How many sketchbooks have you bought and filled from start to end with drawings?
Do you tear pages out of your sketchbook when they don’t meet your standard?
Is the idea of filling an entire sketchbook with drawings an insurmountable task?
I have always marvelled looking at pages of artists sketchbooks. In particular, I love seeing the ones that are packed full of sketches on every page, no awkward spaces left behind, a variety of sketches and small rendered studies done with assorted pens, pencils and materials. Unfortunately, that artist has never been me. My most complete art diaries were from art classes in school and my time doing visual arts at TAFE, where the workload and my young enthusiasm all but ensured I would fill the book. Every sketchbook or visual diary that I have bought over the years only see a few pages filled before they are abandoned on a shelf and forgotten about. Over time, working in a sketchbook only seems to have become harder for me. I see a blank page and it’s infinite possibility combined with my expectations of the finished page can stop me before I even start.
How do you move past the over-simplified but common encouragement to “just draw every day”? I don’t have a perfect solution, but I have found 3 ideas that resonated with me and I’d like to share with you.
The first and easiest step you can follow for more enjoyable and consistent sketching is to remove friction. Friction is caused by seemingly small decisions you need to make or actions you need to take before you can start your task. It’s surprising how easy it is to abandon something if it requires some small effort to get it started (or packed up) - “I want to paint, but I’ll need to take my paints out from the cupboard, set up my brushes, water and palette and prepare my canvas. And then I’ll need to clean those and pack them away after I’ve finished.” Find materials you like using most for drawing that are easy to use and put them in a place where they are ready to go at any time. Use your highest quality or favourite supplies if it brings you more personal joy working with them. Your sketchbook should be open or always on your studio desk if that’s where you draw most, not tucked away on a shelf (”Out of sight, out of mind”). Prepare your space so that you can sit down and organise what you need to start and finish without moving out of arms reach. You need to remove as much friction as possible from your sketching set up, otherwise even the smallest barrier will become an easy excuse to delay it for another day.
A common barrier to working in your sketchbook is your high expectation of the result, and your level of confidence which prevents you from starting, or removing ‘failed’ sketches or pages. You might feel as though your work is not good enough. Perhaps you expect your sketches to collect the same attention or praise a finished artwork would have, but fear failure when you imagine sharing photos of it on social media. Is the purpose of your sketchbook to create drawings for likes and comments? What helped me relax my expectations was creating (at first) with the explicit purpose of not sharing the result, identifying that the origin of my drawings should not involve validation from others. I create the proof of my identity as an artist and fulfillment by my consistent drawing and development rather than how much I share on the internet or how it is received by social media. Not all drawings should be destined for posting to Instagram, and it is better that a portion of your work is made for yourself only.
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The long term problem that most will face with sketchbook work is consistency, and reliance on motivation over discipline. Motivation can be like a roller coaster, and it is often based on external factors or perceived reward for completing a task. Creating and maintaining habits is an entire subject of its own, but you can take immediate action by first identifying where you are currently with your habits and then give yourself a goal to develop your artistic discipline by a reasonable measure. If you are already drawing every day, doing so inside a sketchbook is hardly a stretch. However, if you only sketch on loose paper every few weeks, it can be difficult to suddenly ask yourself to put an hour into your sketchbook each day. Can you spend 20 minutes drawing in your sketchbook for 5 days of the week? If you feel lost on what to draw, start with simple shapes or gestures, draw something on your desk or revisit foundation skills - it only matters that you reach the point of putting your pencil to paper. Don’t force yourself to complete each sketch, just move on to the next one. We’re not creating gallery pieces, we’re developing or maintaining our skills in drawing through repetition and expressing our ideas. One small piece at a time, you’ll see the sketchbook page filling, until you start the next page - and after several weeks, you will be surprised with what you will have achieved. Set yourself realistic goals in order to make incremental progress and the repetition will build into a habit that is followed by enjoyment.
There’s no right or wrong way to sketch or progress through a sketchbook. These are just my ideas and musings based on my own personal experience and challenges. If you find it difficult to consistently work in a sketchbook, resist the urge to tear pages out or give up after a few pages in, then you may find these 3 ways to fill your sketchbook helpful to identify some actions or different ways of thinking about your own practice and habits.
Feel free to leave a comment or email me at email@example.com to share a tip for filling in a sketchbook!
Post image provided via Unsplash