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Art Sketchbook Ideas: Your Guide to an Artist’s Best Tool

We’ve rounded up the best tips, ideas, and techniques from artists for keeping an art sketchbook and using it often.

Watercolor sketch by Elizabeth Osborne

Keep a sketchbook. You probably heard this advice in your first art class. Years later, maybe you think you’re past the need for an art sketchbook. Or you think it’s only for people who primarily draw and not for painters like you. Maybe the habit has just gotten away from you, and you have a stack of beautiful unused sketchbooks. Or (and this might be all of us) you now surrender potential sketchbook moments to your phone.

The truth is, an art sketchbook is your secret weapon — as long as you use it. “It’s my place to find out if an idea might work; to see if a design is sound; to explore variations; and to make a connection. My sketchbook keeps me on track and organized. And, I always know where I put it down,” says artist Mark Mehaffey. This most analog of tools will improve your skills, record your visual experiences and ideas, capture preliminary work for paintings, and never go offline or waste your time.

How to Reboot Your Art Sketchbook Practice

Sketchbook page by Virginia Hein

Make using your art sketchbook a habit, and as with any habit, set achievable goals, start small, and build. And it’s okay to start with a new book; invest in one with paper that feels good, in a portable size. Set yourself up for success!

Put Your Sketchbook to Work

Sketchbook page by Thomas Cian

The idea, of course, is that you can sketch anywhere, and you need only a pencil and paper (though you can expand your toolkit with markers, pens, watercolors and much more). And you can sketch anything, from your morning coffee cup to a busy street scene to a landscape. But if all that choice is overwhelming, let these expert ideas help you navigate the possibilities.

Watercolor Sketching Tips

Sketchbook page by Vladimir Tuporshin

Just add water? Fortunately, you can find all kinds of small portable watercolor sets designed for sketching anywhere — city, country, or journey. Brushes with reservoirs make it easy, and our experts have ideas to help.

Art Sketchbook Ideas for Urban and Travel Sketching

Lisbon, Jeronimos Interior (pen, ink and watercolor on 140-lb. Canson Montval block, 15×20) by Marc Taro Holmes

These two away-from-home sketching categories have devoted fans and practitioners for good reason! But the practice itself overlaps with just regular sketching — have your art sketchbook with you at all times, and the tools and supplies you need, and go for it. Remember the old adage that when in Rome, do as the Romans do. And always be courteous to friendly spectators. You might meet wonderful people.

Happy sketching!

The Artists Network shop also offers an extensive selection of instructional videos for purchase on drawing and sketching, watercolor sketching, urban sketching, and more. Access to videos is also included in membership.

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