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The relationship between artist and sketchbook can take on any number of incarnations, and there are countless reasons to make sketching a regular practice. 

We spoke to two sketchbook artists with very different styles when it comes to keeping a sketchbook and documenting their creative processes. Both agree that, regardless of the form it takes, an art sketchbook practice has had an undeniable influence on their creative journeys. 

At the end of this article, we’re excited to offer a journaling exercise from our Skillshare Original with The Sketchbook Project. Get inspired to start your practice today!

sketchbook for artists

Everything You Need To Know About Sketchbooks

What Is An Artist Sketchbook?

Simply put, a sketchbook is a blank notebook or pad of paper that artists of all types can use to work on their art. These days, some artists may choose to use a digital sketchbook instead of a traditional paper version. Either way, the sketchbook serves as a collection of blank canvases. 

How Do Artists Use Sketchbooks?

An artist sketchbook is a very personal thing—every artist has a different relationship with their sketchbook, as they can be used in a variety of different ways. An artist could use their sketchbook as a daily ritual for recording inspiration or feelings, technical blueprinting for an upcoming project, or an outlet for challenging themselves with new expressions.

A sample sketchbook from the Skillshare course “Sketchbook Illustration for All: Draw Your Day with Watercolor & Pen.”
A sample sketchbook from the Skillshare course “Sketchbook Illustration for All: Draw Your Day with Watercolor & Pen.”

Why Do Artists Use Sketchbooks?

Sketchbooks are a fantastic way for artists to hone their craft. Art, just like any other skill, is like a muscle—no matter how talented you are, you have to keep flexing it in order to get better. In the art world, keeping a sketchbook is like going to the gym each day. Not only will you become a better artist, but you’ll also be able to tap into endless inspiration, whether it’s coming up with an entirely new idea or reviving one from years past. 

How To Keep a Sketchbook

Here’s the good news: There are no rules when it comes to sketchbook art! Each artist is free to figure out what works best for them. The frequency a sketchbook is used could be every day, weekly, occasionally, or whenever inspiration strikes.

Any type of medium can be used, from charcoal to colored pencil to watercolor paints and more. You could even paste different materials (like foil or cardboard) onto the page. The type of sketchbook you buy may depend on the medium you choose—oil-heavy paints might not fare well on thinner paper, after all. Of course, none of this really applies if you’ve opted for digital sketchbook art.

The most important thing to remember is that an art sketchbook is a place for artists to delve into their work without any insecurities or boundaries (except for the four edges of the page). So, don’t hold back. This is the perfect place to make mistakes. 

Kesiena Onosigho, Visual Artist And Knitwear Designer

For Onosigho, the process of bringing an idea to fruition is not as simple as putting pen to paper. In fact, her art sketchbook naturally feels much like her work, which layers foraged materials and organically weaves them together. “I’ve always struggled to keep to typical bound sketchbooks, since I’m very experimental in my process,” she says. “I prefer binders and adjustable books. Inside I use recycled paper, and usually, I dedicate one page per idea or sketch—that way the idea has room to breathe when I revisit it.” 

A photo of artwork from Kesiena Onosigho’s Instagram page.
A photo of artwork from Kesiena Onosigho’s Instagram page.

Is your sketchbook more about expressing yourself visually or verbally?

I’d say my sketchbook is mostly about expressing ideas. It’s just one piece of a larger conversation I’m starting. It’s my introductory “Hello” before the “Let’s really get deep and talk about this concept more in-depth.”

Has sketching your ideas been useful in trying something new? 

Yes, I think it’s super helpful to sketch something before trying something new artistically. My background is in fashion design, so I was trained to create mood boards, which is an amalgamation of ideas. I treat my sketchbook similarly to that. When I’m thinking about exploring something new, I will sketch ideas down, along with inspirational words or ideas. I’ll return to the initial sketchbook idea often and experiment with different ways that best visualize that idea or emotion I’m trying to express. 

Tying all these ideas together is essential for my process. Something in my sketchbook may not come into being for years. 

What typically motivates you to write something down or draw? 

I often get sketchbook inspiration from my surroundings. Since I work across different mediums and I work in abstraction, a lot of my sketches are smaller studies or ideas waiting to be realized.

Paulina Ho, Illustrator and Designer

Documenting inspiration tends to be the main impetus for Ho’s notebook ritual. Her playful, graphic characters and bold lettering fill the pages. When it comes to executing on a sketchbook idea, though, the process takes on a whole new meaning. “It always helps to draw or write things down to see how it translates into the real world,” she says. “My work becomes much more refined with the help of sketchbooks.”

Image of Paulina Ho’s sketchbook art provided by the artist.
Image of Paulina Ho’s sketchbook art provided by the artist.

Do you ever reflect on art in your notebooks from the past? 

It’s been a while since I’ve done so, but I’ve kept 70+ sketchbooks since high school. The last time I went down memory lane, there were some silly drawings that made me laugh or a few ideas I didn’t realize I’d drawn out forever ago. 

I could’ve been a billionaire, because there was a character sketch of what seriously looked like a Minion before Minions were a thing.

When and where do you sketch—and with what? 

Image of Paulina Ho’s sketchbook art provided by the artist.
Image of Paulina Ho’s sketchbook art provided by the artist.

I tend to draw for fun when I’m traveling or sitting at a coffee shop in the afternoon. It usually happens when I’m taking a break in between activities. I’ll almost always journal the date, my location, how my day has been, and any thoughts in the moment. 

My weapons of choice are two Pentel color brush markers, a Pentel Sign pen, and a Uni-ball Fine Vision pen. Occasionally for color, I’ll use Posca markers.

Do You Use a Sketchbook to Express Your Emotions?

Visual Journaling: Drawing Your Feelings