Sketchbooks Then and Now (Part 1) AND a Giveaway!

Editor’s note: The following post comes from Drawing magazine’s Material World column (Summer 2016) and features an article by Sherry Camhy on a timeless friend of the artist: the sketchbook.

Free art supplies |

Comment below to win this drawing set from Staedtler!

In addition to this free article, STAEDTLER is offering you the chance to win a set of FREE art supplies, just for commenting on this blog post! Tell us your favorite subject to sketch in the comments below, and you’ll be automatically entered to win. Here’s what’s included in the prize:

  • Set of 20 Mars Lumograph drawing pencils of assorted degrees for a wide range of gray tones with a metallic luster
  • Set of 6 Mars Lumograph black drawing pencils of assorted degrees with a higher proportion of carbon for the smoothness of graphite with the deep tones of charcoal
  • 2 art erasers: gum and kneadable

Come back soon for Part 2 of this article on sketchbooks from Drawing magazine and another chance to win more art swag!

Happy drawing,

Sketchbooks Then and Now |

French pocket sketchbook

Material World: Getting the Most out of Drawing Media

by Sherry Camhy, abridged from an earlier article

Today sketchbooks are everywhere—tucked in backpacks and carried under the arms of artists the world over. It’s easy to take for granted the existence of sketchbooks of all shapes, sizes and surfaces and hard to imagine a time when there were none at all. But throughout much of art history the possession of a sketchbook—or any kind of book, for that matter—was a rare privilege.

The evolution of the sketchbook can be considered as important a development for early artists as the invention of tubes for oil paint was for later ones. Both innovations liberated artists from the studio and freed them to work en plein air. Today artists, collectors and scholars have come to regard sketchbooks as works of art in their own right. Here we look at this sketching revolution and consider a few of the many ways sketchbooks can play a role in your art.

Sketchbooks Then and Now |

Reyer and the Washer Woman (ca. 1877, graphite, 20.5 x 27.5) by Edgar Degas. Collection J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California.

Sketchbooks Throughout History

Drawing existed long before paper did, and early drawings were made on surfaces such as slate or wood tablets that could be cleaned and reused. The earliest sketchbooks were handmade and consisted of a few sheets of prepared boxwood, papyrus, vellum or parchment. In some cases, assorted drawings created by a master would be collected and bound together as a “model book” to be preserved as a reference for the next generation of artists. Eventually drawing books made of rag paper began to be produced, but for many years they were expensive and used sparingly.

During the Renaissance artists began to use personal sketchbooks for various purposes. Leonardo filled volumes with scientific speculations, anatomical drawings, quick sketches and notes for paintings. His private journals were intended as just that—private. Leonardo often wrote in code or reverse lettering to keep his observations secret. Unfortunately, after his death many of his journals were disassembled and sold as separate sheets. The books that were kept intact are invaluable, allowing us to discern the chronology of Leonardo’s ideas.

Over the ensuing centuries sketchbooks gradually became ubiquitous, and they have been crucial to the careers of innumerable artists. To take just one example, Picasso’s sketchbooks seem to have suited his occasional practice of semi-automatically repeating draw- ings, evolving them in such small increments that they can almost be viewed in rapid succession like a child’s flipbook. Picasso may have used this strategy when faced with a creative block, looking to find new ideas by rehearsing and perfecting old ones. His sketchbooks also indicate that his ideas did not necessarily fall neatly into the distinct stylistic periods suggested by some critics but instead flowed in a more cyclical way between old and new.

Technology now makes viewing master artists’ sketchbooks easier than it has ever been. Just like magic, we can flip through the pages of a master sketchbook on a computer, enlarging small areas to see them in great detail. For example, the Cambridge University Library allows free online access to the tiny watercolor sketchbook in which Conrad Martens worked while accompanying Charles Darwin aboard the HMS Beagle. And this summer several of Degas’ sketchbooks can be digitally browsed at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, as part of the exhibition “Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty.”

Come back to ArtistsNetwork soon for Part 2: Sketchbooks Today (and another chance to win new drawing supplies!) And, remember to comment below with your sketchbook confession for your chance to win this set of art supplies from Staedtler! Winner will be chosen February 13, 2017 (must be a US resident).

Free art supplies |

Comment below for your chance to win this set from Staedtler!

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206 thoughts on “Sketchbooks Then and Now (Part 1) AND a Giveaway!

  1. Lydia

    I’m a graphic artist working on computers all day, my only real pleasure is to paint as often as I can and when I do is usually watercolors or acrylics, but I never keeped a sketch book, I did buy one resently i just havent’n used it. Winning this pencil set would push me to start. Thank you

  2. Terrihamlin@

    I don’t do a lot of sketching but would like to start making it a daily habit. I participated in Inktober last year; that was fun. I’m now doing an online face drawing class so I am taking small steps.

  3. David J Teter

    I love sketching as a break from more involved painting. It’s the immediacy of getting an idea down fast. Lately I have done a lot of marker sketching. No erasing, no corrections, just put it down. Very much like watercolor painting I have to think ahead to preserve the whites of the paper.

  4. ELatham

    I love to sketch anything, architecture, wildlife, portraits, machinery, and people. I love to try to capture the mood of the atmosphere for the setting or impress the feel of the textures. It’s a small world- till you try to sketch it.

  5. designdiva3

    I use my sketchbook for many different uses. I sketch up ideas for children’s products and books. I also love to draw from life in the outdoors.
    I am forever sketching up my dog Maizie while she sleeps in my studio too.
    MJ Mitchell

  6. Boyd

    In my sketching I look for the birds at their patio feeder, the squirrels trying to get in the bird feeders. Sketching flowers from my wife’s garden, especially her roses and the butterflies that are attracted by her flowers.

    1. HouseofCaleb

      I enjoy collecting uniquely shaped objects from nature such as leaves and taking pictures of clouds & anything that catches my eye & then sketching what I see… Dragon fly wings & rhinoceros beetles too are a part of our world but because they are so little it is like they have a whole world of their own….


    I find myself sketching a lot of figures, particularly the human face. I don’t necessarily need a sketching book to sketch, any paper will do. 🙂

  8. lyndaprice1

    I love sketching almost anything. I find myself mostly drawn to animals and their quirky personalities such as birds and other wildlife as well as pet portraits; dogs, cats and horses mostly. Sometimes I’m in the mood to sketch a landscape or an ocean scene.

  9. paintme

    Sketching is an art form I have not done a lot of. I would love to learn more about it as I love the challenge of learning and accomplishing new things. Now, my 17 year old daughter, she loves to sketch. Pretty good at it I might say. Thanks.

  10. owleye35z

    My favorite thing to sketch is definately animals – I have been drawing since age 3 – particularly horses, and now I love to draw any wildlife subject, including their habitat!

  11. chanelco

    I like to sketch people, however they aren’t always fully clothed. (I FIND CLOTHES SO DIFFICULT!) So I get very nervous about sharing my sketchbook with others. Usually I make them sit next t me while I control the page turning. :-/

  12. Lady_D

    I love to sketch most anything inanimate; old bridges, old buildings, even ruins… the older, the better. Plants, and animals also find themselves in my sketchbook… but never living people, nor even a likeness from a photograph. I have yet to figure out why I don’t like drawing humans…

  13. Omera Parveen

    I love this brand of pencils! I brought a set of three about 5 years ago and I still use them today. My favorite thing to sketch is food and nature.

  14. LinRhys

    I usually sketch from life – nature or animals are always a favorite subject. I try to keep a sketchbook on my at all times. I keep meaning to start an art journal but I never seem to…

  15. katiea

    One can never have too many sketchbooks! I love having them everywhere so when an idea or an image needs getting down on paper it’s easy to do. LOVE the range of greys!

  16. raffishnana

    My favorite way to sketch I call drive-by sketching. Not when I am driving, but sometimes that image will last until I can stop and work with pencil and paper. Some of my best images come this way and have worked themselves into nice finished paintings. they may be landscapes or cityscapes or people or animal clusters.

  17. Bambi1211

    I have really been sharpening up on my sketching skills with zen doodling , a great way for calmness and some really wonderful new pattern designs . Also, love to sketch the backyard first thing in the morning with my cup of tea

  18. Meivessi

    I still have some of the first sketches I made. I couldn’t afford sketch books as a kid so the paper I got was precious. Now I draw everything I see. My favorite is people.

  19. BTeusink

    Quick sketches of people or travel scenes are my two favorite subjects in my sketchbooks. Most anything will do in a pinch though :-). Time just disappears when I’m sketching.

  20. Lilli

    My sketchbooks are very eclectic! Mostly quick portraits but, also random ideas for future works, sketches of body parts and, in general, a kind of stream of consciousness .. of what’s whirling around in my head. Always human form related, however.

  21. J-A

    My favourite sketching subject is trees. I love the twist of a tree trunk and the crack of the bark. My membership of the Urban Sketchers has expanded my horizon to buildings, though.