme. Drawing on the subway, you can always bring your own narrative to each person and incorporate what’s coming across to you from them. I also think it’s helpful to recognize the conversations going on in your head when you’re out observing the world.  


When I graduated the MFA program in 1992, I was hired by the The New York Times to cover the Democratic National Convention. I did daily drawings on location, working with Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich while they interviewed people. I was terrified, but it taught me to think on my feet, commit to the line and take risks. Right after that, I was hired by the New York Times again to work with reporters for two different weekly columns about the New York metro area, drawing whomever they interviewed, on location. It was truly a dream job, being able to draw from life and in the moment, capturing whatever was important to the story and to me. 

Marshall Arisman asked me to take over Robert Weaver’s drawing class in the MFA-Illustration program in the fall of 1994. I was so honored. I have been teaching the location drawing class ever since. Drawing on location in an environment where it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next is extremely exciting and challenging. You give up a lot of control being on location; it’s not like working in the comfort of your own studio space. Sometimes there’s not a lot of time to analyze things before they change. It’s a very individual decision-making process. You have to think about the way you’ll quickly solve things in a personal way, forces you to commit to the marks you make, but there’s a lot of raw energy in those marks and the honesty of the situation comes through with power and poignancy. I try to instill all of that when teaching my students. 


I love drawing musicians, embracing how the music they create affects me and ultimately the drawing. I love jazz. I can relate to the freewheeling, lost-in-the-zone moments the music creates. I like to equate drawing in my sketchbook to improvisation. You begin with some rough idea of structure, form or shape and then begin improvising, experimenting, letting the drawing guide you to places that push past the boundaries of the last drawing. And if you’re really fearless and try not to judge it while it’s happening, then it’s a good day. 


New York is a fantastic place to draw in your sketchbook. There’s a whole cast of characters everywhere. Who knows what you'll come upon, around the next corner. The energy of the city gets incorporated into the drawings.  My website is: