How to (not) Run a Sketchbook

Fill up all pages with sketches!

How to (not) Run a Sketchbook

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Keeping a sketchbook should be pretty simple, right? You fill the pages with sketches until the book is full and then repeat the whole process with a new sketchbook. The reality usually looks different though, as you can run into several obstacles that make your project of a nice and full sketchbook fail.

In this article, we will first go through what belongs in a sketchbook and then go into more detail about how to maintain one that you will enjoy for a long time.

Why Do Artists Keep Sketchbooks?

The main purpose of a sketchbook is to help you grow as an artist. It is somewhere you can practice and experiment without having to worry about the final product. A sketchbook should be for your eyes only and not for anyone else’s consumption in the first place.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever show anyone your sketches, but it does mean that you shouldn’t feel the need to make them perfect before showing them to the world.

There are many other reasons why artists keep sketchbooks as well. For some, it is a way to document their surroundings and the people in their lives. For others, it is a travel diary where they record their adventures. And for some, it is simply a place to doodle and have fun!

In general, a sketchbook is a place where artists can try out new techniques and styles without the pressure of perfectionism.

What Belongs in a Sketchbook?

If you have to follow countless rules when choosing the sketches, the motivation evaporates before you have even started. Everything that originates from your creativity belongs in your sketchbook, but there are certain things to avoid putting into.

Drawing Studies

If you are not sure how to draw something, then it is time for a study! And there is no better place for studies than your sketchbook.

Studies in the Sketchbook

In a drawing study, you examine a motif by making one or more sketches of it and, if necessary, supplementing these with notes. The study not only trains your eye and hand but also serves later as a reference that you can refer to at any time.

Color Palettes

It is not always possible to know which colors are best suited for which motifs when drawing straight off the bat. In such cases, it is a good idea to test the colors in the sketchbook beforehand and record them in a color palette.

Color palettes are especially useful when you start a series of different drawings and want to make sure that all colors of the separate drawings will fit together later.

Color Palettes in the Sketchbook

If the paper in the sketchbook and the paper for the actual artwork differ too much from each other, it is not worth testing directly in the sketchbook. But for testing, you can use a piece of the final paper you are going to use and glue it into the sketchbook.

Ideas and Inspiration

Any ideas can be wonderfully documented in your sketchbook. It doesn’t matter how detailed the idea is sketched or described, as long as it one day provides you with a useful basis for further development.

Old works, texts, postcards, or excerpts from magazines can be glued onto a page, either alone or in combination with a sketch.

Fashion Drawing in the Sketchbook

Sketches, no Drawings

However great the temptation may be: drawings do not belong in a sketchbook! The sketchbook is not a portfolio of perfect artworks, but a place to learn, look up, and find inspiration.

In most cases, a good drawing in a sketchbook will be torn out so that it can be put in a drawing folder. With this, the sketchbook gets slowly destroyed in the process and eventually falls apart completely after several such incidents.

Drawings do not Belong in the Sketchbook

Maintain a Sketchbook

The real purpose of a sketchbook is to record ideas and to understand things better. With every page you fill, the documentation of your drawing career grows. I would recommend dating each sketch because it is exciting to see later how much time has passed and how much you have improved.

How to Start a New Sketchbook

A new sketchbook can be quite intimidating, no matter if it’s your first or your tenth: It might eventually become your best sketchbook, but of course, this only works if you get the first sketch perfect - right?

As a matter of fact, for many of us, the first empty page is a huge hurdle. So the faster you fill it, the faster you leave the hurdle behind! But what is the best sketch for the start?

No Perfect Sketch

The simplest solution is to sketch several geometric shapes next to each other until the whole sheet is full. If this is too unspectacular for you, you could, for example, sketch a crumpled sheet of paper from several perspectives. Or you could start directly with a study of something you want to learn to draw anyway.

No sketch has to be perfect, because the sketchbook is there for practice and the best way to learn is to make mistakes.

Use Different Materials

In a sketchbook, you don’t have to use only a pencil. The sketchbook is exactly the right place for experiments, so you should also try out ink, watercolors, crayons, charcoal, chalk, and more.

If the paper is not suitable for the material, it is better to continue on another piece of paper and glue this into the sketchbook later. It is annoying if ink or watercolors accidentally land on underlying pages.

Different Materials in the Sketchbook

Accept Ugly Pages

There will come a day when you will hate a page in your sketchbook. On that day the temptation will be especially strong to tear out the page or make it disappear in another way.

But on that day you must remain strong and not give in to the temptation! Whoever tears a page out of the sketchbook once will do it again. The problem is that the sketchbook will get damaged. And who wants to continue working with a damaged sketchbook?

I destroyed my first two sketchbooks exactly in this way, to the point that they were simply trash. I was able to save some sketches (I glued them into a new sketchbook), but it would have been nice to have the book in its original state.

So it is important to get used to the idea that some pages will look ugly. But at that moment let’s just turn those pages, please.

Drawings do not Belong in the Sketchbook

The Goal: Full Sketchbooks

A full sketchbook is something to be proud of. Should the lack of ideas overwhelm you, it is the best source of inspiration. The road to a full sketchbook may not be the easiest, but it is worth the effort. The best thing is to just get started and try to work on it as much as possible, because you get better with every sketch, study or idea.

If you want to see how other artists design their sketchbooks, you can take a look at my Pinterest board:

Sketchbook – Ideas & Inspiration


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