Spread from the Guggenheim Library Special Collections copy of Picasso’s Carnet de la Californie. Photo: Kristopher McKay
Many great artists understand that sketchbooks can become our:
- Private studio
- Trusted confidante
- Patient teachers
- Doors to constructive feedback
- Endless wells of inspiration
Today we’ll be delving further into these reasons. Plus, offering practical tips for adopting a sketchbook into your creative practice.
Sketchbook spread by David Hockney, 2004.
Great Artists Keep Sketchbooks to Create Everyday
Great artists dedicate themselves daily to their craft. But most of us can’t stay hidden away in a cosy studio all day.
But we can do the next best thing: bring our sketchbooks with us. We can borrow time to sketch during the lulls of the day to stay connected to our artistic selves.
One way to make sketching more manageable is to split the pages of your sketchbook into four boxes. Dedicate one box to one day's worth of sketching. Then, even on busier days, the blank page becomes an inviting place to play.
Paul Cézanne, sketchbook 1875-1885, Thaw Collection.
Great Artists Keep Sketchbooks to Practise without Pressure
Mistakes are often great teachers. And great artists always give themselves the grace to make mistakes. We can use our sketchbooks to:
- Make mistakes
- Practise without pressure
- Learn about ourselves as creators
Our sketchbooks are a safe space to try new styles and materials without judgement. Letting your creative expectation go with paint, pastels and pencils is freeing. Experiment without expectations. Being open to making mistakes is the first step to becoming a great artist.
The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait.
Great Artists Keep Sketchbooks to Hone Skills
As well as making mistakes, a great artist uses reflections to grow as a creative person. And our sketchbooks are the perfect record of our creative journey. Seeing how far we have come as we leaf through our sketchbooks is an excellent source of motivation.
But our past sketches not only encourage us to keep creating but also hold clues to how we can improve in the future.
Try to hold the following questions in your mind while going through your past work:
- What about this sketch was successful?
- If I were to resketch this piece, what would I do differently?
- What can I learn about myself as an artist through this sketch?
Sketchbook page by Edward Hopper.
Great Artists Keep Sketchbooks to Get Feedback
At times, great artists may choose to share their sketchbooks with others. Sharing our sketches is beneficial when we are in the developmental stages of a project, as feedback allows us to tweak and refine our ideas before committing to a large piece.
But allowing others into our process can sometimes be a daunting experience. Especially if you’ve never opened your sketchbook up to others before, but if you want to welcome feedback into your process, try sharing with one or two people you know well.
Does joining an online, creative community appeal to you?
If so, sharing your sketchbook in a safe, supportive online space can:
- Let others peek at your process
- Create interest in your artistic journey
- Build a wider circle of critique partners
And as great artists know, nothing of true value is ever created in a vacuum.
Eugene Delacroix, Normandy Sketchbook, 1829.
Great Artists Keep Sketchbooks for Inspiration
Great artists ride out creative slumps by looking at their previous work. Think of your sketchbook as a creative well filled up by your past self.
If you’re in a creative rut, skim through your sketchbook and look out for:
- Half completed pieces. Can you finish them now?
- Unsuccessful pieces. How can you improve them?
- Abstract, half-baked ideas. How can you develop them into something more substantial?
Great artists know they cannot always wait for inspiration to strike. Sometimes, we need to rely on our past sketches to spark that creative fire.
J.M.W. Turner, The 'Skies' Sketchbook.
Do you want a closer look at how great artists use their sketchbooks? Feel free to check out our Inside the Sketchbook series with Danielle Bennett, Jessica Smith and Magali Franov.
Written by Caitlin Layfield