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Sketchbook Journal Your Way to Being a Better Artist!


by Michelle Morris

Having just taught a sketchbook journaling workshop last weekend, I’m fresh from the creativity and excitement of being with others who were eager to learn and explore the “how’s and why’s” of keeping a visual journal. And I’m eager to share a bit more with all of you! 

So far, I’ve discussed some of the tools I use to create a sketchbook journal. These tools can be as varied and creative as you are—the sky’s the limit! I’ve seen journals hand-stitched with twine, a twig, and old paper sacks. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve seen expensive leather-bound journals with the finest linen or rag paper. I feel the journal itself is as expressive as what I put in it and becomes an art form in and of itself! To fill it, use anything you want to make your mark and express your creativity.

We also talked about the illustrated travel journal and the many ways you might carry supplies on your travels and how to sneak in a sketch here and there. Keeping a travel journal is a wonderful way to make your travels more memorable by having a visual and written record of your experiences and sights.

Today, let’s talk about how very useful a sketchbook journal can be. As a professional artist, my sketchbook has long been a practical tool in the making of my art. In it, I work out the problems with a painting, sparing myself countless hours of painting larger works that fail! A failure to plan, is a plan to fail, as the saying goes. 

I use small thumbnail sketches to work out my values and compositions, and to find the format that works best. I then paint small studies to work out color harmonies—all before I start a larger painting. The painting below, “Arm in Arm” is an example of a painting conceived and planned in one of my sketchbooks!  

The best way I’ve found to get the most out of your sketchbook is to actually use it! I follow several sketchbook blogs (and will provide info on those later), and many have issued a daily sketch challenge. This January I challenged myself to 30 sketches in 30 days. To keep myself honest, I blogged and posted them on Facebook each day. I wrote about my process, all that went into my sketches, and what I was learning. I learned a great deal with that discipline. 

In my eyes, the takeaway for any type of daily practice is: 

1. You build a habit. While I did not continue to sketch daily. The daily practice was valuable in showing me that there is always a way to make time for my art! 

2. The old adage “practice makes perfect” applies to your art, no matter how experienced you may be. My art has improved by being consistent. 

3. You have a record or your journey as an artist and can see how your work has evolved over a period of time. Through my journals I realized that I had lost the playfulness I brought to my earlier work by becoming a better artist technically. I then used my journals to explore and make the transition to a more spontaneous style. This, in turn, helped me become more technically competent, which gave me the freedom to express myself and find my voice as an artist.  

Lastly, I think a sketchbook journal is a safe place to take an art adventure. It’s a private place where you can experiment without fear and embrace making “mistakes” (In art, what’s a mistake anyway?). Since your sketchbooks are a volume of works, ideas can evolve or dissolve as you continue to explore, push boundaries, and expand on them. It’s a place to play and just have fun—to be yourself! Your sketchbook may very well become your new best friend!

As you can see, a sketchbook journal is a useful, practical way to move forward in your artistic journey. Using it often as a place to hone your skills and express yourself creatively has applications far beyond its pages.  

Photo by Alan Levine

Michelle is an artist/writer living and creating in Columbus, Ohio. To see more of her work read her blog, Living a Creative Life, or visit her website.

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