When I was in high school, my AP art teachers were always up our butts about carrying a sketchbook – they were so into the idea of each of us having a sketchbook at all times – and making use of it in a meaningful way … constantly.
They even provided us with a brand new sketchbook at the start of the year.
I hated it. I hated the actual book, and I hated the idea of sketchbooks. I hated the stress associated with living up to this whole using it “constantly in a meaningful way” bit the most.
I did, however, admire the way my classmates used their sketchbooks. And it became the sort of thing where if you had a great, full sketchbook <you know the kind that is so full of awesomeness it can barely close?> then you were a great artist. A person’s sketchbook was a reflection of a person’s creative prowess. And everyone wanted to have a ton of creative prowess, obviously. That was the thought we all operated under.
I struggled with sketchbooking. And my teachers were never shy to point out that I was not doing enough in this area.
Eventually, I caught on.
I realized you didn’t have to ‘sketch’ or ‘draw’ or ‘paint’ in your sketchbook – certainly you could – but that was not the only means to the end. And honestly, the biggest hurdle wasn’t medium, or consistency. It was just using the damn thing at all.
After a period of about 4 years, I realized that the sketchbook selection process is highly personal, and that is why the sketchbook I was issued did not work for me. That was the first problem.
The second problem was using the thing. A blank page can be very intimidating.
Here are my 8 tips for overcoming sketchbook blank page paralysis – in no particular order
1 – Unblank the page
Half the problem with a blank page, is the blankness of it: the stark white, unblemished surface. Here are a few ways to unblank the page: watercolor wash it to create a colorful ground for working on, use an old text page from a book – or us an old book AS the sketchbook, and my favorite: gridded paper. Gridded paper sketchbooks are readily available and the presence of the grid immediately removes the blank factor. The surface is already marked, so to say. By using gridded paper we can feel free to limit ourselves to a smaller boxed off space, or use the lines for note making – and note making can be a great starting place.
2 – Start in the middle
I know all your OCD freaks are like, eft no, I’ll start at the beginning, that is how it is intended. But hear me out – when you start in the middle, the intimidation of the whole book of blank pages to go is no longer there. Think about it… Jump around! Middle, front, Back, move your self through the book – eventually you will begin to refine things and they will reinspire you.
3 – Break the spine
Speaking of intimidation, we are often intimidated by the newness, and the preciousness, of a brand new sketchbook. We don’t want to mess it up. If your sketchbook is brand new, take it home, open it to the middle spread, and crack that baby! Crack that spine. Make it snap. Hear that sound? That’s the sound a sketchbook makes on it’s way to No Longer Brand New town. This should help break it in and eliminate the intimidation imposed upon us by the brand-newness!
4 – no sketchbook at all.
Maybe you are better with a ‘journal’ or a ‘notebook’ or a ‘diary’ – whatever you feel comfortable calling it – call it that. Sometimes we get caught up in the associations of words. If you think a “sketchbook” is more for drawing, but you’d prefer to do some collage work or writing, you might prefer “scrapbook” or “journal”. Do what you want.
5 – Smaller size
Seems reasonable enough right? If you feel overwhelmed by a full page of whiteness, try a pocket sized sketchbook! Moleskins are great for tucking into bags or purses and simply having it with you more often might bring about more usage! For me, portability and accessibility are the most important factors in art making!
5 – Block it out
Similar to the way that using a gridded or colored page can help knock down the intimidation factor, so too can creating a drawn border on your page. By marking off a border, you give yourself a more defined area to work within – while the edges of the page might make you feel like the whiteness goes on indefinitely, the marked border will help your focus! This can be incredibly helpful. Let’s try it out. Go ahead and grab you sketchbook and your favorite drawing tool. From the edge of the page, place your pen/ marker/ pencil about an inch into the page. Pull a straight line down to about an inch up from the next page edge, continue around all four edges. Oh look, you just drew something – page no longer blank! Woohoo!
7 – Multiple uses
Sometimes it is easier to approach a sketchbook as an all purpose/ day planner sort of a deal. If you are reporting in for other reasons – to make lists, notes or collect inspiration – then you might find yourself doodling, drawing, painting or drawing more often!
8 – Add pages!
This might sound counteractive, but if you create a piece, sketch or drawing outside the confines of your sketchbook, go ahead an stick it in there! Sketchbooking doesn’t only exist within a sketchbook. The point of a sketchbook is to collect ideas and to promote art making. So as long as you are making art, be sure to collect it in one place so you can access your ideas easily later on!
I have collected some sketchbook inspiration for you here on Pinteret. Take a look and see how other artists have use their sketchbooks, varied their materials and started with different surfaces!
I hope you feel inspired to get back into sketchbooking – if you have any other tips, please share them!