Your Artist’s Sketchbook – 10 Tips For Creativity

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Most Artists use sketchbooks as a means of recording an idea, object or place. However, getting the best use out of your sketchbook is about way more than having a pretty book with a nice picture on every page. Here’s how to get low down and dirty with your sketchbook to squeeze more creativity out of it.

    1. The sketchbook is a means to an end – not the end itself.
      Try not to view your sketchbook as something you could put in a gallery all by itself. Look at it more as an old friend you can bounce ideas off in a smokey pub.


    1. Dont be precious about your sketchbook – It will stifle your creativity.
      Years ago as a Art Foundation Student myself and the other students were given sketchbooks to work in and proceeded to be really tense about them spending hours crafting perfect pages, getting really uptight and competitive about the work in them. Then one of the older more wizened members of staff got us all to place our sketchbooks in a big pile on a table and proceeded to pour thick black coffee all over them. Result – Lots of shouting and some tears but a great lesson learned. Just relax – You willl be far more creative.


    1. Don’t tear out pages or remove work you aren’t happy with. 
      Your sketchbook should be honest. Dont try to edit it. It’s there as a record of your thoughts and even terrible work is a record of your progress. Even if it looks dreadful there may be an idea there you can come back to at a later stage.


    1. Keep a small sketchbook with you at all times.
      As a Mum I get little time to do anything but there’s always a little moment you can snatch, when the kids have fallen asleep in the car, when you’re waiting at the school gates, when you have precisely two minutes to draw something. You also have something to hand to quickly write down a great idea that pops into your head when you are at the Supermarket checkout. Having a sketchbook at these snatched times is important to keep your creativity flowing.


    1. Don’t just draw.
      Write down thoughts, textures, sounds, conversations. Its these everyday snippits that are often inspirational.


    1. Buy a cheap sketchbook.
      If you treat yourself to a beautiful hand crafted leatherbound hand made paper filled sketchbook you will get so hung up about putting the perfect work in that you will get paralysed by lack of creative confidence [well, maybe thats just me] Just get your self a cheap general sketchbook and you will use it much more and be more relaxed.


    1. Be Messy.
      Try out new techniques and materials in your sketchbook. That way you have an ever growing reference library of what works [and what doesn’t].


    1. Collect things – Stick them in your sketchbook
      Postcards from exhibitions, feathers, leaves, photos, textiles, paint samples, flyers, stickers, magazine cuttings and other ephemera can all find a home in your sketchbook as a source of inspiration. This stops them festering in the bottom of your handbag until they are unrecognisable and you bin them.


    1. It may be obvious but… keep a pen or pencil with your sketchbook.
      There’s nothing more frustrating that having a great idea or seeing something amazing and having nothing to draw or write it down with. Make sure you have a drawing implement that will tuck safely into your sketchbook. Clip it on, tuck it down the spine or stick it on with sellotape if neccessary.


    1. USE IT
      Its so easy to get out of the habit of working in your sketchbook. You forget to take it out a few times and before you know it you haven’t worked in it for six months. I find personally that my sketchbook is the root of all my creative processes so its really important to keep using it. Once you are in the habit you get in a flow and can create a positive spiral of creativity. Just keep going.
How do you use your sketchbook? Please share with us in the comments…


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22 replies
  1. Caroline
    Caroline says:

    wow this was really awesome. I have really high hopes for maybe getting into Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities next year, but every time I sit down to put my portfolio together I start sobbing. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one that feels like it has to be perfect sketches on each page.

  2. patrice simoneau
    patrice simoneau says:

    i use it to just draw suff. sometimes when im really lonely i have little conversations with myself. i write some song pieces and at the end of the year (new years day or end of school year or end of summer) i put them on word documents and try and out them together.

    i have about a million songs:
    -One chance(for love
    -The end
    -I miss you (already)

    and a whole lot more!

  3. Hana
    Hana says:

    I love this post. Thank you so much but I’m kinda having trouble with the whole “be messy” idea, I’m an idealistic & I like my work to be perfect which sucks because art is about going crazy. Can you help me? What can I do to relax because that’s seriously holding back my creativity!

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      I know what you mean Hana and it can be sort hard, especially when you want everything to be as perfect as possible. What about trying some large format work on oversize canvases or anything you can get your hands on that is bigger than normal. This can force you into different habits from your normal work. I also find painting to loud music sometimes to helps as it encourages me to dance about and be more free 😉

        • Patrice
          Patrice says:

          Or if you just put a lign with other lignes and attach them and conect and go crazy with it. 🙂 thats wat i do 🙂 but i started with a few papers in a stack, then you fold them in half while there in a stack then it makes a little creat and sketch book 😀

  4. Making Made
    Making Made says:

    Thanks so much for sharing these tips. As I’ve gotten more and more into sketching in my book, I’ve definitely gotten more relaxed, which has been really helpful in making my ideas flow. Also, I love your suggestion for collecting things. I see lots of potential in that for me.

    Sort of related, I did a post on 10 tips for creativity over on my blog. Thought you or your readers might be interested.

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      Thanks and love your post. Definitely relevant to my readers. Especially love “find your inner weird” I don’t have a problem with that one 😉 lol

  5. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Im an art student at the minute. Not a university one but studying btec which is equal to the 1-levels and i use a blank book for a sketchbbok. Its incredibly cheap and the paper i find is actually a lot better than someone of the expensive sketchbooks that you can get.
    I have five different sketchbook, each one a work in progress. My first sketchbook is for my doodles, you know characters, fashion designs and things i have created for entertainment purposes. My second is for what i like to call my ‘copies’ basically just characters from movies and cartoons that i draw when i dont feel like doodling or actually working. My third is what i call my ‘artists’ book. Its filled with information on artists i like, what they do, the images they have drawn and then my own interpretation of those paintings/sketches they have done.
    My fourth one is my ‘visit’ sketchbook. I take it with me when i’m going on trips with my school or my family and i sit down to draw somewhere or i put the leaflets from hat place in and information on the place.
    My last one is my actual school book, filled with the course details and ideas and pieces of work.

    I have some truly terrible pieces in all of my sketchbooks but i keep them in because inspectors and people who look at them like to see that you know you’ve done something bad but you can actually say ‘yea i did a bad job but i tried again and even though this piece is bad i’m keeping it in because i did try with it and it just didn’t work. I know that maybe i have too many sketchbooks and i’ll probably never use them all but i find that especially with my ‘artists’ book it helps for if i need to find an artist and i don’t have any internet or sources around me that i can use. I just flip it open and find out if i have any artists in the book that i can use to help me.

    I actually looked at this page at the start of my course and showed it to a few of my classmates who found it very helpful and have now taken a very relaxed approach to their scrapbooks (although that may be because we don’t want coffee thrown over our work)

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      I really like your organised approach Sarah with differnt books for different contexts. So glad the post helped you and your classmates. Hope you avoid the coffee 😉

  6. Madison
    Madison says:

    This is really great. First I’ll answer your question and then ask mine. I use my sketchbook for all kinds of things. If I’ve got nothing on hand I’ll jot down notes. I’ll draw severil different drawing on a piece of paper that’s got hardly anything on it when I’m out of pages. I write little side notes on my sketches. I’ve dropped it in the mud, water, food, and yes, I’ve even gotten coffee on it. And I don’t even drink coffee! Anyways it’s full of all kinds of things. Including refrence photos, feathers, blades of grass and horse hair.
    Now, here is my question. Would it be alright with you if I took the tips and make a Sketchbook 10 Commandments thingy? I’ll give you credit and everything. Thanks! Please get back to me with your answer.

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      Yay Madison. Your sketchbook sounds like mine. I love chaotic fascinating full sketchbooks like that. Yes, love the idea of a sketchbook 10 commandments. Sounds fab.Looking forward to seeing it.

  7. Jackie Garner
    Jackie Garner says:

    Re. the “Buy a Cheap Sketchbook” comment – it’s not just you. I have a beautiful sketchbook that was a Christmas present nearly twenty years ago. It’s leather bound with a sheet of tissue paper between each page and I love looking at it and holding it… but I’ve never drawn in it because I can’t bear to mark it. The cheap, flimsy sketchbook I bought at the same time was filled immediately. I suspect something in between those extremes is probably best.

  8. Bunny Mazhari
    Bunny Mazhari says:

    It took me a long time to realise that my sketchbooks ARE in fact the end, that they are my honest contribution to art. I still struggle with this as I am so conditioned to see sketchbooks as part of the journey. But I do agree with all the suggestions and pointers you have offered.

  9. Colleen
    Colleen says:

    “Just relax – You willl be far more creative.”

    As an insecure perfectionist, I have FINALLY come to realize how true this statement is. Of course, I want my sketchbook drawings to all look great, but sometimes it’s more fun to just play around and shoot half-baked ideas around.

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      Good point Colleen. “Just Relax” is a great motto which applies to pretty much everything in art. So easy to get too uptight about everything. Things always seem to work better if you can just relax a little.

      • RonnieC
        RonnieC says:

        The way that I have found that allows ME to relax and fill up my sketchbooks is to adopt one rule- my sketchbooks are for MY viewing only. They’re full of half-thoughts, doodles and deadends, with the occaisional idea that leads to a full-fledged project. Why would I share my rejects with an audience?
        Without the safety of the private sketchbook, there wouldn’t be a safe space to try out new approaches and creative new ideas.

  10. Nina Wadcock
    Nina Wadcock says:

    Harry, my old art tutor did just the same, i remember him shouting don’t get precious, just draw, then flinging coffee over everything, it took me years to see the sense in what he was saying, I’d love to have told him I finally got it.

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      LOL. That’s great yours did it too Nina 😉 Yes I wish I could go back and tell my tutor what a great lesson it was. It has always stayed with me as a very good rule.

  11. Helen Aldous
    Helen Aldous says:

    Thanks Wendy – really interesting to hear how an artist in a different medium might use a sketchbook differently too. Thanks

  12. Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
    Wendy Edsall-Kerwin says:

    As a 3d artist, I use my sketchbook a little bit differently. I use it to jot down ideas (both as sketches and as written descriptions.) I also keep track of my work time and materials used on each project in it. I cut it up to make patterns from the paper. The sketchbook isn’t for finished work at all.

    I do make sure that I use cheap paper sketchbooks. Not that the paper quality is super cheap, but I want to not be intimidated by a fancy sketchbook – just like you mentioned. I also really like the spiral bound kind because I can fold pages back or lie it flat.

    Thanks for sharing your sketchbook ideas. They all make perfect sense to me.


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