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How To Start And Keep A Sketchbook

Why Do You Need A Sketchbook?

Why do you need a sketchbook? Well, a sketchbook is one of those artist tools that are not essential but are invaluable.

Sketches in your sketchbook are like snapshots of an idea, a moment in your day or a period in your art journey.

Sketchbooks can motivate, inspire and relax even non artists and are a great way to practice drawing techniques.

Read on for some tips on how to start and keep a sketchbook.

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blank sketchbook

Draw Every Day

Use your sketchbook every day for at least 10 to 15 minutes. The more you draw the better you get and the stronger the muscle memory becomes.

It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. You can draw while waiting in the doctors office, watching TV, on a long drive (while someone else is driving of course 😊 ).

Just sketch whatever comes to mind or whatever you see in front of you, like a rock or a chair.

For tips on improving your drawing skills see my post Tips to Improve Your Drawing Skills

Be Spontaneous In Your Drawing

Let the sketches be spontaneous. Don’t fix every line and shadow.

There are no rules to sketching, no right or wrong way, no edits, no critiques.

This is just a way for you to practice and get into the habit of creating art on even your busiest days.

I am a perfectionist and I tend to want to fix everything, so allowing myself to keep a messy sketchbook helps me to loosen up and improves my painting.

graphite sketch of a sailboat
black banner with white lettering and yellow centre

Keep a Variety of Sketchbooks

You don’t need expensive cloth or leather bound sketchbooks, although they are certainly nice to have.

Any sketchbook will do. Having several in a variety of sizes is a good idea.

A small one that you can carry in your pocket or purse, a larger one for your studio and maybe a mid sized one you can keep around the house for when inspiration strikes.  

One of the side effects of Parkinson’s is insomnia, so I keep a hard cover sketchbook like this one on my night stand to doodle or draw when I can’t sleep or want to remember a dream I had.

two black hardcover sketchbooks

Also, don’t forget to keep a small pencil case handy with pencils, an eraser and a sharpener for when you have a few minutes to sketch.

Drawing Ideas For Your Sketchbook

graphite drawing of a notebook and pen

You can sketch anything you want to in your sketchbook. It doesn’t have to be an intricate design or detailed sketch.

Draw everyday objects in your home such as a table or rug, or objects in nature like trees or rocks.

You can just doodle random shapes if that’s what you are in the mood to do.

Simple lines that outline objects will help you learn perspective and dimension.

Grouping unrelated items together in a drawing can also give your sketches an abstract feel and give you knew ideas for other artwork.

If you are feeling uninspired and don’t know what to draw, here is a list of a few simple sketching prompts . You can download and print the PDF for future reference.

list of sketching prompts

Try drawing things from unusual angles.

A light fixture drawn from directly underneath makes a more interesting subject than one drawn from the side. 

A subject, such as a leaf or flower drawn from an extremely close up angle can be beautiful and detailed without taking up too much time.

Objects drawn from a different perspective can add interest and keep you motivated to sketch every day.

pencil drawing of dewdrops on a leaf

Sketching with Different Mediums

Don’t limit your sketches to just pencil drawings. Try other drawing tools such as pens, coloured pencils, markers, watercolour pencils, charcoal, conte crayons, ink or pastels.

Have a look at my post on graphite pencils to help you choose the best pencils to draw with.

This is a great set of drawing pencils to start with.

blue and white box with a picture of an eagle and blue drawing pencil with overlay picture of eraser and sharpener

Experiment by combining one or more of these tools together in a drawing. It’s a great way to get experience with other mediums and develop your own style.

Some mediums, such as charcoal and pastels can smudge easily, so I recommend you lightly mist the pages with a fixative to protect your sketch and your book from damage.

pencil drawing of a girl with green eyes
Graphite and colored pencil.

This drawing was inspired by a picture I found on Pixabay. The original image was in colour but I drew it using graphite and a little charcoal.

I loved the color of the eyes so I decided to use some green coloured pencils to add a little pop of colour to the drawing.

This leads me to another point. Be careful where you get your reference photos. Images on the internet are not always free to use.

Taking an image from Google can leave you in violation of copyright laws.

These laws vary from country to country so be sure the photo you use is not copyrighted and has a creative commons license.

Read my post on reference photos for more information and to get a list of websites offering free stock photos.

pencil drawing of dewdrops on grass

Add a Background

If you find a blank white page as scary as a blank white canvas, try messing up your page a little before doing your sketch.

Doodle some shapes and lines around the perimeter of your page or add a background colour with ink or watercolour if your sketchbook can handle a little wetness.

You can also divide the page into quarters and draw a smaller sketch in each square. You can draw several different sketches all over the page or just one big main sketch. As I said before, there are no rules.

sketchbooks with text overlay how to start and keep a sketchbook

Add a Little Zen To Your Sketchbook

Try some meditative drawing. Sit in a quiet place, close your eyes and let your pencil drift across the page.

Draw whatever comes into your mind, or just doodle without thinking about what you are sketching.

It is a great way to give yourself a 10 minute break from a stressful day, or to help you relax when you are having a bit of a creative block.

Stress relief is one reason even non artists should keep a sketchbook. I do meditative drawing a lot and really enjoy it.

Sometimes the random, messy doodle I produce leads me to a new idea for a painting.

When You Are Finished Drawing

When you are finished your sketch, sign and date it. You can revisit old sketchbooks months or even years later and see how far you have grown in your drawing and composition.

Old sketches often lead to knew ideas and act as a visual journal of that particular time in your life.

When you keep a sketchbook, old sketchbooks become memory books for your art journey.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and have started your own sketchbook. If you are looking for something a little different you might enjoy learning about art journals. They are similar to sketchbooks, but are more and use paint, pictures, coloured paper and a lot more. You can find all the info in my post on Art Journals.

Thanks for reading.

Digital signature Marilyn with butterfly

10 thoughts on “How To Start And Keep A Sketchbook”

  1. Never been truer, a sketchbook is one of those artist tools that are not essential but are invaluable. Well stated. I have many and love the ones with great covers, especially if they encourage people to ask me about my sketchbook. Ones with covers like the ones here: http://yellowspiderpublishing.com/ are especially great at encouraging communication…

  2. Grandma Smith

    Thank you for this wonderful insight and encouragement! I spent my entire life, until recently believing I could not draw & that I had no artistic ability (sometimes adults can be more cruel than they know). Thanks to people like you, I now know better. I am no Picasso, but I enjoy the process & amuse my family with my art work. I have people like you to thank for this. I know your journey is not an easy one, my father had Parkinsons so I want you to know how valuable your help is to others and how inspiring your story is.
    THANK YOU!!!

  3. Thank you for this. I’ve been drawing off and on for years, but for some reason, I’ve never been able to finish a sketchbook. Most “sketchbook tours” that you see on Instagram and YouTube make you think that a sketchbook is a place for every tentative drawing to be turned into a work of art, but from what I’ve gathered from your post and the posts of other artists, that simply isn’t true. I’m such a perfectionist that I get bogged down when I can’t get a line or shape perfect, and then I give up on the sketch because I can’t do it “right.” How do you get past that point?

  4. I always tried to perfect my drawings, so they are tight and inaccurate, your tip on drawing loosely helped a lot thanks!

  5. Marilyn,

    Your points are enlightening. Understand if I walked into an art class, the teacher would mistake me for the plumber and point me to the leaking sink in the galley.

    I am a doodler… mainly to make philosophical, life and business points. My sketches will never be aesthetically nice, but your ideas will make them less stick like.

    Thanks so much, AJ

  6. Jason England

    What a great article and thank you for sharing. I have just recently started drawing and prefer graphite and charcoal. The graphite and the love for it initially was because I am incredibly poor ( poor in money, not love) and a number 2 pencil was all I had access to. Yes I could use pen and ink also, however, I would become discouraged when I could not erase my mistakes. I would always see my mistakes and not the beauty of my art at first. I plan on combining all of my artistic abilities together for one amazing art show soon in December. Last but not least,. I only had an inexspensive sketch book at first for all of my drawings because it too was all I could afford much like my yellow number two pencil. I have learned to be humble, grateful and a desire to express what I saw around me with these two things. Art has changed me for ever and for better.

    1. Hi Jason; I am glad the article was helpful to you and I am so glad you found art. It sounds like you have a lot of talent both in your writing and your art. Your story touched me very much. I wish you amazing success in your art journey. 🙂

    2. Molly gilfillan

      Hi Jason, I also liked marilyns article as I am just returning to art and need to find my way back to drawing. And, I really enjoyed your taleof beginning art adventures, your humble and yet noble approach is unique. I want to see your drawings! Want to share that In my beginning drawing class we had to start with an ugly burnt sienna conte crayon on newsprint reminded me of your #2 pencil. But Looking back I think this forced me to concentrate on rendering the subject and not playing with fun techniques, only place to go was up…..right? I believe you are a better artist than you let on. We already know you can write 😉

  7. Hi, me again :). The thought of randomly drawing seemed daunting to me. The idea of drawing without ‘purpose’ has been kind of intimidating but after reading your post, it seems less so. I’ll be picking up a sketch pad this weekend! Thanks for encouragement!

    1. Awesome! I started randomly drawing after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s a few years ago. It was hard at first because I like to have a plan for everything but I found it so relaxing and such good therapy. I hope you enjoy it. ?

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