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How To Use Sketchbooks For Art and Craft Ideas

How to use sketchbooks – we all know they are for sketching or drawing but do you really make the best use of your sketchbooks? This week in my feed, a fellow artist was pondering whether to throw away her sketchbooks that she felt disillusioned with. I am going to attempt to answer that question.

How to use sketchbooks
Sketchbook page for my ancient history textiles inspirations ebooks

The Purpose of Sketchbooks

First of all – what is a sketchbook for? First and foremost it should be for working out ideas, jotting down ideas, working through a problem such as shape, layers, colour. Many people are too precious about their sketchbooks because they see them as finished work. So if we look at this problem of throwing away from the angle of an ideas book, it makes it all the easier.

As a student I was taught never to erase nor to tear pages out of my sketchbook. As a textiles teacher, I am with that up to a point.

Having just moved my workroom around for better use of space, I went through my sketchbooks this morning. I have 4 A3 sketchbooks. This was the preferred size at the college I went to. It’s a good size, but no good for en plein air work. Two of the sketchbooks are spiral bound, the other two are not. On the whole I prefer spiral bound, but if you are a painter or felter, or even a textile artist like myself, you might prefer it perfect bound so that you can work across the page with ease. Spiral bound is also the best for people who love to make additions and stick fabric samples in etc. I have half a dozen A4 sketchbooks and zillions of smaller sizes. In the past year I seem to prefer to work with A5 or smaller, often with handmade paper in a zig-zag format.

sketchbooks for textiles
My student sketchbook

I like to theme my sketchbooks and return to them to fill them at intervals.

River Don sketchbooks
My River Don sketchbook

So I would further break down the query:

  1. Is your sketchbook separate sheets of paper that you can tear one out without missing it?
  2. How old is the work? We always say ‘keep it’ because you will be able to see how far you have progressed. This is apt up to a certain amount of years or number of sketchbooks. When you have several years of them, you will have progressed so far that your early work might be rendered useless.
  3. Can you re-use it? In collage or working over it? Is anything worth salvaging?
  4. Do you have the physical space to keep them all?
how to use sketchbooks
One of my first ever sketchbook pages that I would happily work over and cover
how to use sketchbooks
Another early one I still like

It’s Personal

It is entirely your decision. You might be that person who needs a clearout to breathe fresh air and feel the creativity filling their lungs. On the other hand, you might be that person that finds infinite ideas within the pages of their numerous sketchbooks.

Partly it depends how brilliant you are from the very first sketchbook. I am not a natural at drawing, so there are some pages in my first sketchbook that I shall cover over. There are others I would never get rid of. There is no rule, it is your work, you do with it as you wish. Best not to make the mistake of throwing it out and wishing you had kept it though.

I would always keep photographic references if they are still applicable to my themes and ideas of work.

photographic page
Photographic references can always be a springboard for new work

I would also keep work that I still like even if I cannot think of a way to use it in my current work

working out colours
Work I like

I would also always keep colour references and ideas

colour page

Photograph it

If you are unsure but want to get rid, photograph it. You can always print it out or use it digitally. I kept this page, but also used it digitally in my work.

how to use sketchbooks
page from my ancient history series of Inspirations textile ebooks

There are lots of ways for how to use sketchbooks and to re-purpose sketchbook pages. So think before you throw away, but don’t be afraid to discard work if you have outgrown it. See more of my work on the website I am currently writing an ecourse on sketchbooks and digital sketchbooks. My favourite sketchbooks are those of Maggie Grey, some of her work can be seen here

Words, work and images copyright Karen Platt 2021