Getting the Most Out of Your Sketchbook

There’s a big difference between a sketchbook and a portfolio.

Growing up, I erased, scribbled over, and tore out my mistakes so that only my best work remained. I didn’t know any better at the time, but I could have gotten much more of out of my sketchbooks with a few simple tweaks.

What I didn’t know growing up was that it’s okay to make drawing mistakes and that sketchbooks are the perfect place to make them.

Not knowing I was allowed to try things for the first time in my sketchbook, every drawing I made was a do-or-die experience. A pass-or-fail test. Inevitably, I messed up frequently and I ended up erasing and redrawing the same things over and over again, thinking I was a terrible draftsman. There were drawings I never completed because I knew I’d mess up. There were drawings I never even attempted because I knew I would mess up.

Unfortunately, I think that’s a pretty typical experience for most people.

BUT! I learned in college that a sketchbook is a place—my own private playground where I can experiment, explore, discover, and even make mistakes. I can draw directly in ink and turn my “mistakes” into something else—or just leave them and move on.

My sketchbooks are just for me and I don’t have to share anything in them if I don’t want to.

My sketchbooks are a place for me to think out loud of paper, without judging any of my ideas as “good” or “bad”. They are my journal, notebook, to-do list, calendar, sketchbook, and more.

If I write or draw something in my sketchbook, it is to record and catalogue an idea or to explore it.

By putting all my ideas down on the page—the “good” and the “bad”—I allow myself to see new connections between all the different ideas on the same page. The best ideas naturally stand out in some way and I might draw even more attention to those ideas by circling them, underlining them, or organizing them in some way.

Because I have “recorded” these ideas, I can come back to the page at any time and the writing and drawings will still be alive, right on the page!

Download / Print

Feel free to download and print my guidelines for “Getting the Most Out of Your Sketchbook”. It’s something I give my drawing, writing, cartooning, and comic book students. (Keep in mind that these aren’t rules and they aren’t the only ways to use a sketchbook—they are simply approaches that have helped me and that I hope will help you.)

If I make something cool, I want the journey and process of making that thing to be enjoyable—that’s why I try to keep my sketchbooks fun and inviting.

How do you sketchbook? What do you use it for? Have you found an approach that works for you?


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