10 Tips for a Better Sketchbook

Since I didn't put together a World of Immensum Weekly Update post this last Friday, I figured I should make it up to you guys with a more informative post. I've been wanting to get into other styles of blog posts for a while now, so this seemed like a good place to start.

The reason I didn't put together a weekly update post was because I was in the middle of trying to complete a one-week sketchbook challenge (and I succeeded!), so that's the theme for this post! So without further ado, here are 10 tips for a better sketchbook.

1. Pick a Sketchbook You Like

Everyone has different ideas of what makes a good sketchbook; some people swear by Moleskine sketchbooks, while others think they are overrated. Some people prefer a spiral bound sketchbook, because of the way you can work on a single page at a time, and others prefer hardbound sketchbooks due to the flow each spread has.

Feel free to try out many different sketchbooks, in many different formats, with many different kinds of paper. Eventually you will discover what you like best (though for me the experimentation with books never really stops). Personally, I'm a fan of hardcover books with sewn bindings. I typically go for the cheapest ones I can find; the $5 ones from Michaels have never failed me. The cheapness takes some of the pressure off, and I've thrown a ton of wet media at the pages and the binding has held up incredibly well. The pages do wrinkle, but I think that adds to the character. I also prefer a smaller sketchbook, around 5.5"x8.5".

2. Prep Some Pages Ahead

A big problem a lot of people have with their sketchbooks is a fear of the blank page.

Almost every artist has experienced this problem - sometimes a blank white page, full of possibilities, is just too intimidating. This is why I recommend prepping some pages ahead of time. This is something I've started doing fairly recently, and I can't recommend it enough.

Collage papers in, put down washes of acrylic or watercolor, rip and cut the pages, make marks, and just generally mess the pages up. This takes away the fear of having to create something perfect and gives you a jumping off point. Sometimes having some limitation surrounding your art can force you to be more creative, and a pre-prepped page is definitely a limitation.

3. Dedicate Time to Your Sketchbook Every Day

I know practically everyone makes this point, but there is a reason for that. I cannot emphasize how important daily practice really is.

Working in your sketchbook every day creates a habit; instead of having to force yourself to sit down and work in your book, you will automatically do it. In addition, the more time you dedicate to your sketchbooks and your art in general, the more ideas you will generate. As I mentioned previously, I recently completed a 60 page sketchbook in a week (expect a sketchbook tour soon!). The ideas were not the hard part.

4. Try Not to Focus on Perfection

I know this is much easier said than done. I'm a perfectionist through and through - the concept of having a perfect sketchbook where every page is just as attractive as the last is incredibly appealing to me. Unfortunately, this is nowhere near realistic and creates unnecessary pressure.

A sketchbook is a place to play and experiment. It is a place where you should be able to try new things without fear that they will fail. In the words of Thomas Edison, "I didn't fail 1,000 times. The lightbulb was an invention with 1,000 steps."

5. Experiment with Different Mediums

In a similar vein to the last point, be willing to try different mediums. 

In my most recent sketchbook, I incorporated graphite, charcoal, acrylic, watercolor, pen and ink, colored pencils, markers, many different types of paper and tape, and more. I used these materials in different combinations, attempting to combine them in new and interesting ways.

Some of my experiments worked and some didn't - however, if I hadn't allowed myself to experiment, I wouldn't have found the things I liked. An example of this was my usage of charcoal; I had tried the medium in the past, and wasn't a fan. However, as I experimented with it more and tried different methods of applying it to paper, it grew on me exponentially. 

6. Let One Experiment Lead to Another

 
 

When keeping a sketchbook, it is important to let the ideas flow freely.

Often times, when I'm in the middle of working on a page, I will notice something about way a certain medium reacts to another, and it will start the ideas whirling around. Those ideas will be further developed in future pages, and it becomes a sort of chain of ideas. Something that was once accidental will become intentional, and the process of encouraging this style of development makes sure your idea well will never run dry.

Try not to criticize the ideas when they come to you - sometimes an idea that sounds stupid in theory looks incredible on the page, and the opposite can also be true. Not only can judging ideas be inaccurate, it can also be detrimental to the creative process. You are telling your creativity that it is being stupid, and that can often cause the ideas to stop coming completely. Just remember that even if an idea is stupid and doesn't work out, it can lead to another idea that is brilliant.

7. Add Color

Another thing that can add a lot of interest to your sketchbook pages is the use of color.

Though there is nothing wrong with keeping a sketchbook exclusively in graphite or pen and ink, adding a splash of color to a drawing you're particularly proud of can cause it to stand out and make a statement all its own. Use watercolor, markers, or colored pencils to spice up your pages. Color entire drawings or just a few details, try them in combination with other supplies, and don't feel tied down by how the supplies are "supposed" to be used. This is a sketchbook, you should feel free to experiment with new techniques.

8. Make Notes

 
 

Something that may sound strange at first, but is actually extremely beneficial, is the concept of taking notes in your sketchbook.

If you follow the tips previously mentioned, then you will be doing a lot of experimenting. You will be working with a lot of mediums in a lot of different combinations, and making notes about what materials you used can be helpful if you want to try to recreate the look in the future. In addition, if you're drawing some type of animal or plant, you may want to make notes about its features and name in case you want to draw it again in the future.

The purpose of a sketchbook, in the end, is to learn. Notes help you keep track of what exactly you are learning.

9. Date Your Pages

This can be as easy as writing a few numbers in pen, or as interesting as purchasing a date stamp to spruce it up a bit (I've done this - I like making the date an interesting element in its own right). 

The primary reason you should think about dating your pages is simply to track your progress. The fun thing about a sketchbook is that it follows a journey - an artistic evolution. It's always fun to look back at your old sketchbooks and see exactly how long ago it was that you created a piece of artwork. It makes it much easier to compare your current work to your past work, and it can be a confidence booster to see your growth from the beginning of a sketchbook to the end of one.

10. Let Yourself Work Out of Order

The final tip I have for keeping your sketchbook is to make sure you're working in a way that makes you comfortable.

Different people work in different ways, and for some, skipping pages throughout their book can create a sense of relief. It is less structured and more like drawing on loose paper, and you don't have to worry about your drawing being as good as the one on the last page. Plus, if you're dating your pages as mentioned in the last tip, you will still be able to keep track of the order that the pages were created in (so you're still documenting your journey).

In the end, all of these tips lead back to the same idea; you should do everything in your ability to allow yourself to be comfortable with your sketchbook. It should never be a hassle to sit down and draw. If it does become a hassle, then make sure you are allowing yourself the space to loosen up. Scribble randomly on one of your pages with a pencil, then incorporate these lines into your drawing. Try to let go of that perfection, even if it's difficult.

I hope these tips have been useful, and I look forward to hearing how they work for you!