My sketchbook was at one time such a sacred space, and as with many creatives it became a source of fear. Like a lot of us, I made the mistake of thinking my sketchbook was a “special” place where only “good” art should be created.
Does this sound familiar?
I am so afraid that if I make a mistake or a crappy drawing it’s just going to ruin the whole book.
I keep staring at page one, terrified. I don’t know where to begin.
Or this classic…
I’m afraid to experiment. What if I make a mess of it?
Ah, Sketchbook Phobia – the struggle is real.
I hear the above statements from creatives all the time – heck, I said them when I was a newbie. Sketchbooks are not special, your creative process is special!
A sketchbook is one part playground, one part serious workspace and one part idea factory. Nothing sacred about it. You create ninety-five percent of your work in your sketchbooks. Do you think your kitchen where you create the meals to nourish your kids sacred? No, you wouldn’t, but that meal that helps them grow strong and healthy is.A sketchbook is one part playground, one part serious workspace and one part idea factory. Click To Tweet
Now a lot of people will just tell you to get a crappy sketchbook and get over yourself. But not me – I don’t advocate getting a crappy sketchbook. I advocate getting over yourself.
A crappy sketchbook is not going to give you permission to “defile” it with your work. You need to turn that mindset around by being crystal clear that your sketchbook will have crap in it. And then you draw over that crap with better crap. It is the place to experiment, scratch out, experiment some more, draw over what you’ve already drawn, lay down gesso or gouache over anything you want, and begin again.
As an artist developing your craft, you need somewhere to try things out, record what worked/what didn’t, keep notes and get messy. Think of your sketchbook as your B-roll!
It’s the extra footage captured to enrich the story you’re telling – your creative story. And it adds dimension to that story. And yep, you’re definitely going to need a nice, sturdy sketchbook that you love to work in to do that work.
My favorite sketchbooks
I have two favorite sketchbooks – the Moleskine Cahier books (in various sizes) and the Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Books (both in soft and hard cover, various sizes). I’ve tried so many over the years, but these two can take the working/reworking I do in my sketchbooks, and in the case of the Strathmore – wet media.
Moleskine Cahier Blank Books
I buy the grey, 7.5-inch x 9.75-inch blank cahier journals for graphite, ink and color pencil work. I like the smoothness of the paper and the color of the pages – a very light cream. It lies flat. And it comes in a three-pack for around $20. My go-to sketchbook for most dry media.
Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Books
My other favorite is the Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Journal. I have them in various sizes, some hardcover, others softcovers. I love the paper. It’s thick and sturdy, I can work in dry media or wet. It’s not my favorite for color pencil work or charcoal but I love it for graphite and/or watercolor.
What to put in your sketchbook? Try these prompts:
- Sketch your morning beverage, each morning for the next 10 days.
- Spend 15-20 minutes on a pencil drawing of what’s on your desk right now.
- Are you learning to draw something specific? Break it down and draw it over and over. For instance, I’m learning to draw bears. In my sketchbook, I’ll draw pages of front bear paws, back bear paws, bear heads, bear eyes, bear ears, bear muzzles…. you get the idea. Sure I’ll draw whole bears, but it helps me to make studies of the parts.
I encourage you to try out different sketchbooks. What works for me, may not workout the same way for you. Still, I hope this article gives you a starting point. Ultimately, just start with something. I’ve even used nice, thick copy paper from Staples because it’s handy, smooth and can take erasing well without pilling.