Why Keep a Sketchbook?

If you’ve ever wandered into an office supplies, art or craft store and walked down the aisles of lovely notebooks, a mysterious pull might get hold of you: either you want to write or you want to draw. You want to create.

I have piles of notebooks for both purposes but I want to focus on the sketchbook.


Up until a few months ago I hadn’t really kept a sketchbook. I had watched a few “sketchbook tours” on YouTube and I was convinced that a person who kept one already knew how to draw and so every page in their books was a work of art. When I enrolled in Sketchbook Skool, every instructor did a tour of one of their books and I drooled over them. Every page was perfect, every page was interesting and even the most carefree doodle looked like it had its place.

Me, I got the syndrome of the new sketchbook. I bought a couple of beautiful, heavy paper books and I couldn’t bring myself to use them. It took me weeks before I decided to put my name on one and when I used the first page it was a muddy mess. If I tried to draw a face  it came out horribly alien. I couldn’t help attaching a price to the sketchbook. A good one costs from $15 to $30 or more depending on the brand, the weight and the media it’s for.

So I hoarded them and thought (like the notebooks I bought for writing): “One day I will…. ”
Finally I started to use a cheaper sketcbhook and I started to carry it around with me. It was so cheap and yet  sturdy, I started to draw a little more, allowing myself to skip pages, draw in all directions, make notes, make lists, use pen, paper, marker, test watercolor and see how the paper warped, draw on top of a previous drawing until I suddenly felt this weird freedom and after drawing a few pages of hands, faces or flowers in my cheap book, I would venture into one of my nicer ones and sit down with it with more intention.

Those little realizations that feel like epiphanies

I realized that my drawings were good when I drew them on cheap paper but I put so much pressure on myself because of the monetary weight I attacked to a finer book.
So I would warm up on my cheap book and when I used a better one, I was aware that I had warmed up and that it didn’t matter how the drawing came out.

Sometimes it worked and I had a nice drawing, but sometimes it was a mess.

Messed-up page, August 2015

I learned to skip around notebooks and recently, when I started to meet with people about keeping a sketchbook, I noticed that each book, cheap or nice had some really lovely drawings and some serious trials and errors. But everything had a continuum.

Lately, I choose my sketchbook according to my mood: watercolor or pencil? And I use my lovely Fabriano Venezia Sketchbook when I feel like it. I warm up, always, I draw a few faces, a few spheres, a few objects and then I work something a little more complex.

Self-portrait, May 2014

The sketchbook is and must be a container of all your creative development.

Use it for:
Color testing
Make notes about what you did (so you can reproduce your happy accidents)
Let it get dirty (mine usually are smudged and have cookie crumbs between pages)

Let time pass, don’t look at a finished sketchbook for at least for three or four months.
And then, after a dozen sketchbooks be happy and marvelled at how your body of work starts emerging.

Sharing your sketchbooks over coffee or tea with someone is one of the most delicious experiences I’ve encountered. To discuss your thoughts, processes and “embarassing” drawings is freeing and allows you to get perspective from the avalanche of beautiful -finished- images that populate the web.

My ladies in a Fabriano Venezia Sketchbook

I’m meeting people for about an hour through the Montreal platform E-180 to share and talk about our sketchbooks and where we think they’re taking us.

You can see my E-180 offer about how to keep a sketchbook here if you’re in Montreal.

despair and I sketchbook
Strathmore cheap watercolor block

Letters from the path to art.

  1. Hi Louisa,

    Your “messed up” page looks beautiful. I liked it even before I read about it being supposedly messed up :) Good work.
    Thanks for stopping by my website!

  2. Pingback: Notebook Stories: A Blog About Notebooks, Journals, Moleskines, Blank Books, Sketchbooks, Diaries and More

Comments are closed.