I wanted to discuss the importance of a sketchbook. This is often a very overlooked aspect when it comes to progressing your drawing abilities. In this article, we will discuss what a sketchbook is and how it’s used, what to put in your book, where to buy and different mediums you can use. These aspects are critical for your progression but at the same time, you are encouraged to experiment and learn. Experience is your best teacher.
What is a sketchbook and why do I need one?
A sketchbook is just that, a book for sketching but you already knew that but if you’re a beginner you might not know how to use a sketchbook. Your sketchbook is a keystone in your progression. These little gems come in a variety of sizes and I highly suggest getting more than one, I usually have two or three going at a time myself. I will have a 5×7 or 11×14 sketchbook with me at all times. The 5×7 is mainly my ‘go everywhere’ book because it’s size makes it so convenient, I will load this thing with all sorts of notes, quick sketches, gestures and more, I will get into these later. The 11×14 book is still pretty convenient to carry around and I’ll put the same things into this book but they are usually a little more roughed out.
When it comes down to it, the more you draw the better you become. It’s that simple. It doesn’t matter how many books you read or videos you watch, drawing is when those applications start to make sense and you learn how to truly implement them into your drawings. On top of that, your hand-eye coordination gets better and you will find that the more you draw, the better you become, the more you will enjoy drawing. Let’s face it, drawing can be incredibly frustrating when you want to get this great idea from imagination down on paper but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t draw it. Well, keep trying and you will find that it becomes easier each time you try. Don’t abandon your drawing just because they aren’t turning out how you want right then. Sometimes you just have to keep at it and you’ll get passed these creative blocks.
As you progress, you will find that you are utilizing better line weights, you will control focal points much better as well as start coming up with better ideas and compositions. Overall, when drawing from life you will learn to see and the more you learn to see the better you will become at understanding and in turn, you will become more efficient at drawing from memory.
Should I buy or make a sketchbook?
Personally, I would just buy one. There are a few reasons why I chose to buy one rather than make one. First off, you want your sketchbook to feel somewhat expendable. If not, you will work on trying to make every page a masterpiece and what will happen is you won’t dare to do studies and experiment or even draw just flat-out bad drawings, all of these are important. The hand-made sketchbooks I’ve seen range from nicely bound leather portfolios down to three-ring binders with lined paper in them. Overall, I prefer to just drop a few bucks and buy a sketchbook that I can toss around without worry, experiment and overall, see how much I can abuse it.
I prefer the Moleskin® brand sketchbooks. These are little black books with a very generic look to them but they are packed with quality. There is very little ‘tooth’ to these pages which is how rough they are so these books have very smooth pages to them. My other sketchbook Strathmore and once you remove the cover sticker there is absolutely no branding on it whatsoever. The paper in the book is a bit thinner than the Moleskin and has more tooth. It draws very nicely but it isn’t intended for any liquid mediums.
What do I put in my sketchbook?
This is where most beginners get lost. They look at their sketchbook as something they are going to pass around a crowded room and get all sorts of praise on how each page is so nicely rendered as if it’s some sort of portfolio filled with masterpiece after masterpiece. This is most definitely not how you use a sketchbook. I’ve been handed some thick spin sketchbook and noticed how oddly thin the book is for how thick the spine is, I know what’s wrong even before I open the book up, as soon as I do I am presented with missing page after missing page. Many beginners want a that all praised sketchbook so they rip out all the “bad drawings,” the problem is that many of these bad drawings will lead to better drawings at a later date. As you progress you might find one of your bad drawings has a lot of potential when seen through your better-experienced eye at a later date.
When drawing you want to utilize your sketchbook for an overall goal and that is to get better at drawing. Inside your sketchbook, you should have gesture drawings (little quickly drawn sketches to capture a movement or a pose, the overall gesture). You should also use it to compile references, sketch some mountains, buildings, trees, bridges, people, animals, anything that catches your attention, draw it. You don’t have to spend a lot of time either, I have a sketch in one of my books that I love, it’s called the 5-second duck. I was walking back to my car one day after drawing at the duck pond and there was this duck that walked in front of me, so I opened my sketchbook and sketched it in under five seconds and then it flew away. It’s nothing special, a few scribbles, but it captured that moment in time. Every time I open that sketchbook and get to that page I remember that duck.
Another great thing is textures. There are often times where I will see a crumbling wall, a rock, a woodshed or anything with great texture to it and I will try to draw it. I try to focus on the element that caught my attention and if I’m short on time I will quickly sketch the rest of it just to remind me of how that texture was placed in the environment. You often only need small reminders to be able to better render that texture at a later date. With that said, if it helps then write notes as well. Not only will I write notes about how the texture is or the environment, the movement of a particular person or whatever but I will often do anatomy studies where I label the anatomy to help me remember it. There where to landmarks on the body that I had a lot of trouble remembering the names of them. One is the great trochanter which is a portion of the femur and the other is the acromion which is a part of the shoulder. By labeling these every time I drew them I was able to start remembering the names of these landmarks.
So overall when you need to ask what to put in your sketchbook, put everything in there aside from maybe your bank number and social security numbers. I have tons of sketches, some good, some bad, some are flat-out horrible but they all stay in there. Not only do they remind you as mentioned above but you can look back at how much you’ve improved on each sketchbook which is always interesting and humbling at the same time.
What kind of medium should I use?
Let’s first address this question with another question when you consider the importance of a sketchbook. What is a medium? A medium is what you will use to make your images like graphite, oils, ink, watercolor and so on. When it comes to choosing a medium to use you first have to address your sketchbook and take note of what kind of paper it contains. If the paper is too thin a marker, watercolor, or other liquid mediums could bleed through to multiple pages or they could simply wrinkle the page, make them stick together, and so on. Too thick then it might make them take too long to dry if you are in a hurry. With the wide variety of sketchbooks out there and a usually low cost to them, you can often pick up a few different versions suited to what you are doing. If you want to use watercolor often, choose a book that has a watercolor suitable paper, they often say it on the book or the label. With ink, I like using my Moleskin since the pages are nice and thick but it does prolong drying time slightly so you don’t want to put down a lot of ink and close it. You have to give it enough time to dry thoroughly so the page doesn’t stick to the previous one or just have it destroy your line and spider out. Though, most pens still dry exceptionally fast on this paper.
For my Strathmore book, I still use pen as well, the pages do have more tooth than the Moleskin but it’s not enough to tear the little hairs off of it and dry/jam up my pens. Both of these books are ideal for pencils as well. When it comes to pencils I usually use two different types when I’m on the go. I will often use as standard B pencil and carry around a little pencil sharpener with an attached container to catch the shavings which allow me to have a lot of variation in my pencil lines or I will carry around a standard mechanical .05. Starting out I recommend an HB or a B led as they are usually more forgiving. If you get too soft 2B 4B etc they have a tendency to smear if you haven’t yet learned to control your arm and you use your fingers to draw (I’ll try to get to this in another article) or F, 2H, 4H etc. Though these pencils usually can let you get a fine light line, they are usually less forgiving when it comes to erasing because of the binder they put into them.
When choosing a pencil anything will work. I often us a standard school grade pencil if nothing else is around but the pencils can make some difference. I personally like Pentel refills for my mechanical. They are cheap to buy and draw very smooth. When it comes to the leads you will find the cheaper ones will often scratch. You will be drawing and suddenly hit a snag in the lead and instead of an even line you get nothing except a scratch. For my traditional pencils, I prefer Staedtler pencils. They too have very good quality and you can achieve some good line work out of them. Overall, the most important thing is to simply draw and draw a lot.
To sum things up.
Hopefully, by now you have a bit more insight to what to look for when choosing a book and the importance of a sketchbook but if it’s your first time you will get to the store or go online and find the sketchbooks and you will find yourself presented with hundreds of variations. The best thing to do is go when you have some time and walk down the isles and actually open them up, feel the paper, compare it to the others. After you’ve chosen a few you like, do the same with those, compare between them and keep in mind the medium of choice you will be using. For instance, mine are pen (Sakura Microns) and pencils (Staedtler Mars Lumograph) so I keep that in mind when choosing. However, also keep in mind you might want to experiment. Will you be using a bottle of permanent ink or watercolor? If you are, you might want to opt for a thicker paper in the process. Don’t worry about taking your time in the stores looking at different books, I’ve often spent hours walking up and down the aisles stocking up on supplies I need or want to try. If you are uncomfortable, throw a beret on and then people will walk past and say, “Don’t mind them, they are just an artist” and you are free to browse for hours. Well, would really say that and if they did, it’s pretty dumb. Just browse and pick out a sketchbook or two. As mentioned before, I’d try a small 5×7 and a larger 11×14. Try not to go too small with your sketchbook to where you can’t do a good study, likewise, don’t go so large you can’t carry it around so you leave it home when you leave. I’ve found these sizes are ideal for me. Experiment and find out what works for you.
Lastly, feel free to pass your sketchbook to friends or kids and let them doodle in it. It again will get you out of the masterpiece mindset and let you learn so you can really make a masterpiece. Plus, friends and kids doodles can end up inspiring you. It’s amazing where inspiration comes from and finally – draw and draw a lot. It’s really the secret to getting better at drawing. Not much of a secret, is it!