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Sketching and Sketchbooks

December 28, 2020

Anyone with the slightest interest in creating art should keep a sketchbook. No matter what kind of artist you are, a sketchbook is a personal record of your creative journey. The sketches in my books range from doodles to words to line drawings to detailed 3 dimensional drawings – the contents of the creative side of my brain, all thrown together.

I learned the value of a sketchbook one time when I had painter’s block. I called my husband’s aunt who is a talented artist and asked her what she did when she couldn’t paint. She gave me some great advice that’s worth passing on. She said when she found herself in that situation she would concentrate solely on her sketchbook. Without trying to create a finished work of art, she would just sketch and let her mind go. I followed her advice and did many pages of sketches just for the sake of sketching. It was very freeing. I don’t know if this is ironic, but the sketches I did during that period lead to several drawings that later became paintings.

There are many different types of sketchbooks out there, but there are a few things I strongly recommend —

First, use a spiral sketchbook. Who needs the pressure of a bound book? They make you feel like one mistake will ruin the book. And drawing pads that aren’t spiral bound tend to lose pages over time. Spiral sketchbooks are designed to hold on to what you want and let you remove anything you don’t.

Secondly, make sure it contains nice paper, not the cheap thin stuff.  There’s my paper bias showing through, but it makes a difference. Haven’t we all tried to sign a thin paper receipt and noticed how hard it is to write on and how horrible our signature looks? Paper matters, so go with a thicker sheet even for your drawings and sketches.

And a note on pencils – I always use mechanical pencils. You get nice, consistent lines without having to sharpen.

My favorite sketchbook hands-down is this fella here. I first bought this one because my local art store carried them and they quickly became my go-to. When I couldn’t find these in stores I bought them online. The spiral is sturdy, the paper is a nice weight (110 lb), and is soft and easy to draw on. My sketches just look better on this paper. I currently have 6 of these books filled with sketches. There should be a 7th one, and that’s kind of a sad story…

One summer I was in Japan with my family and I brought along the sketchbook I had been working on for about a year. We took a bullet train to a small town outside the city. I put my sketchbook in the seat pocket and accidentally left it there. I’ve left many things on trains in Japan, and every time  been able to get them back – except this time. I checked back with the station master several times, but no one turned it in. I returned home without my sketchbook, feeling sad and a little empty.

So by all means, keep a sketchbook – a record of where your creative mind has gone. It can teach you what you’re capable of and inspire you to do more. And if you plan to sketch while traveling, get yourself a travel sketchbook. It might not be as good as the one you have at home, but it beats losing a favorite that can’t be replaced.

2 Comments

  • Thanks, I’m glad you enjoy my posts! I should have been more specific since there are so many mechanical pencils out there. The ones I use are nothing special, definitely the cheaper kind you get in multi-packs. It looks like the graphite is HB. I use the same graphite whether I’m sketching or drawing on watercolor paper. The only time I bother switching out is if for some reason it’s loaded with hard graphite. It’s definitely easier to work with the softer grade. Maybe I should look into getting higher quality pencils.

  • Bret Crane says:

    You mentioned that you use mechanical pencils, I guess my question is clarification on that. Do you like using the typical classroom style mechanical pencils or the old-school drafting style mechanical pencils that are loaded with a larger gauge graphite? I’ve never liked the typical mechanical pencils that my students would always use because the graphite is usually very thin so it breaks easily, and because it’s thin it usually has a harder graphite like a 4H. I don’t usually see refill graphite for those mechanical pencils that have something different like an H or HB or softer. Do you have a resource I don’t know about? I guess that leads me to my next question – what graphite grade do you usually like to sketch in, 6H, 2H, HB, something softer? Also, when doing outlines before starting your water colors what grade do you use for that? do you use something like 6H to make sure the lines are real light?
    Thanks. I really enjoy your posts.

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