A sketchbook journal is a great place to play — for artists and non-artists alike. It allows you to relax, think, and experiment with new mediums in a pressure-free zone. If you’re looking for a way to decompress and explore your thoughts/moods, consider starting a sketchbook. It’s an activity that you’ll continue to enjoy for years to come!
What is a Sketchbook Journal?
A sketchbook journal is essentially a blank book that you use to record memories, explore themes, and/or try out new art techniques. That said, there’s no set definition for a sketchbook journal … it’s a personal thing, so it can be whatever you want it to be!
A sketchbook journal can serve as a sort of scrapbook as well. A sketchbook journal is a great place to put little scraps of paper that mean something to you, especially if they might just be clutter on their own. For example, the sketchbook page above showcases business cards, a yoga studio fob, and illustrations that remind me of the four years that I spent living as a student in Lawrence, Kansas.
How to Make a Sketchbook Journal
Before I tell you how to make a sketchbook journal, I want to reiterate: you do not have to consider yourself an artist to enjoy sketchbooking! A sketchbook is for anyone who likes lettering, drawing, or just organizing his or her paper scraps. Remember: it’s a personal project, so you aren’t working to impress anyone. It’s something you should pursue for your own enjoyment, and without trepidation or reservations.
1. Find the Right Sketchbook for You
When you go to purchase a sketchbook, look at the weight of the paper first. Try not to buy anything with a paper weight under 70 lbs.; otherwise, the paper will struggle if you use watercolors. Second, look at the size. Think about what will work best for you! I’ve had huge sketchbooks and I’ve had tiny sketchbooks, and I find that something in the middle works best. My current favorite sketchbook measures 8″ x 9.25″ (20.32 cm x 23.5 cm).
My friend Jess talks about the concept of a “Goldilocks sketchbook”: the perfect sketchbook for you. A Goldilocks sketchbook fits your size needs, accommodates the mediums you want to work with, and generally makes you feel happy. So: read reviews and do some research on what sketchbook is right for you! Or, think outside the box as I did at university and upcycle an old book into a sketchbook. There’s no wrong way to go about it, really. (My current Goldilocks sketchbook is from Shinola, but it’s never in stock, probably due to supply chain issues.)
2. Decide a Page Theme and Start Creating
You can go theme-less, of course, but I always pick a theme for the page that I intend to work on. (For a list of inspiration-sparking themes, you can click here.) TPK has a lot of sketchbook tutorials that might help you to latch on to an idea!
The secret to a great sketchbook page is not to rush it. Sketchbooking isn’t meant to be a quick activity, so if you need a few days or a few weeks to finish a sketchbook page, embrace that. You can add to your sketchbook page here and there as your time and energy levels allow! (Note: I’ve been known to abandon a sketchbook page concept indefinitely in favor of creating other pages. You can always eventually go back and finish a page.)
4. Add Lettering/Designs/Paper Scraps/Etc. Until You’re Happy with the Page
A sketchbook page is finished when you feel satisfied with it. Remember to look at it through kind, non-critical eyes. A sketchbook journal provides a safe space to experiment with techniques, topics, and mediums — no one is going to judge you!
The point of creating a sketchbook page is to hone in on something that you want to focus on. So: maybe that’s a happy day, a memorable trip, or even just drawing something pretty for beauty’s sake (like this botanical letter).
Why You Should Make a Sketchbook Journal
Different people will experience different rewards from working in a sketchbook journal. That said, here are three reasons that I enjoy working in mine:
1. Increased Creative Confidence
Your sketchbook journal gives you the opportunity to try out new mediums and techniques in a practice setting. You can do whatever you want and find out what works for you! As you flex your creative muscle, you will gain experience and confidence.
For example, the left page above marks the first time that I used coffee as a paint/ink. I loved the effect, and I still use strong teas and coffees in my work today (see this envelope and this sketchbook page)! Creating that sketchbook page taught me how beautifully neutrals can pair with bold colors, which is a lesson that I’ve returned to time and time again over the years.
If you tend to hold on to paper (scraps, business cards, notes, gift tags, etc.), then your sketchbook journal can provide an excellent home for them! In 2005, I made the page on the left, below, from all the university pamphlets that I received. (Ironically, I didn’t end up going to any of the collaged universities.) When I look at that page, I remember how overwhelmed I was trying to decide where to go after high school! I also remember the excitement of possibility.
Putting paper scraps in a sketchbook journal gives you the chance to preserve them in a thoughtful, artistic way. Just make sure you use an archival glue so the scraps don’t disintegrate over time!
3. Memory Preservation
Your brain is always making room for new information by squeezing out old information, so memories tend to fade. If you have a sketchbook journal, it can serve as a sort of “pensieve” (that’s a Harry Potter reference — here‘s the definition). Through colors, images, and paper scraps, you can put together an accurate representation of your thoughts and feelings.
It’s interesting to go back and look at your pages later. The page above, for example, records what I did on July 25, 2019. When I look at it, I’m reminded of happy memories: finishing up the design of a beautiful calligraphy kit, watching a delightful chick flick, and enjoying my favorite ice cream flavors.
Get Started Today
If you have a few spare moments, I encourage you to start your own sketchbook here in the next couple of days! That way, the motivation and inspiration will still be fresh. Keep in mind that you don’t have to make a full page in one sitting — there’s no time limit.
If you have family members or friends who may be interested in starting a sketchbook journal, consider creating together. In high school, my friends and I used to get out our art supplies, sit at the kitchen table, and create as we chatted and snacked. Sometimes, we’d even trade sketchbooks for a few minutes to create content in each others’ sketchbooks! Now, those traded pages are a fun reminder of friendships.
As the mother to a young child (and soon-to-be mother to two young children), I haven’t had the time to sketchbook with friends for the past couple of years. But, when my kids get older, it’s something I’d love to do again … maybe even with them! It’s nice to bask in comfortable silence or relaxed conversation and get inspiration from friends or loved ones as you create.
As I mentioned, the TPK blog has several sketchbook tutorials available, which you can browse here. For visual inspiration, you can Google or search Pinterest for “sketchbook pages”. If you prefer books, try Artists’ Journals and Sketchbooks by Lynne Perrella — it has a nice collection of different artists’ pages. I also like Draw Your Day by Samantha Dion Baker. For younger people (15-20 years old), Spilling Open by Sabrina Ward Harrison is very inspirational! Again — as far as page themes go, you can find a list of prompts in this free printable.
No matter what your artistic level, I hope that you give sketchbook journaling a try! If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to contribute in the comments. Thanks very much for reading, and happy creating!
This article was first posted in January of 2017. It has been updated to include new photos and clearer information.