A Little About Sketchbooks

I was recently talking to some of my online art friends (over on ATCs for All, specifically on the Envie Addicts Unite thread, about the importance of sketchbooks. I explained to them that a sketchbook is a journey, a visual diary if you will. Sketchbooks are typically not framed and hung on a gallery or museum wall for all to see (unless your famous).

I gave them a link to this video of an artist flipping through her sketchbook. I specifically chose this video because the book had pages where the artist was testing different pens, pages that were unfinished and pages where the artwork didn’t fill the entire page. A new sketchbook and keeping a sketchbook in general can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.

The day after I had shared this with my friends, I was reading the Summer 2016 Issue of Drawing magazine and came across an article that reiterated my point so well. The article is titled “Inside the Sketchbook of a 20th-Century Master.” The article specifically talks about the sketchbooks of Richard Diebenkorn (1943-1993). These sketchbooks were on view at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University (Diebenkorn’s alma matter) and many of them can still be viewed on Cantor’s website. There was a book published in conjunction with the exhibit, Richard Diebenkorn: The Sketchbook Revealed by Stanford University Press.

I had a few points I wanted to share from this article. This shows us that even the best are not perfect. This being said, why do we always demand such perfection from ourselves? I suppose this is a rhetorical question, but if you have insight on this I’d love to hear it.

“We get to see the abandoned exercises and the occasional failures–proof that even the best have their difficulties and false starts.”

“Diebenkorn did not often use his sketchbooks to create preparatory drawings for specific paintings…he would rehearse in his sketchbook visual elements that would appear in subsequent paintings.”

[In relation to the book that was published]
“One sketchbook was published in its entirety, blank pages and all, giving readers the full effect of flipping through one of the artist’s private journals.”

This year it has been my goal to faithfully keep a sketchbook. For the most part I have been accomplishing this goal. I wanted to share some pages from my sketchbook that might help you get over your fear of sketchbooks. Of course, I am no master artist like Diebenkorn, but I am an artist who is trying to get better with each drawing/painting I do. The only way to improve is practice and more practice and did I say practice. That is why I believe sketchbooks are so important for artists.

Here is the cover of my sketchbook.


This is a mixed media sketchbook by Cottonwood Arts. Unfortunately this binding is not very durable. The spine is made of book cloth that was glued to the inside of two hard covers. As you can see from the picture, I had to fix the binding with Duct Tape®. I do however carry this sketchbook with me everywhere and I use watercolor in it so it does take a bit of a beating. I’m not real fond of the paper, but I’m going to fill this sketchbook anyway!

It is okay to make mistakes in your sketchbook. That is part of what it is for. If you do make mistakes, don’t rip the page out. Your mistakes are part of your artistic journey and will only show your growth throughout this process. Here are some examples of mistakes from my sketchbook. In the first one I was trying to draw a lantern, but had the perspective wrong. As you can see, I just restarted drawing the lantern right next to the mistake and got it right the second time. The second picture will show my quick sketches of a Standard Poodle. I was trying to draw his nose from a straight on perspective and just couldn’t get it right. He ended up looking like an elephant. LOL.



Sketchbooks can be used to plan out paintings. Here is a sketch I did when I was trying to work out the composition and color palette for a painting.


If you struggle with composition, try using a grid. Here is an exercise I did for a class I took with Jane LaFazio at Sketchbook Skool.


I either watched a video or read an article (I can’t remember) where the artist (I think he was an Urban Sketcher) did some small warm up sketches before picking and drawing his main piece. He taped of squares and rectangles in his sketchbook before leaving home. I decided to give this method a try when I went to Queen Califia’s Magical Sculpture Garden in Escondido, California. Here is what I ended up with.


I’ve used my sketchbook to do value studies. When I do a value study I choose one color and use different shades and tints to establish my values. Here is one I did of a buffalo.


Sometimes you just might want to have fun and draw something totally random. Here is my random octopus sketch.


A lot of times I’ll document what I am doing, like you would in a journal/diary, but with a sketch and I might add some journaling. Here are two such sketches. The first one is when I went and got a pedicure and manicure. You’ll see that I even glued the receipt into my sketchbook. I also used the actual nail polish to color in the nail polish bottle. The second drawing is from a trip to Barnes & Noble where I treated myself to some dessert in the cafe.



I try out new techniques in my sketchbook. On this page I drew my kitchen with ink and painted it with watercolor (like I usually do), but I added lots of cross hatching and then incorporated colored pencil. I was taught this technique by Tommy Kane in a course at Sketchbook Skool.


I use my sketchbook to take notes in as well. I belong to an art association (Hemet Valley Art Association) and we have monthly meetings that include a different artist demonstrator each month. I like to put these notes right in my sketchbook (especially since they are art related) so that they are easy to find if I want to go back to them.


I belong to two different sketching groups in San Diego, the San Diego Urban Sketchers and the San Diego Weekday Sketchcrawlers. Here is one of my Urban Sketches that I did of the Mingei Museum at Balboa Park in San Diego. I’m not sure why the building on the bottom page looks so blue because in reality it is the same color and the building on the top page.


Well, I hope I have inspired you to keep a sketchbook. Just remember it’s a journey and sometimes the road can be bumpy. 😉




4 thoughts on “A Little About Sketchbooks

  1. Thank you for emphasizing that we do not have to be perfect, especially in our own sketchbooks. I think people try for perfection in order to avoid criticism from others, I tend to sketch trials on a separate sheet of paper before starting the main piece. Tamara Laporte of Willowing.org stressed to “not give too much importance to your critical self” and she is soo right.
    Your drawings are wonderful Tandy, and the imperfect sketches do give some extra life and growth to a sketchbook page. Thank you for being an inspiration.

    • You are very welcome. In the past years I’ve started so many sketchbooks and as soon as I did one sketch that I didn’t like I would abandon the book. I think looking at the sketchbooks of others can help us get passed that.

  2. i love that your sketchbook isn’t just sketches. i know that’s a weird thing to say, but I like the additions of notes and receipts and such. Makes me wanna go back to my sketchbook that I have abandoned. Thanks again for rejuvenating my sketchbook muse! Happy sketching!

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