The Art of The Sketchbook - Finding My Relationship With Them

The artists relationship with the ‘sketchbook’ often changes throughout the artists career, especially in those who study art in an institutionalised manner. The sketchbook becomes more than a place to privately work through ideas and concepts, it becomes a curated and edited place that other people will observe.

A sketchbook for me is a sacred artefact, more so than many of my finished works…I know I could never sell them. Consequently, the drawings inside are financially worthless - Grayson Perry


Personally I’ve had a very love/hate relationship with sketchbooks. It took me a while to figure out how to use them to my advantage, instead of just being a hurdle expected to be produced for degree marking. My sketchbooks are not so much books filled with attractive drawings and doodles, but words, lists and scribbles. It took me years to realise that this was ok. That these types of sketchbooks are the norm, not the exception. Once I stopped trying to create fully formed artwork and well rounded thoughts inside the sketchbook, the book became an invaluable tool.

The sketchbook became a tangible piece of my inner thoughts, a place to play and explore without the daunting feeling that it will some day be ‘marked’. I found all this after university and would say that not being able to fully utilise the sketchbook during those years definitely hindered my learning. I was constantly told to expand more in my sketchbooks but I had no idea what that actually meant. As I hadn’t learnt how to convey my inner thought into a way that was pleasing for a sketchbook.

“(Sketchbooks) are not to produce a pretty drawing; it’s meant to make an honest drawing.” - John Belardo.

When studying any art in college or university, sketchbooks are a huge part of the course. They are a way of visualising your internal thinking, for the tutors to consume. Sketchbooks can be compared to ‘showing your working out’ in maths, you may not get the correct answer but if you show how you got there, you can still pass. Not having that skill can seriously hinder your university experience, which was what I personally found for myself. Struggling with the idea of being wrong or ridiculed, I chose to not record those mistakes.

The daunting white pages, waiting to be filled with something meaningful, but most likely just another TO-Do list.

When sketchbooks are consciously curated or edited for presentation to other people, they become Artists’ Books …personally this feels like something very different to a sketchbook which, at heart, must be considered a work tool and I think it’s vital to understand the difference between the two. - Helen Cann

Each sketchbook is personal to the artist, some cannot be without one whilst others barely use them. Some are beautiful and filled with small works of art, small hand held galleries, but that pressure to create a Pinterest worthy page hinders the creative process, and I always strived for that sort of artistic commitment. However, that just didn’t happen and I found myself mindlessly doodling absolute nonsense, forcing myself to create something in a medium I wasn’t comfortable with. I eventually realised as long as a sketchbook is filled with true thoughts and feelings then you are doing something right. They are places to jot down a flickering idea or a doodle, which one day may (or more likely not) turn into something bigger.


For now my sketchbooks are places to write down my ideas, where before I would have not recorded anything for fear of being ugly, or not making sense. They have now become places for drawings and other sources of visualisation. Im sure in the future this will change again. Maybe I will go back to creating small pieces of artwork or maybe I will loose my relationship with them all together. Sketchbooks have become my place of freedom, no more fear of judgement and more than ready to make mistakes.

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