Even though I grew up around drawing and people making art in my family, I admit that until recently I had no idea what to put in a sketchbook. As I mentioned in my first column about keeping artist’s sketchbooks for myself, I felt as if there was something wrong with me if I couldn’t just produce a finished perfect drawing on first try. It wasn’t until I read Thomas Kinkade’s book “Simpler Times” that I even realized that artists are supposed to carry around sketchbooks and use them to capture ideas much the same way a writer does when she carries around a little tablet in her purse. But I’d never kept a sketchbook as an artist–I didn’t know I should–so when I read about how artists keep sketchbooks, I always felt like I was on the outside looking in, not realizing that I, too, could keep a sketchbook full of drawings.
Watch the how-to video associated with this article by clicking on this link.
Sketchbook Ideas: Types of Media to Use, Ideas to Bring to Fruition, and Other Matters
Which leads me to the point of this article and this new feature in this column. I reasoned that if I had questions about what to put in a sketchook, then other artists might have the same questions. And truthfully, this added element to this column will be as much for me as for my readers. I’m still educating myself about how to use a sketchbook as an artist, and there’s no reason for me not to pass on a bit of information to my fellow artists. So, what you can expect if you read this regularly are some ideas about how to use drawing books. I will look at how other artists use their sketchbooks; how they germinate ideas in them; and most importantly, how they use them to practice techiniques or experiment with different types of art media. I will be looking at different videos of sketchbooks or even drawing tutorials and explain how I’ve used my sketchbooks to get something out of the lesson at hand. Hopefully, they will help you, too.
Artist Suzette Morrow: What to Put in a Sketchbook
One of the most helpful videos I’ve ever found on keeping a sketchbook is Suzette Morrow’s video “Truth About Sketchbooks and Journals.” I found it helpful for a couple of reasons. For one thing, she debuncts that often debilitating belief that the art in your sketchbook must be perfect. This was a big one for coming from what I call a “performance” mentality. Even today, I can tell when people are disappointed when they look through my sketchbooks and don’t find a masterpiece on every page. That attitude still bothers me a little, but not as much as it did before. Suzette’s video definitely helped.
Here’s what Suzette says in her video about that and about using an artist’s sketchbook:
I wanted to talk to you about journals, because I think when everybody sees all the bright and shiny, pretty journals that there are that are really published to perfection, it makes us afraid to actually sketch in a sketchbook.
She goes on to say that these tools are meant to be used and more importantly, she emphasizes that they are not perfect, nor are they meant to be. Sketchbook drawings don’t need to be perfect to be useful. In fact, now that I keep my own books, I’ve realized that having the evolution of an idea down on paper helps me in later stages if the drawing isn’t working. I can go back and look at what I did before to retrace my steps and get my drawing back on track.
Here are some take aways from Suzette’s video about drawing books:
- Keep a small journal in your purse to carry around with you. You never know when you’ll see something that will spark an idea for a piece of art. Thomas Kinkade said the same thing in a recent video. For this purpose, I now have a 5.5″ x 8.5″ journal that I can toss in my bookbag along with my pencils. However, you don’t have to have a fancy sketchbook; a scratchpad will work. I still haven’t completely made it a habit to use it all the time, but it certainly won’t become a habit if I don’t.
- It’s perfectly OK to draw and write in your sketchbooks. Some artists prefer to only draw in their books. However, coming from a background in newspaper and magazine publishing, I find that my journals are usually littered with my thoughts–sometimes pertinent to what I’m drawing, sometimes random.
- Try keeping a book specifically for morning pages. Morrow is referring to Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way.” Morning pages are three pages that you write each morning in long-hand that help you scratch out the little critic that sits in your brain and the ideas that have been trapped behind the little critic.
- There’s lots of different kinds of sketchbooks out there. Find a couple that suit you. Although it’s not in Suzette’s video, I’ve seen old books that you get for a dime at the local library sale become sketchbooks. The text on the pages provides some interesting prompts for sketchbook ideas, I’ve found. She also recommends that you have at least a few sketchbooks that are bound, because after so much use, they can start to fall apart.
- Date your entries so that you can see how far you’ve come in your artistic growth.
- Practice. Practice. Practice. This is the most useful advice that I’ve found so far about keeping a sketchbook. After a long period of time of keeping a sketchbook, I’ve finally realized that sometimes I have to draw badly to get to the point where I draw well. The question of what to put in a sketchbook will never go unanswered if you realize that there are things you need to work on; practice those techniques in your sketchbooks until you’ve mastered them. Don’t know how to draw faces? There are plenty of sketchbook ideas right there. Want to get better at drawing from life? Go out with your sketchbook and draw the local watering hole or brew pub on a Thursday night. Aren’t sure about how to make high contrast shading work in your art pieces. Practice that technique until you can do it.
- Use your sketchbooks to try out different types of art media. I remember when I first tried Conte crayon–pre-drawing book days. I hated it! It was difficult to use and to control–not at all like a pencil, which I could erase. Had I known then what I know now, I would have spent a lot of time drawing with conte crayon in my sketchbooks.
I won’t recap the whole video, but you get the idea. There are more ideas and a more in depth discussion about what to put in a sketchbook in Suzette Morrow’s video. To watch her journal/ sketchbook video, click on this link. It’s free to watch.
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