How to love your sketchbook

Sketchbooks allow you to explore and be vulnerable to new ideas.

A sketchbook is a place for your unfiltered experiments – it should naturally be messy and uncoordinated, and perhaps even ‘ugly’. It is a playground for you to test new approaches, materials, styles, and compositions before putting them into use on your final pieces. The second you start worrying about presentation is the point where it is no longer a sketchbook.

When you start caring about how pretty a certain page or a sketch is, you’re giving yourself standards for how the next sketch or drawing must be! It’s a great way to acquire art block (which is what a sketchbook should solve in the first place…).

It is such a shame that today’s social media has such a ridiculously stupid high standard of what a sketchbook should look like, with beautiful ‘aesthetic’ palettes and a consistent overall theme. Thus, it’s easy to forget about the actual sketching part of a sketchbook and get too carried away with making stuff look aesthetic for the sake of impressing others. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s no longer a sketchbook – rather, a visual diary or art book.

So How The Fuck Should I Start Sketching?

The next time you sketch, imagine you’re not a comic artist or cartoonist or hyperrealistic artist or so on. Don’t let any such labels define what you want to draw – just pick something you think might be fun and do it. 

  1. Draw with a pen, sir.

Have you ever tried this before? If you’re the type to hit ctrl + z ruthlessly then you’re going to love it. If it’s not for you, perhaps you should try a different type of pen (felt, gel, ballpoint, marker pens… there are many types).

It forces you to be loose, but also deliberate. Whenever you make a mistake, IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD!!!  Just draw over it or stop and start again next to your previous messed up attempt. Try to produce the same shape, over and over again until the average result is much better than how you started.

The goal is to be able to sketch with rapid speed and with reasonable line confidence. Even if someone was able to construct a face beautifully, subtle details of uncertainty will often stick out – and are hard to fix. Confidence radiates through the entirety of your drawing, not just in one part!

2. Remember that you aren’t meant to be consistent! 

A common worry of especially younger artists is a need to be consistent in their body of work. It’s a bit of a dangerous mindset (will explain another day) but if you are feeling this way, take a step back, and allow your inconsistencies to show in your sketchbook, and perhaps analyse why you don’t like it.

Redraw and refine poses that you like, and pick the ones that you deem worthy of a final piece. 

3. Remember that you don’t have to show anyone.

If you’re feeling pressured, try and identify the source of your feelings. Ahh, meditative or inspirational perhaps, but more often than not it stems from worrying about what others may think of you as an illustrator, or worrying about if you’re ‘good’ or not. 

No one has to see your sketchbook if you don’t want to show anyone. It doesn’t exist unless you tell somebody about it. Even if it was somehow ‘complete fucking shit’, what’s wrong about letting it be ‘complete fucking shit’? No one can judge it’s ‘goodness’, only yourself – but if you’re judging yourself and it’s ruining your life, then I would recommend trying this. 

What Materials Should I Use??! There Are So Many Pens And Different Types Of Paper.

Don’t use lined paper, it looks fucking shit. Many people find it welcoming because they don’t have to confront a blank page. You’re worthy of using the clean stuff!!!

I’m not going to recommend any specific brands, this isn’t a sponsorship website. One person’s recommendation won’t necessarily suit another, it is very much personal preference! 

Pick a sketchbook with a cover you love, give it a spin, if the paper feels nice to draw on then that’s great! A higher price tag doesn’t give paper more quality. Same with pens, and pencils, and paints, and markers, and anything else you might deem worthy of messing with.

I would, however, recommend keeping your eye out for paper that is acid free if you want your pieces to last.

But I Want An Aesthetic Sketchbook!

Everyone does to some extent, even myself. It’s fine if you decide that aesthetic spreads are what you want to do. However do realise that the most raw sketchbooks already naturally form an ‘aesthetic’ from the individual style and quirks of the artist, and a very genuine one in that. 

But if you want to get the most out of learning while still making things look good, consider filling out the pages first and working on your studies – then after finishing the entire sketchbook, go back on your favorite pages and add those unnecessary, yet so pretty, embellishments and boxes. 

Using different colored sketching mediums helps quite a lot with variety, if you can get your hands on multiple colors it makes sketching much more enjoyable when you switch between them.

I struggled a shitload with keeping sketchbooks in my younger years – they would fizzle out of relevance because I didn’t want to keep up with making consistent pieces for the ‘pretty sketchbook’, or the classic excuse of ‘why bother keeping a book of mistakes when we have undo and erasers??’ It’s a valid point, but no one told me otherwise.

In the end, you gotta remember to take care of yourself and have fun. Art should be a relaxing, reflective learning experience. If you’re feeling frustrated with art, go haywire in your sketchbook about the frustration!! There isn’t any right or way wrong to illustrate.


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