Creativity is something we all possess, and when we invest in it, it grows bigger and we become more capable. Working in a sketchbook is amazing because you can explore topics no one else in the world would capture in the same way. Your ideas and perspective are important!
The following are my favorite sketchbook tips for generating ideas, discovering happy accidents, and recording creative memories/milestones.
1) Schedule “Playdates.”
“You’ve got to keep the child alive; you can’t create without it.”
— Joni Mitchell
I love these spreads by Lisa Congdon. She has a whole sketchbook dedicated to color studies, which has to be a super valuable reference for future projects. What a great idea, right? A sketchbook is a place to experiment with new ideas, and you never know exactly what might happen. If you put in the playtime regularly, you’ll likely come out surprised by how great you feel.
2) Look for inspiration in unexpected places and collage with found materials.
Left to right (clockwise): my “Revolutionary Friendship” collage experiment (2011), a page from The Perfect Machine by artist Lance Letscher, a pen drawing of an amusement park by my brother Peter (then aged 6), and leftover scraps of rainbow butcher paper.
Get really creative and you can find great ideas anywhere!
3) Come back to old drawings and paint on top of them.
Left: The original drawing I made in 2013 for a poetry project by writer Graham Murtaugh. Right: A 2016 painting experiment I did on top with gouache and acrylic.
As interests have evolved, I’ve wanted to go back to a few old drawings and give them new life. Sketchbooks are an excellent place to do these kinds of experiments. If you don’t want to lose the original piece, simply make scan the old work and work on top of the copy.
I sometimes love to actually cut or tear pieces out of an old drawing/painting and glue or sew new paper in. Below is an example of what I mean (though not in a sketchbook). The process can definitely add some great dimension. I’ll have to try it in my sketchbook, soon.
“Over the Hill Gang” – a painting experiment I started in 2011.
4) Make it personal.
A doodle from 2010 with thoughts I recorded in 2015.
There is something quite valuable about recording personal memories, drawing stories of your own life, or collaging in nostalgic material that you feel connected to. If you are open to sharing your sketchbook, other people will love to see glimpses of your life through your lens. If you don’t want to share your sketchbook, make something personal for yourself or your posterity. The memory you record today might mean a lot to you down the road.
5) Work in your sketchbook with a kid, and don’t obsess over perfection.
Left: A quick drawing of my husband on a 2016 camping trip using our daughter’s crayola markers. Right: Imagining a garden with my 3-year old in 2017.
When it comes to collaborating with a kid, I struggle with control issues. It’s become quite important for me to force myself out of that comfort zone regularly. Sometimes I do it by using kids art supplies and getting messy. There have been many times my daughter and I have worked together on a separate piece of paper and I’ve collaged it into my sketchbook. There are so many ideas to take from the way kids create, and you can’t beat the quality time. I’ve had some really awesome conversations with my girl while we’ve drawn together. Also, sketchbooks are NOT meant to be perfect. Quality is worth working for, but obsessing over perfection can close your mind to new directions.
If you are looking for more sketchbook ideas, check out this online library I recently found called The Sketchbook Project. I’m still digging into it, but so far have found it to be pretty inspiring!
Two more links to awesome sketchbooks: