Reflections On Keeping A Sketchbook

Up to this point, I have mainly worked on loose sheets of paper if I wanted to do some preparatory work for an art project, and I have rarely drawn unless I have needed to. Some of the preparatory work I’ve done, I’ve kept for future reference, but many pages are thrown away. Starting this course, and working my way through “An Introduction to Studying in HE” has brought home to me the importance of a sketchbook (whatever form it may take), and the many reasons for keeping and using one.

I thought that I would make myself a ‘sketchbook checklist’ that would prompt me to try something new, if I was not sure what to draw that day. Here is the result, so far, although I’m sure I will add to it over time:-

Sketchbook Checklist

Library of responses to experiences = personal document. 1 page+ per day

Why Keep A Sketchook?

  • see your development as an artist
  • analyse the visual
  • examine, analyse, revise, rework, resolve issues
  • what interests and intrigues you -> future work
  • visual diary/record
  • travel record
  • imaginative drawing
  • personal development
  • resolve problems
  • explore line, shape, colour, tone, texture, pattern and form
  • experiment
  • practise drawing skill
  • reference
  • place to reflect
  • draw anything and everything
  • project plans, designs, compositions
  • record objects, places, events, everyday life


  • quick drawings
  • colour studies
  • important aspects of a subject
  • longer, detailed drawings
  • work in different media
  • different colour combinations
  • overlays/layering
  • photos/photocopies/fragments of images
  • different viewpoints/variations
  • observations and investigations
  • details that catch your eye
  • other people’s work (galleries, museums etc)
  • thumbnail sketches (in boxes)
  • negative space exercises
  • ‘blind’ contour drawing
  • scrapbook images that inspire you
  • mementos and evocative found objects
  • reflections on art, your work, others’ work
  • exaggerations/caricatures/cartoons
  • overlapping drawings
  • simplifications
  • shapes filled with patterns suggesting textures
  • draw or stitch over a photograph
  • close-ups (or magnified details)
  • repetitions/variations
  • patterns
  • emotional response to place/object/person
  • drip paintings
  • templates to mask off outside area – object filled with patterns (eg ink spots)
  • word drawings
  • primitive shapes and marks
  • sketches over a colour wash, or paper, or textile collage background
  • draw from your imagination/recollection
  • use limited/incongruous colours
  • start with random marks (ink blots, lines, brush strokes, found cracks or patterns) and see what they suggest
  • use your wrong hand
  • work from a photograph
  • be inspired by a famous artist
  • tracings
  • continuous line drawings (don’t lift your pen from the paper)
  • abstract drawings
  • child-like drawings
  • scribble drawings
  • copy things of interest from a book
  • design a poster, or an illustration for a book
  • print (using readymade, or self-made – carved potato/eraser, or found objects)
  • annotations/words – notes on colours, lighting, notes, measurements, targets, ideas, feelings, quotes, thoughts, moods, smells, sounds, textures, tastes
  • fabric, thread or yarn samples or combinations thereof (including your own samples)
  • technical investigations (eg notes/samples from fabric dyeing experiments)
  • timed studies (2, 5 or 20 minutes, eg)


  • collage (with or without drawing)
  • mixed media
  • holes, tears, cuts, scrapes or scratches
  • drawings over textured backgrounds
  • digital app drawings
  • fabrics/threads/yarns
  • inks
  • paints (oil/acrylic/watercolour/gesso)
  • charcoal
  • pencil
  • felt pens
  • words
  • eraser drawings
  • pastels
  • chalks
  • colour pencils/water soluble pencils
  • crayons
  • dip pens
  • scissors
  • found objects
  • materials for printing
  • all types and sizes of paper (from post-it notes or index cards to A1 or larger paper or card)


  • animals etc (pets, wild animals and birds, zoo animals, farm animals, monsters, insects, fish)
  • people, features, self-portraits, friends, family, out and about (100 faces project)
  • toys, objects with sentimental associations/personal history
  • ornaments, ceramic figurines etc
  • machinery
  • buildings/architecture (inside and out), factories, houses, castles, monuments, statues, sculptures
  • landscape (seascapes, mountains, rivers, rocks, city scapes, urban, villages
  • plants (trees, flowers, fruit, vegetables, fungi, gardens, forests)
  • food (plates of food, ingredients, cafés, fast food, packaging, cooking)
  • other artists’ work
  • museum pieces
  • your travels
  • inspirations from literature, radio, film, music, videos
  • still life grouping or a single object
  • your everyday experiences, feelings, imaginings, dreams


Open College Of The Arts Study Guide “An Introduction to Studying in HE” 2012

OCA Study Guide “Keeping Sketchbooks” 2015

Greenlees, Kay “Creating Sketchbooks For Embroiderers and Textile Artists” B T Batsford, London 2006 Reprint

Sonheim, Carla “Drawing For Mixed-Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises To Make Drawing Fun!” Quarry Books, USA 2010

Research carried out for drawing for Textiles 1: A Textiles Vocabulary (page 21 refers).


I recently bought Kay Greenlees’ book (reference given above), and it has proved particularly helpful. In it she stresses that each person’s sketchbook will be different because of their own interests and style of working. She summarises the main uses of a sketchbook as being to “vision and re-vision”; and the practice of keeping a sketchbook as “pause, record, reflect, move on…”. By this I think she means that one should take the time to observe what is around us (or in our imaginations); to look, explore and capture the subject that interests us; to think about why it is important to us and what we can learn and/or incorporate from it into our own work; and then to repeat the process over and over again.

3 thoughts on “Reflections On Keeping A Sketchbook”

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