We’ve rounded up the best tips, ideas, and techniques from artists for keeping an art sketchbook and using it often.
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
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!
- Be inspired by 11 Artists on the Sketchbooks and Materials That Keep Them Creative.
- Get started with these 10 Easy Sketchbook Tips So You Can Make Art Now.
- Download the Artists Network free eBook on sketching.
- Not convinced yet? Why Starting From Sketch is Key to Better Art will persuade you.
Put Your Sketchbook to Work
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.
- You might be surprised by the ideas in 14 Best Places to Sketch! Pick one and go.
- Check out these Drawing Prompts for Everyday Sketching.
- Let your imagination take over with Sketchbook Ideas: Draw, Doodle, and Dream.
- Sketching can be an end in itself, but also a great preliminary tool, as acrylic painter and muralist Art Mortimer reminds us in Make a Sketch Before You Paint.
Watercolor Sketching Tips
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.
- Get started with Four Tips for Watercolor Sketching on Location.
- Artist Vladimir Tuporshin makes the case for small but mighty tools in Using a Pocket Sketchbook With Watercolor: Simple Tools and Tricks.
- Watercolor guru Iain Stewart has great advice for watercolor sketching with emotional power in Memories Etched in Simple Sketches.
Art Sketchbook Ideas for Urban and Travel Sketching
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.
- For urban sketching, start with the Artists Network free guide.
- Check out urban sketching expert Marc Taro Holmes’ unique methods in Sight-Size Drawing for the Urban Sketcher.
- When you’re traveling, airports are prime locations for sketching — you’ve got time on your hands and dynamic movement all around you. Sketch While You Wait: The Artist’s Answer to Airport Boredom.
- Writing and journaling can go hand in hand with sketching, and colored pencils can be a wonderful travel sketching tool. Look for more tips in Sketching Your Travels.
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.