A pile of my sketchbooks

Sketchbooking: What Works For You, Works

Sketchbooking: What Works For You, Works

by Daric Gill

A pile of my sketchbooks
A pile of my sketchbooks

Many artist concerns could be remedied by suggesting that whatever works for you, works. However, this doesn’t really help map out possible solutions for what is causing the concerns to begin with.

Sketchbooks have been the artist’s companion since the invention of paper. It’s one of the best ways to form simple ideas into reality. But finding the right idea-making process isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Not everyone has landed on a type of sketching that works for them. What process works well for a painter might not work for a sculptor, digital artist, or a photographer. In this article, I’ll land on a few suggestion/tips along the way. Read on for more.


The struggling sketcher tends to dwell on the successes of other artists in an unhealthy way, turning a sketch-a-day desire into a hide-a-way purchase. Learn to appreciate others for what they do, while also giving yourself permission to take your own path.

A sketchbook is just your thought process in physical form. How you come up with ideas might not be how someone else does. Of course, it’s common to begin copying other’s approaches before landing on your own, but if things aren’t settling in, then it might be time to rethink your approach. You might need to be more you than someone else.

Traditional sketchbooking is still worthy of significant consideration. It’s a low-cost and extremely efficient way to get what’s in your head out into the world. Drawing out ideas can help you remember what you were thinking before you forget it. Forging the irons of your hand-skills can really save the day when you just can’t work out an issue. Plus, there are no charging chords needed with simple pencil and paper.

Bad sketches are still workable ideas. How an artist massages those half-ideas into full ones is a particularly unique and personal process.

The sketchbook can serve as a journal and process recorder. It is a living work that continues to grow as our art and skills also grow. Whether it’s a pocket-sized Field Notes book, a backpack-ready Moleskin, or the favored coffee table Strathmore, artists can develop a battle-earned fondness for a specific scketchbooking process. This is because it’s often times the closest we have to a thought time capsule.

Personally speaking, my sketchbook is a snapshot of who I was at that moment. I commonly tape in business cards and exhibition fliers, jot down notes on a project, doodle in the margins, and even journal personal thoughts down. All of this builds a context from which to view the nitty-gritty of my work later. I can see what shows I went to, with whom I met, where my different bodies of work were headed, and even see my terrible math errors (which may give me a clue where I went astray later).

Adding pencil and conté to paper isn’t the only solution. Unconventional approaches to sketchbooking is wildly popular for the up-and-coming arts crowd. New sketchbook movements are emerging as multi-functional approaches become the norm. Longer lasting materials, digital sketching platforms, increased hybrid styles, the acceptance of sketch books as museum worthy material, and the mainstream popularity of graffiti– all can work together (or separately) to find your unique ideation style.

Sketch = A rough or unfinished plan, drawing, or outline that assists in making a final version

Shy Machine's Insides
Shy Machine’s Insides

Today, the word “sketch” means a lot of things. It’s important to remember that a sketch isn’t always using charcoal or pencil. If you intuitively work with 3-D materials, use 3-D materials to sketch and document the process. Digital drawer? Bust out the stylus and download a digital sketchbook to your favorite smart device. Water color artist? They make pads just for that. When I write computer codes for my robotics work, even the software calls the individual files sketches. The same goes for 3-D mock-ups for sculptors, designers, and architects. In the 3D world, sketches can be prototypes. Having some rough or unfinished plan helps move your ideas forward through active problem solving. This is where tests happen in a more controlled environment. Documenting these tests provide the artist with contexts and increase the possibility of replicating something they found successful. Additionally (if the artist is comfortable), the sketchbook can be an intimate back story they can share with clients, friends, and/or students.

While some find the crispness of a new book intoxicating, others find it overwhelming. A way to subvert the preciousness of the pristine white page is to immediately remove the glimmer straight away. Do something to mark the cover, glue or tape something into the pages, or bend it; anything to make it your own.

So, truly… what works for you, works. It’s OK if you just doodle in a notebook occasionally, or if you rip out pages when you don’t like them, or if you use a stylus to digitally draw notes and take process shots on your phone. It’s all a unique journey with a very individual process. If you want to keep your sketchbook private, no big deal. Same goes for the more public persona. In fact, I know artists who have one for themselves and one for the public. Assuming that you’re interested in documenting the journey with better care, take a mental note of how you actually come to an artistic answer and move with that grain. Find the right path for you and perfect it.


Pat Perry Sketch

//www.instagram.com/embed.jsThe Sketchbook Project – Submit a sketchbook to tour in the largest library of sketchbooks in the world.

You can find more free articles like this on my Artist Resource page. My mission is to provide free and accessible tools for artists, educators, and enthusiasts. I encourage you to share and refer people here as often as you wish. Naturally, these articles take many hours to thoroughly research and write. If you’d like to support me as an artist and advocate, please consider donating whatever you can. Thank you!

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