Why Keep an Art Sketchbook?

Why keep an art sketchbook? Whether you’re feeling inspired to draw, draw, draw… or have been told to start a sketchbook habit, here we take a look at some reasons why you might keep a sketchbook and think about what format that sketchbook might take…

Your sketchbook is there to serve you so use it in the way that’s most useful for you personally!

Your sketchbook is there to serve you so use it in the way that’s most useful for you personally!

How do you feel about the idea of keeping a sketchbook?

Is it something you’re keen to get started doing? Or do you feel you ‘should’ keep an art sketchbook?

Perhaps you searched online for sketchbook ideas and now feel intimidated by the perfectly coiffured sketchbook pages gracing Instagram and Pinterest?

Yep! Me too!

What is your motivation for keeping a sketchbook?

  • I have to (for a course, school, assessment or examination)

  • I hear so much about them and feel like I should

  • I want to record my thoughts, ideas, and inspiration

  • I want a place to practice drawing

  • I want a place to work out ideas

All are valid reasons. And your motivation will help you to decide on the format of your sketchbook, and what to include in your sketchbook.

If your reasons for keeping a sketchbook involve an element of compulsion (having to) for a course of study, class, or assessment, your instructor will be able to provide you with the best advice for how to keep your sketchbook and what is expected to be included and what you will be marked against.

Here, I’m going to concentrate on personal sketchbooks which are kept for your own individual development – sketchbooks that aren’t there to be marked, paraded, or judged by anyone but exist purely to serve you as best you see fit.

That being said, it can still be perplexing to understand why to keep an art sketchbook, what you might include in your sketchbook, how to fill your sketchbook, and what format your sketchbook could take.

Making sketches of otters for an artwork idea - working in biro in a lined notebook - click to see it larger

If the sketchbook is just for you, how you decide to make and keep your sketchbook and whatever you decide to put in your sketchbook is correct. It’s what’s right for you.

Here are some ideas to get you started, including how I, personally, use my sketchbooks…

We’ll cover:

Why keep an art sketchbook?

Drawing motifs for patterns in my sketchbooks and a moth drawing with marker pen - click to see it larger

When your sketchbook is personal to you and, most importantly, personal for you, it allows you to focus not so much on making it look nice for other people, but allowing it to be useful to you…

Use your sketchbook to serve you, and to help you get out of your art and drawing practice what you want from it.

Are you learning to draw?

A sketchbook is a great place to practice your drawing, explore ideas, mediums, and techniques, and to go the way you want to in your art.

Forget all about those gorgeous sketchbooks…

If you want to make 3 or even 30 pages of ruled lines, or dots, or squiggles, because that’s what you want to practice and that’s what’s important to you, then your sketchbook is the perfect place to do this.

Want to practice a specific curve on a bottle or vase that just doesn’t seem to look right? Draw it over and over in your sketchbook.

It’s not about looking pretty, it’s about having a place available to you where you can go to do your drawing.

A sketchbook is also a place for you to explore your inspiration – a place where you can gather together photos (print out your own to include them in your sketchbook), magazine cuttings, printed images, collected leaves or other items, book or newspaper pages, or anything else.

Include things to inspire your next drawing, or just something that you noticed that you might like to come back to one day in the future when it’s bleak outside and you’re lacking inspiration in the moment but you just want to draw…

Collecting inspiration and making notes for a planned drawing theme - click to see it larger

Feeling inspired for some floral drawings - click to see it larger

A sketchbook is a place for making notes – perhaps practical or factual notes about the size of a flower, its colours, where you saw it… or more personal notes about your thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

You can go as personal as you’d like in a personal sketchbook that’s just for you. You can explore your thoughts and emotions, question and understand yourself better, and (if you want to) bring this into your art too.

If you want to spend more time writing and exploring your own self and what you’re drawn to make art of, from, or with, or a message that you want to share with the world, this is commonly known as art journaling.

And it’s okay if your art sketchbook ends up with more writing than drawing. There are times when I write a lot about my own thoughts and feelings and my art sketchbook becomes more ‘art journal’ than drawing pages.

Sketchbooks are places for words as well as drawing - notes, reminders, or lengthier texts - click to make it larger

Using my sketchbook to write and explore my thoughts and feelings - it becomes more like an art journal in this way - click to make it larger

Using my sketchbook to write and explore my thoughts and feelings - it becomes more like an art journal in this way - click to make it larger

I like to write about what I’m thinking and feeling when I create an artwork – why I chose it and what it means to me, why I chose to put certain elements in, why I chose the colours I did, and any personal resonance.

Writing down these things can be cathartic on a personal level but they can also be a good record that you might want to revisit to explore or understand certain themes or ideas that become important to you.

You can even choose to share with others why and how you created a certain artwork in a certain way – whether that’s for personal reasons, to write about your art on a personal blog, or in order to explain to potential purchasers what your art is all about.

If you’d like to find out more about using art journalling on a personal level read ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron.

If these more lengthy writing practices aren’t for you, that’s okay too. Your sketchbook is your space to explore and understand what’s meaningful for you.

Use your sketchbook as a place to explore colour palettes - click to make it larger

Here are some more reasons why you might want to keep an art sketchbook and some ideas for how to fill your sketchbook:

  • Try out new art mediums

  • Try out new art techniques

  • Try out different ways of drawing and making marks

  • Explore colour palettes

  • Collect inspiration

  • Practice drawing

  • Make notes

  • Journal or write

  • Explore work by artists you admire, look at their techniques and learn from them

  • Reflect on your own work – what you did, what you feel went well, what you’d like to do differently next time

  • Think about things

  • Sketch what you see

  • Plan your next drawing or artwork

  • Have fun doodling, painting, collaging, stamping, and generally letting your creative juices flow!

Use your sketchbook as often as you’d like, and think of it as you always having that little place that’s yours, where you can draw, explore your thoughts, and develop your creativity.

Drawing roses and patterns in my sketchbook - click to see it larger

You might want to carry a small sketchbook with you wherever you go, or spend a few minutes every day recording anything noteworthy for the day.

Or perhaps you’ll just use your sketchbook to help you think about or explore a certain theme or topic that you want to include in your art.

It’s up to you, but please, remember that your art and drawing are just as much about these unfinished sketches, those practice lines, those notes and thoughts, your inspiration, and what you notice, what’s going on inside your head, as it is about neat, finished artworks and drawings.

Rosehip sketches and doodles in a sketchbook - click to see it larger

Rosehip sketches and doodles in a sketchbook - click to see it larger

Your sketchbook is for you. It can be messy, it can be ugly, it can be awkward, embarrassing, personal. But use it! And make it loved!


What should your sketchbook be like? Decide whether to make or buy your sketchbook… Then get instructions for making a simple sewn sketchbook, here… or if you’d like a larger sketchbook with more pages use the simple sewn technique in a slightly more complex way to make this sketchbook…

What can you put in your sketchbook? Get drawing ideas for your sketchbook here…

Do you want some help with creating your own drawing style and feeling creatively and personally fulfilled by your drawing? Then you might enjoy my Start Drawing Your Way Essential Drawing Skills Course which combines accurate drawing skills and inspiration to kick-start your own personal creative outlook - find out all about it, here…

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Essential drawing skills online course - drawing techniques and personal creativity - DIY or Feedback versions available - click for more…

Essential drawing skills online course - drawing techniques and personal creativity - DIY or Feedback versions available - click for more…

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