Starting a daily sketchbook practice is one of the very best things you can do for your art and your creativity. A sketchbook is a place for your ideas to percolate and your skills to develop. It is a place where you can safely make mistakes and try new things. It can be just for you or something you share and use to connect to other people. The purpose of keeping a sketchbook is to learn in a no-pressure environment.
I personally have stacks of sketchbooks from over the years. Some are big, some are small enough to fit in the back pocket of my jeans. Some are full and well-worn, covered in stickers and dirt. Others are half-empty and still way too pretty. I’ve tried every approach to sketchbooking I could, and don’t intend to stop anytime soon.
The key is to develop a daily sketchbook practice. Let working in your sketchbook become part of your everyday routine, a cherished ritual you look forward to. You will see your skills improve, your creativity will blossom as you test and push your own creative boundaries. As a result, you will develop your own artistic style, create a sort of visual diary, improve your observational skills, and spend some quality time with yourself.
How To Start A Daily Sketchbook Practice
Make art everyday. Just do something. And do it daily. The magic here is that since this is for you, you get to set your own parameters. Here are some suggestions to get you going with making your daily sketchbook practice a habit:
Set a time limit. Five minutes, fifteen minutes, an hour. Whatever gets you excited. Whatever you think you can actually pull off. Sit down and set a timer if that helps quiet you into staying put. Set your phone alarm or the egg timer. Personally, I’m excited about getting an hourglass.
Choose a place. Maybe keep your sketchbook tucked in next to the cookbooks and settle down at the kitchen table for ten minutes a day. Maybe take it to the coffee shop with you. Or keep your sketchbook and art supplies next to the phone (I know, I know, cell phones are more popular than landlines. But we all tend to sit in a certain place when we are on the phone at home- cell phone or not.) Some of my favorite doodles were done while I was talking on the phone. It is distracting and can therefore allow you to be more free, less inhibited. Or you can go outside. Rain or shine, put on what you need to go sit, observe, and sketch for five or ten minutes. That might not sound like enough time, but it will get you out there and you will see something you wouldn’t have otherwise seen, create something you wouldn’t otherwise have created. It is about the experience and the practice more than the result.
Prioritize your pastimes. We all waste a lot of time each day doing things that don’t really rank on the self-actualization meter. How much time do you spend texting, facebooking, watching netflix, or running extra errands? Swap out ten minutes of something unnecessary to make time for your daily sketchbook practice. It is a real challenge to quiet the chaos of daily life. When considering how to spend your time, thinking about what you will remember in the long term can help put things into perspective. Think about what will make you feel best about yourself.
Create a ritual. This can make a sort of space in your life for your new habit and enhance your experience of it. This is because when you ritualize something you personalize it. When something is personal it is yours, and yours for you to enjoy. Maybe you will sit by the window, light a scented candle, pour a glass of wine, and sketch while listening to an Edith Piaf record. Perhaps you will assemble your sketch kit and a little snack into a cloth satchel that you will carry with you to the park or into the woods. Pick a few of your favorite things and surround your new habit with them. It will become a cherished reward.
Dress the part. This can tie in to ritualizing your daily sketchbook practice if you want. But I am talking about the way you see and identify yourself. Do you see yourself as an artist? A lot of people are shy and bashful about this; they act like it is a title that they do not deserve. A bucket of nonsense, if you ask me. A personal example for you: I love to run. I have run for years. I’ve never been particularly fast, nor run particularly far. But I go running on a regular basis and I enjoy it. Therefore, I do identify myself as a runner. I would by no means put myself in the same league as a professional. But I do run. I love to run. I am a runner. There is nothing wrong with this. You are an artist. There is nothing wrong with that either. I enjoy wearing my running shoes around when I’m just running errands or whatever. It inspires me and makes me happy. As a result my running shoes are always out, ready for the next run. This can be paralleled by your daily sketchbook practice. It’s not necessarily that if you look the part you will feel the part. It is more that if you look the part you will be inspired to be the part. Go ahead and sport those paint-spattered jeans, carry your sketchbook and paints in your purse- even if you know you won’t have time to use them while you’re out. Stick a paintbrush in your bun (I always do!). Heck, buy a chunky piece of turquoise jewelry to wear. Even if you are just at home in your bathrobe. Whatever makes you feel like and inspires you to be an artist.
One of my favorite rings. It has an old, cracked piece of turquoise in it that matches our Special Edition Genuine Turquoise Watercolor Paint. I always feel inspired to travel, create, and explore when I’m wearing this ring.
Where To Start A Daily Sketchbook Practice
Well, in a sketchbook of course. But the options are infinite. ‘Sketchbook’ is a really loose term, when it comes down to it. Anything works, really, just as long as you’re scribbling. Choose your surface, choose your tools, and get to it! I really enjoy mixing it up in my daily sketchbook practice. I like to use different sketchbooks and papers, and am always switching up my current favorite assortment of pens and pencils. Not to mention my watercolor set layout. I have a new favorite color every day. A lot of people think of a sketchbook as a book with a black cover and white paper. There is something classic and lovely in that notion, but there are so many more options. The idea is to follow your excitement! There are no wrong answers.
Pick some paper. Then pick some more if you want. You can go the classic route and pick out a sketchbook. Head to your local art store or book shop, or peruse the different Etsy shops. There are so many different options for sketchbooks. All different sizes and types. Large hard-backed books, small leather-bound with hand-stitched binding. Different pictures on the cover, different papers on the inside: creamy ivory or bright white, deckled edge, spiral bound, perforated pages, watercolor paper or sketch– even graph paper is an option. Some of these even have tinted paper, like grey, beige, or kraft paper brown. Pick something that makes you excited to sit down and get to work. If choosing a whole pad or book seems too committing, just grab a few sheets of paper. Heck, grab a napkin or a piece of the newspaper. Assemble your random scraps into a manila folder and call it your sketchbook. It’s whatever works for you and keeps you creating.
Choose your art supplies. A pencil is enough. More than enough. But there are so many other options. There are water-soluble graphite pencils so you can turn your drawings into watercolors paintings. There is even graphite clay you can make marks with. Quill pens and vintage fountain pens, mechanical pencils with colored leads, gel pens, artist quality crayons, acrylic inks, and watercolor markers. Choose what you are excited to use. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Rummage through your desk drawers or head to your local art supply shop- do not be too intimidated to do this. People who work in art supply shops love art supplies and love to talk about art supplies. Ask questions. More often than not you can sample just about anything.
Find your sketchbook and supplies a place to live. This can be a place for them to adorn or a way to carry them around. It helps to give new things a place– where they can be easily accessed and neatly put away until their next use. I relish choosing accoutrements for my daily sketchbook practice. I just found an antique test tube holder to hold all of my watercolor brushes on my desk. I have an old metal fishing box that holds all of the art supplies I travel with. It can help to have your supplies’ home be both visible and visually appealing. It will remind you of your daily sketchbook practice, and make it more enticing.
These are a few of the art supplies that always travel with me: Tombow Mono Zero mechanical eraser, micro fine mister for my watercolors, Palomino Blackwing pencil, my hand-carved watercolor paintbrush, some colorful washi tape.
What To Do In Your Daily Sketchbook Practice
So, you have committed to a daily sketchbook practice. You have a plan of action and the supplies. You are inspired and excited. What are you going to fill your sketchbook with? Again, there are no wrong answers. Do whatever you want, but just don’t let the blank page intimidate you. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Personalize it. My favorite way to break in a new sketchbook is to make it my own right away. I add stickers to the cover, put my name on the inside, and toss it into my bag to get those first few scratches and dents. You can get as creative with this as you like. Embellish your inscription, scrawl a threat to anyone you might make off with your work, add a note of congratulations to the back.
- The same damn thing. Over and over again. If you want. Ever repeated the same word so many times that it completely lost its meaning and just became an abstract sound? You can do that with pictures too, but it’s just a little different and much more fun. For example: in art school I was given a picture of a human skull and told to draw it- replicate it. I spent hours drawing that skull. Then the picture was taken away and I was told to draw the skull again. After I got over my shock and got to drawing, I realized that I now had a reasonably realistic skull “in my fingers”, so to speak. I was hooked, drawing that skull again and again. I was able to take stylistic liberties in my renderings, which gave me great joy, satisfaction, and a great confidence boost. It is a wonderful exercise that is repeatable with anything. Choose a subject that interests you- a bird’s nest maybe, or an acorn, a pair of shoes, or a tube of toothpaste even. Draw it from life, in great detail. Then again, with or without your live subject. Turn the object another way and draw it from a different point of view. Become a student of that object. Get it in your fingers.
- The same damn thing, version II. In this version, the object changes, but the place is the same. Imagine a year of painting sunsets. What appears at first to be nuanced differences will over time evolve to be stunning and faceted details with which you are intimately acquainted. The same thing can be done with portraits- of yourself, your pet, the birds outside your window. The sky is the limit- both literally and figuratively.
- Draw from life. You don’t have to draw it over and over. The point here is that inspiration is everywhere. Draw your hand. Sketch your kitchen, the view from the table. Paint an autumn leaf. Anything can become a subject. Again, there are no wrong answers.
- Post cards. Writing letters is such a great way to keep in touch, and since you have to go to the extra trouble of hand writing your thoughts, it is all the more meaningful. I am often strapped for time, and simply can’t get around to a long-winded letter. Post cards are more my speed. And it affords you the chance to spend maybe more time on a picture to adorn just a short note. The added beauty of the post card is that it can be a scrap of paper– just as long as it has an address and stamp! You can buy pads of blank postcards from your local art supply. Imagine a year of illustrated postcards!
- Pinterest: pinspiration. Perusing Pinterest can be a great source of inspiration– just don’t overdo it and forget to get to work. Get some good ideas and use them as a springboard. If you do copy other people’s work, that’s fine as a learning tool only. This can be a great exercise, but just remember that you cannot claim it as your own. This is another great thing about the sketchbook. It is your private safe space to work with ideas.
- Go abstract. The point is to be making marks. It usually leads somewhere unexpected and charming. Scribble a great tangle of lines and then color in the spaces that are created. Fill your page with all sizes of circles. Practice your signature. Make dots or parallel lines. There is beauty in repetition, and there is art in it as well.
When beginning your daily sketchbook practice, set yourself up for success. Determine why you want to start a sketchbook and try to clarify what it is you hope to get out of it. Again, there are no wrong answers here, but knowing these things will help you keep going. Your daily sketchbook practice is just for you. No pressure. A safe zone. Set goals if you like, but don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone is a beginner at first. We are often our own worst critics. Personal criticism has its own useful place, but it is often allowed a tyrannical rule over us. Give yourself space to make mistakes, allow yourself to feel foolish. It’s really more fun that way :)
In the new year I am planning on taking my own advice and ramping up my own daily sketchbook practice. I will look forward to sharing my progress with you both here and on Instagram. I am pretty much bursting at the seams with ideas I can’t wait to try, and then share with you.
Wishing you color and inspiration for you and your sketchbook!