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The Art of Sketchbooking

I’m an avid ‘Sketchbookist’, meaning I’m someone who’s got a sketchbook always handy to pull out start drawing. I owe all the improvement I’ve made as an artist to my sketchbooks. I use sketchbooks to draw, write and even think. The more pages you fill with drawings in your sketchbook, the more sketchbooks you will finish with deliberate focus and intent, the more you grow better as an artist.

Even after using sketchbooks for so many years, there’s this lingering question every time I start a new sketchbook,

“How do I actually use this sketchbook?”

My first reaction to answer this question was to remember some of the sketchbook tours I’ve watched on YouTube. We’ve all seen those videos where artists walk us through their sketches that inevitably leaves us feeling small and meritless. Yup, that one! I’ve always wondered how their sketchbooks look so perfect! Every single page filled with a masterful piece. Just HOW!?

I’ve always wanted to maintain sketchbooks like that and I’ve tried to do that in the past. Making sure I don’t scribble or ever make a bad drawing, being very careful with what I draw and the way I draw it. But this attitude always puts an ugly strain on my relationship with my sketchbook. As soon as I became aware of this trap, I realized trying to create masterpieces on every page would never work in the long run. Expecting every page to be a masterpiece will make the sketchbook a tyrant who judges you based on your comparison to others.

Falling victim to this trap strips away all the fun from using a sketchbook. We need to understand that the artists doing sketchbook tours have such amazing sketches because they’ve been practicing their craft for years and years and are probably hundreds of sketchbooks down in their art journey. Hence, their sketches look like the masterpieces you may attempt. They are not burdening themselves with immense pressure to produce a breathtaking piece on every page, they too are having fun in their process of making art.

But truth be told, there are artists who use sketchbooks as masterpiece books or portfolio books and spend many hours on a single page. That’s because they have a specific agenda set for that sketchbook and they are working toward that goal in that book.

So after messing around for a while, I landed on a soulful and joyous approach to maintaining a sketchbook. And I’ve narrowed it down to three principles.


Use Your Sketchbook like a ‘Playground’

A sketchbook is that one of a kind playground you have all to yourself. It’s the place for all madness, a place to shout your heart out and feel completely free! There are hardly any wrong answers for how to use this playground.

I use my sketchbook for all sorts of purposes, not just for drawing. Apart from drawing, I write, I make lists and plans, brainstorm ideas brewing in my head, and I scribble, to name a few. I use it like a kid in the playground with zero expectations, roaming around aimlessly playing whatever game I want or even make up some new ones on my own.

Use Your Sketchbook like a ‘Practice Ground’

Even though it’s good to have aimless fun in your sketchbook, you need to spend time doing focused exercises in your sketchbook. Give yourself a specific achievable goal (say, learning to draw heads in different angles) and apply concentrated effort toward that goal. The idea here is not to put yourself down when not meeting the high expectations you set for yourself but to make each iteration of your goal driven sketch better than the last. It’s a journey of deliberate practice you make towards your art goals.

There is not much of learning in filling your sketchbook randomly. You become a better artist by using your sketchbook as a vehicle to focus on specific things and get better at them, which in turn will teach you important lessons in improving your art.

Use Your Sketchbook like a ‘Journal’

If you guys don’t know who is Marcus Aurelius, it is time you got introduced to this man. Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor. Being in such a high position of power meant he had a lot of difficult choices to make. So he documented his thoughts in personal journals he kept to help make decisions in life. His writings in his journals along with the teachings of a few other thinkers from that time marked the beginning of a school of philosophy called Stoicism. Such is the power of capturing your thoughts on paper.

That’s the general mentality I have towards my sketchbook. I use it as a place for me to figure things out and record my life. I document the things happening around me and things I’m trying to think my way through. Some of the greatest artists of the past have used their sketchbooks like this, a place to think, draw, write and document. If you use your sketchbooks this way, they’ll tell you stories of your own true self even better than your own memories.

What do you find to be the best use of your sketchbook? Comment down below and we can take the discussion on this vital topic further!

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