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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7 Creative Thought(s)

  1. Great advise. Blogs are a great avenue to find other journalers and sketchers.

  2. Very good post! I showed some of my Imaginary Trips journals to my sisters and one thought I was a bit crazy. She just couldn't get the idea of creative playing I guess. The other figured I always played in my head so this was just a new expression and she liked my "skills", guess which one will not be seeing my journals in the future? One day I showed a card I was making for someone and he said there was something wrong with it but couldn't say what. Well, at first I huffed and puffed because he tends to be either too critical or shows no interest and I figured he was being too critical but then I thought how he usually points out his critiscms so I took another, closer look at my painting and realized I'd added part of my arm to the page that didn't make sense because I was only trying to show my hand and didn't have the rest of my arm or body behind it. When I removed that bit it looked much better so he was right. I am so glad I didn't let him see my huffing and puffing that time! So sometimes we not only get to figure out what tools to use and what to put in our sketchbooks but we have to decide if those viewing our sketchbooks have OUR interests in mind or not. You are right Laure, it's OUR sketchbook and new drawers should be very careful who gets to look at it. Maybe a good or funny way to think of it is who would you be willing to see your naked body or who do you trust your secrets with? Those would be the people you might, maybe just might, be willing to trust your fledgling efforts at keeping a sketchbook with!

  3. I meant to say I showed the card to MY HUSBAND and he....

  4. I love this post, Laure! I wish I'd read something like this back in the spring, when I first started on my sketchbook journey (with no drawing or painting experience either). As you said, in the beginning, it's easy, and natural, for a newbie to be more focused on the how-to than on the personal side of journal keeping. I came to feel comfortable within the context of a class, completing the course assignments as they were taught. But a bit of frustration and panic would set in each time a class ended, because without those homework prompts, I had no clue what to sketch on my own!

    Then one day just a couple weeks ago, I saw a lichen covered twig on the ground and, without even thinking about it, I brought it inside and sat down to sketch it. That was my aha moment. I realized that I don't have to force my journal keeping, that the inspiration will come as I develop my skills and try lots of different subjects, and that my artist self will recognize what is meaningful to me as I get to know myself better through my art making.

    A good resource for ideas is the Everyday Matters Challenge list on Danny Gregory's blog. The list is up to 328--an idea for almost every day of the year.

  5. Thank you for giving such honest sound advice on sketchbook journaling. Some days I just sit and look at my journal because I don't know what to sketch or paint. As you said it's my journal, so what does it matter if what I sketch is not perfect, I'm learning.

  6. I love this post Laure. Thank you, thank you! I learned very early on not to show my sketchbook to my husband. He always had a laugh or made negative comments. Since he was the first I dared to show it to, I for sure didn't show it to ANYONE else. Now he asks to see what I'm working on and I can even ...on a "I'm feeling very self confident" day, I'll share it with friend, even some artists' friends.

    I am on Cathy Johnson's FB page Artist's Journal Workshop and took the leap to share something there. No only did I get many "likes", but more than 30 lovely comments. What a boost to my self confidence.

    Before I found you and your wonderful classes, I bought Danny Gregory's book The Creative License which helped me a lot. I will still drag it out from time to time and read through it.

    Not to sound like a 'suck-up" student, you and your classes along with the other students have been so wonderful for me. Thank you for that too.

    I took your message for the inside of a journal and copied it to a 3X5 card and carry it in my journaling kit. I also am planning to use it to practice my handwriting using all kinds of styles. It reinforces my thoughts as well as helping better my handwriting skills.

  7. Ah Laure - this is a fabulous post. Even though I have been painting and drawing for several years now and keeping a sketchbook or two or three (LOL) - There are times that I lack the skills I want to use in capturing different subjects. What is so nice it is my visual journal and if I choose to share then that is okay but it also okay to not share either. Certainly blogging helps boost confidence and inspiration...both of these you give to your blogging friends - thank you. I hope you have a lovely week.


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