Every artist can benefit from a sketchbook

Sketchbook cover

I’m a huge fan of sketchbooks and I’ve been an active sketchbook user for the past 10 years.  I first begin using one when earning my MFA and have continued using one ever since.

I hope this post I will give you enough reasons to finally start using one, and even if you don’t consider yourself visually creative, sketchbooks are a lot of fun!

1. Sketchbooks can capture and store your ideas

I’m a visual person and noting things quickly with a sketch is the most efficient way for me to record the idea and understand what I meant by that later on.  Sketchbooks are convenient because the paper is bound, and I don’t have the problem of containing lots of loose papers. Inspiration strikes at the oddest moments, and if I don’t note it down quickly, I often lose the idea. If I don’t have my sketchbook with me, I’ll jot the idea down on a post-it note or scrape of paper and stick into my book.  Later, I can develop these initial ideas and I will have the entire creative process in one place to look back on it.

When I “don’t feel inspired” or “don’t know what to make”, all I have to do is flip back through my sketchbook and I find dozens of ideas waiting for me. I think being inspired by your own ideas is far better than looking to other artist’s work.  Noting your ideas doesn’t have to be fancy … my sketches are very, very rough.

2. Sketchbooks are a great place to explore

Sketchbooks are a place where I play and I am free to mess things up and make mistakes. It helps me loosen up, try new things, explore new techniques and styles radically different from what I often do.  It’s a place where I can take a break from my “finished” artwork and make art just for the fun of it. I have permission to create horrible art, and guess what?

I don’t have to show my sketchbooks to anyone. Ever.

My early drawings are for exploring the possibilities, solving problems and making all the mistakes I can right there, so when I commit to making a finished piece of artwork I already know what works and what doesn’t.  My advice is to be free in your sketchbook. Nothing you do in it is wrong. Nothing.

3. I get to have a sequential view of my progress

This is very important in times when I feel like my art isn’t as good as I want it to be, and I doubt my abilities. Seeing my old art and witnessing that I am in fact improving can give me a boost to get out of this rut.

So if you feel like you’re not getting where you want with your art, flip through your sketchbooks for a while and you’ll see solid proof that you are getting better all the time.

4. Sketchbooks help me resolve problems

Art therapy is a legitimate form of therapy that’s gaining popularity because it’s very effective.  When you feel bad, open up a new page and go wild. Scribble aggressively, pour paint and ink over it, draw every unpleasant image that comes to mind — just get all those feelings out. Write sentences or words that are running through your mind. Vent. Draw or collage over it. You want to make a brain dump onto the page so it doesn’t bother you anymore. Repeat as many times as needed.

I’ve even managed to find solutions for practical problems this way, though I haven’t explored this to the fullest. I use words, doodles, Venn diagrams, flowcharts and make it all colorful with markers and color pencils, and as I’m doing it a solution presents itself. I guess that my brain finds this mode of working much more efficient than when I’m just thinking. People learn and think better when they engage their senses. Try it!

Tips for keeping a sketchbook

Carry it with you at all times

If you don’t have it when you need it (when those ideas come knocking) it’s as if you don’t have it at all. So keep a small sketchbook handy when you’re out in the world. They make them in all shapes and sizes, so find one that can fit into your purse or your pants pocket.

Get a cheap one

If you get an expensive sketchbook, you might be too precious about it and avoid making a mess. Get one that you won’t feel sorry about if the covers get scratched, if you spill something over it, or if your dog starts chewing on it.

That said, make sure the paper is something that handles all the media you like to use. My favorite one is a large (9″ x 12″) Blick Wirebound sketchbook with thin paper so it has 80 pages, yet it can handle watercolor fairly well. The most important thing is that you get a sketchbook that you will use without fear of ruining it.

Don’t be confined to a single medium

Sketchbooks are for sketches, right? Not always! You can do whatever you want in them. Seriously. Here are some ideas of what you can do:

  • Write/journal
  • Glue notes, concert tickets, photos, and other mementos into it
  • Glue fabric samples, fliers with color schemes you like, photocopies of diagrams from anatomy books…
  • Collage magazine cutouts and draw over them with markers
  • Press flowers in it
  • Use a scalpel to make a paper cut sculpture from one of the pages

Whatever you feel is the best way to note your idea, solve a problem or just plain have fun, do it. Sometimes a sketch will do, sometimes you will need a mixed media approach.

Can you think of another reason why they’re awesome, or do you have a tip to share? It would be wonderful if you wrote it in the comments.

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