How to Start (and Finish) a Sketchbook


In line with New Year's resolutions and a fresh start, let's tackle a common problem I've seen, and experienced, amongst us artists--starting, and ultimately finishing, a sketchbook.

Let's start with the practical reasons, since for some of you, that may be enough to get the juices flowing and pages going:

Money: Sketchbooks aren't always free, and if you're anything like me, seeing those empty pages in a store fills you with that drive that you gotta just buy up a whole bunch more, even though you have a stack already back home. With or without coupons, those prices can add up, and if you're not using them, that's just money flying out the window!

Time: As the saying goes, time is money, and wasting that is an invisible, and arguably more costly, expense to you! Time in which you could've spent practicing, improving, and having fun is lost if it's never used! Just think about how much time you have in your life before it's over, a bit gruesome, but also telling that it's very precious! If you spend it worrying about ruining a sketchbook instead of using that sketchbook, is that worth it for you?


Pretty/Special Sketchbooks: Ya'll know what I'm talking about, you know the ones! I've had this for a LONG time too. Such precious and gorgeous looking sketchbooks, often gifted to me by friends or family, how can I draw such things in them and ruin their prettiness??

Like with time and money, even if it's not your own money, are still being used with an unused sketchbook. What did I gain by storing these empty sketchbooks around my house for years? I told myself that I was waiting until I was better at drawing, or until I had something special and good to draw, but that time was never coming. For me, I realized that I would never experience that special moment that would make it worthwhile to use them, and instead, decided to use them, and purposely draw what wasn't my best work, to help get myself over this mindset. 

Sketchbooks don't have to be precious and special because the outer appearance is pretty. What's INSIDE, what you make, your studies, your imagination, your failures, your enjoyment--THOSE are precious and special, and they deserve to be created. The only person making out the sketchbook to be scary to draw in is you. And if you can't bring yourself to use them, perhaps it'd be more worth it to donate it to someone less off who would use it? No shame in that, and it gives others the chance to draw as well!


Start Ugly: Common advice you might've heard of by now is to break that speciality of the sketchbook first thing by ruining the first page. You can take away that power and pressure of having everything be perfect by making the first page as ugly as possible, be that simple scribbles, tearing it up, random blotches of paint, or what-have-you. It's an extra bonus to let go and have fun with it. Sketchbooks don't have to be serious, they can be stupid, silly, or weird, and all of those are fantastic! (As an alternative, just skip the first page all together! Start on the second page.)

Make it Private: In the age of social media, we've built this idea that everything we do and make must be shared. Every drawing we create has to be shown on all of our accounts, nothing can be missed. But this creates an air of expectation and pressure to perform. Suddenly we're aware that we're constantly being watched, judged, and valued based on the things we post. This can be stressful and create anxiety over, not only our online image, but of our own personal views of ourselves as well.

It's okay not to share. It's okay to keep things to ourselves. In fact, doing so takes away that pressure, and can allow you to more freely create. Telling yourself that no one will see it means that you can do whatever you want! You can create bad art. You can create silly art. You can create whatever art you want and no one has to know.

Keep in mind, what people post online is what they allow others to see. There are many artists who don't share their dirty and messy works and only share the polished stuff. (I am fine with sharing my junky sketches, since I feel like that can help alleviate that illusion of perfection.) Just know that there is always more behind the scenes than you may know with the artists you admire.

If in the end, you choose to share it anyway, that's up to you, but go into a project with the expectation that it's for your eyes only.

Crappy/Cheap Sketchbooks: Worried about ruining a high quality sketchbook? Then buy cheap ones or ones with junky paper. You can't "ruin" what's effectively already "ruined", right?

Don't Start New Ones Until: you finish your previous ones. It's easy to start, prove to yourself you can finish. There's nothing wrong with finishing off an unfinished sketchbook, even if it's years later. The paper is still paper and waiting to be drawn on and loved. If you're worried about dates, you can always label things accordingly so you can remember when you drew them.

Find a Quiet Place: If you're in front of your computer or watching TV, you might find yourself getting easily distracted. If that's the case, step away. Maybe turn things off, unplug from the internet, sit out in your yard, draw at your local library, a park, a restaurant--think of places that work for you! Maybe even go out for a walk and explore your area, see what nooks and crannies you can find, bring a towel to sit on, and draw!

It can help if you find places that you use only for work. So if you sit at your desk and play a lot of video games or watch cat videos, working there will be less effective, since you're so used to not working there. Find a separate place where you can just draw.

Art Challenges/Themes: It can be useful, especially if you're in a rut with ideas, to Google around for various challenges online. Things like the limited palette challenge is one kind, but others can give themes on what to draw. There are thousands of free lists online and are just one quick click away. Joining in hashtags too, like #inktober or #sketchtember, can help build motivation with a community at your side!

Use Different Tools: Trying out new, different, or tools you hate can help get those pages used. They're just sitting around wasting space anyway, might as well use them up. If you have a pen that drives you mad, draw a bunch of scribbles with it, or angry faces. Express your dislike with a tool by drawing how you feel about it. Or maybe you're testing out a new tool and don't know how to use it? A sketchbook is a great place to experiment and play around, with the added bonus of learning how to use that new tool!

Comfort Zones: It's okay to draw within your comfort zone. If you're stressing about something to draw, staring at that blank page, there's nothing wrong with falling back on things you feel safe drawing. Spend a bunch of pages on stuff you love and are comfortable drawing.

Then spend a bunch of pages on stuff you're scared of drawing. Tackle your fears. Use those pages as an excuse to learn. You can't learn unless you try, and you also can't learn if you don't fail. So fail a lot, both at drawing things you're good at and at things you're bad at.

Set Goals: Giving yourself clear and specific goals can help you better put into words exactly what you want to get out of using a sketchbook. It can be short term goals like draw one sketchbook page a day. Or long term goals like finish an entire sketchbook in two months.

You can even make goals within those goals. Want to draw one sketchbook page per day? That's great, but what will you draw? Maybe you break it down into weeks. For one week, you'll draw hands. The next week, dogs. Etc.

Don't forget to reward yourself for achieving those goals too! You'll want to encourage the behavior and make it feel all the more worthwhile to complete your goals. I recommend candy or a bubble bath...or candy and a bubble bath! Set goals and rewards that work for you!

Take Your Sketchbook With You: There's always small pauses in life that offer opportunities to draw! Have a bus commute to and from school? Draw on the bus! Going out for your lunch break at work? Draw at lunch! Commercials between your favorite TV show? Draw! Waiting in line at the movies? DRAW!

Try to pay more active attention to your schedule and make note of where there are breaks or times to draw. Even if it's 5 minutes or less! No excuses. There is always time to draw! If you need to, buy (or make!) a small one that's easy to carry around.

Get Creative: Bored of the traditional ways of using a sketchbook? Shake things up and use your sketchbook as something other than a sketchbook! Bullet journalling is building up a storm recently, or what about a diary? Scrapbooking? Don't feel like you have to /draw/ in a sketchbook. Fill a page with stickers or paper mache!

Even if you don't think you'll like it, give it a try, you never know what may happen. And if you don't end up enjoying it, at least you'll know and have filled in some pages! :D

Don't Rush: There's no real race in art against anyone but yourself. If it takes you five years to finish one sketchbook, that's okay! If it takes you five days...can I have your determination please? But that's also okay! Don't feel like there is a necessity in going fast or slow. Find a pace that works for you. The goal is to start and FINISH a sketchbook, so if you can manage both, I'd consider that a huge success!

Have Fun: Draw anything and everything, make mistakes, fail and screw up a lot, and enjoy yourself. Life's too short to worry about what's going in your sketchbook--just finish it!

And Finally: Stop looking up how to finish a sketchbook videos and start filling your sketchbook!

Have any tips of your own? Methods that work for you? Feel free to leave them in the comments below! I'd love to read them :D

And if you'd like to see a more in depth look at my old sketchbooks, you can find an entire playlist of me flipping through them here!

Hopefully you found some of these tips helpful!

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