Deciding What To Sketch In Your Journal

11:31 AM

"Fall in Florida"
Ink and Watercolor
Stillman and Birn Zeta Sketchbook
5.5 x 8.5 inches
In a recent conversation with someone brand new to keeping a journal/sketchbook, I was asked the question, "How do you decide what to sketch? Where do you find inspiration?"

I have to say, I hedged a bit because there is no straightforward answer. My answer was a question, "What inspires you?" 

She shrugged and gave me a look that said she had no idea. She wasn't far enough along the creative journey to know yet.

It's hard when you're first starting out because you're juggling learning how to draw, creating a visual vocabulary, figuring out how many details to put in once you've figured out what to sketch, and then you're hit with another decision to make about how to fill the next page once the one you're working on is complete.

That's a lot to juggle. My suggestions to her went something like this:

When you're first starting out, I don't think it really matters what you fill the pages with but that you're filling the pages.

Before you get mad and leave, hear me out.

I have long advocated quantity over quality. By that, I mean you have to put in your mileage to get good at what you do (regardless of the skill you're trying to master), to discover what really inspires you because how can you know if you've never done this before?

After you've filled a few sketchbooks and your skills have started to develop, you can begin to take notice of the things that excite you and you want to add to your pages.

However, in the beginning, I suggest draw anything and everything even if you don't know how because that's how you'll learn and develop your skills.

It helps if you decide that your sketchbook is just for you and no one else when you take this approach. Decide that your sketchbook is your safe place to play, explore and learn…because learning often means not getting things right the first or the fifth time.

If you're concerned about others' criticism, dedicate the first page with a message that reads something like:
This is my sketchbook where I learn new skills, explore techniques and experiment with new mediums. Sometimes it's messy and sometimes, because I am learning and experimenting, my attempts are not successful. While you're invited into my private world, I ask that you not judge me nor my efforts. 
If you still receive criticism from someone, simply do not show them your work. It's your sketchbook.

With that said, don't confuse criticism with constructive feedback that can still feel like criticism. Look to their work to see if their comments are criticism or constructive feedback.

If you're still facing a challenge with what to draw, look around on the internet for prompts and challenges. Look on Facebook. You'll find plenty and often, you'll find a community that will support your efforts.
Close up of sketches

Take notice of the types of things you are attracted to and would like to sketch even if you don't sketch them well or are afraid to try…those are the things to focus on because the more you like what you're sketching, the more likely you are to continue sketching. If it's not fun, why do it?

I suggest tackling a wide range of subject matter—people, animals, cars, buildings, landscapes, cityscapes, the beach, mountains, and anything else that crosses your mind. You may hate drawing buildings but love drawing the people in front of the building. Pay attention to what excites you and that you yearn to sketch better.

Be sure not to let fear keep you from tackling something that attracts you. It's paper, time and a some ink, maybe some paint. If it doesn't work out, TURN THE PAGE. No big deal.

Sketching, for most of us, is a long evolution…skills, favorite materials, subject matter, it all changes if we stay on the creative path for long. Embrace the changes and keep sketching. It takes time, and a whole lot of pages, to get comfortable with yourself and your skills.

And never, ever, ever let fear keep you away from the page!

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