Posted on

Sketchbooks and Why You Should Keep One

I will honestly say that I was never big on keeping a sketchbook until I got into college. All throughout high school my sketchbooks were part of my homework routine from my art classes. I had the mindset that sketchbooks were only for art assignments or to draw in. Even in my college drawing courses my sketchbooks were only used for the weekly assignments.

It wasn’t until my first painting course that I was even introduced to how varied a sketchbook could be (I know I was very closed minded). Suddenly my sketchbook was used to not only work on concept ideas for paintings but it was also an area where I kept notes on painting techniques. I kept detailed notes not only on my progress but on what brushes I used for certain areas and what paint color and mediums I applied. I was not exactly sold on using a sketchbook in this way when I started. My painting professor showed me just how useful it was and just how closed minded I was being.

I had just finished a portrait that I was extremely fond of (read I actually liked it and thought it was worthy to be called a painting). I received some great feedback from my professor and he was excited to see the rest of the series come together. Then as he walked away he said those dreadful words that would haunt me for the next 2 semesters “Doing it once is easy, I hope you remember how you did it”. We were actually required to keep notes but mine were spotty at best. I honestly couldn’t remember what some of the color mixtures were or what colors I had used in some layering. I spent the next 9 paintings trying to capture that what I had in the first one. All I can say is my notes got a lot better but I never did create a portrait that had the same feel.

Here is my portrait that inspired better note taking!

When I teach all of my students either are given a sketchbook or in my private classes they make one. We have a nice discussion on what sketchbook are used for. These discussions always amaze me with how much smarter my students are then I was! So here is the top 5 uses that are typically brought up in those discussion.

Testing out some watercolor layering
Testing what the watercolors actually look like on paper






1. To create art: to practice your craft

Keeping a sketchbook allows you freedom to create art. What this looks like is a little different for everyone. Keeping a sketchbook though allows you to go back and track your progress. You can see how far you have come. Practice makes better! There are so many sketchbook challenges out there that I would recommend taking on one of those challenges.

2.  To plan out ideas for projects

A sketchbook is a great place to make plans and develop ideas. As a teacher I make my students do numerous thumbnail sketches before deciding on the direction to take for their projects. What I have noticed is that most of the time my students rarely go with their first idea. This is not just for painting projects or drawing projects. I used sketchbooks with my pottery and sculpture students.

3. To freely express feelings

No one needs to see your sketchbook except you. This is a safe place to write, draw, paint, or even scribble your current mindset. Think of a sketchbook as a visual journal. I have a journal I keep at my bedside for just this reason. Well that and it seems like my best ideas come to me when I am right about to fall asleep!

4. To try new concepts or practice new techniques

I love trying out new things! I also hate trying out new things! I get into a technique and medium that I find comfortable and seem to just stay right there. I love to learn though and so I go to conferences where new and different techniques are being used. I also get to try out new materials and its fun and frustrating all at the same time. Sketchbooks should be a place where you can go and take some paint sticks and try them out or use some colored inks and different brushes and see what you can create. So what I am really saying is TRY NEW THINGS! You might find your next comfort art.

5. To keep notes on current projects

As I shared earlier this one took some time for me to get used to. I find keeping these notes invaluable now. I take better notes as I am learning a new concept or working with a new medium. I am very good at keeping notes on the colors and mediums I use for almost every project.

Writing down some sculpture ideas for a wind-chime

Once again thanks for taking the time to stop by! I would love to hear what your favorite uses of a sketchbook are. Do you have any favorite sketch challenges that you participate in?