15 Sketchbook Tips: Become a Better Artist
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Want to become a better artist but not sure how? Here are 15 sketchbook tips to help you grow your creative skills fast!
Growing as an Artist
Whether you are an experienced artist or just a beginner, you might be wondering how to develop and grow your creative skills. After all, there is so much out there to learn and master! How do you take the next step? I have found that the key to artistic growth lies in simply keeping a sketchbook.
Why Keep a Sketchbook?
You might be wondering, “What’s so special about a sketchbook anyway?”
A sketchbook is essential to flesh out ideas and play with new concepts. It’s a staging area for you to make important decisions about your next piece of art, whether it’s an oil painting or sculpture. You can test out color palettes, compositions, and just about everything else in the safety of these low-pressure pages.
And if something doesn’t work out, then it’s no big deal! Turn the page and try again. You can draw the ugliest drawings, the most ridiculous ideas, and the silliest shapes with absolutely zero consequences or judgment. The real question is: why wouldn’t you use a sketchbook?
15 Sketchbook Tips
Use the right sketchbook
If you’re someone who likes to keep your sketches simple with pencils and pens, then congrats! There are tons of sketchbooks available that will work for you. However, if you prefer using heavier or messier mediums like Copic markers, watercolors, gouache, acrylics, pastels, etc, then you need to think a little harder about your sketchbook.
You need to make sure you get a sketchbook that is able to handle your preferred medium. Otherwise the pages will bleed, buckle, and all around make your creative experience suck.
I like using a Canson XL Mixed Media Sketchbook for most of my wet medium needs, though I also enjoy my Strathmore Watercolor Sketchbook from time to time. There are lots of options out there, so take a moment to find what fits your needs.
Your art can’t grow if it exists in a vacuum. Find a creative friend to share your sketches with (but make sure they can provide positive critical notes, not someone who will tear you down). Alternatively, you can share your sketches on social media. There are lovely art communities online that are great for artists who want feedback and encouragement.
Keep it private
While it is great to share your sketches with others, you need to also be able to keep some sketches private. If you share everything in your sketchbook, you might feel restricted in what you can draw and not allow yourself to play and experiment — which totally defeats the purpose.
I solve this conundrum by keeping one whole sketchbook totally private. That way if I want to try funky new concepts, I can be sure that it won’t be seen by anyone else. If I like the concept, I can continue to explore it in one of my other sketchbooks where I can share freely.
Fill the pages
When you sketch, try to fill the page as much as you can. That can mean you draw one thing over and over until the page is full. You can also draw one thing and fill the rest of the space around it with black ink. No matter how you do it, there is a certain satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that comes from fully covering a page.
Use sticky notes
Make a mistake that irritates you to look at? Use a sticky note to cover the offending spot and try redrawing on the new layer. This gives you a second crack at your drawing without having to start all over or rip a page out.
Take notes alongside your sketches
As you try sketching new concepts and ideas, freely scribble notes next to your drawings. You can write down colors you want to try with this idea, tweaks to the form, ideas for future drawings, or whatever else you want. This will help you figure out the next step for pushing an idea further.
Mark the beginning and end dates
I love seeing how long I take to fill a sketchbook and how I’ve developed along the way. Some sketchbooks have taken years to fill — others, months. And no matter how subtle it may seem, your skills will develop and grow between the start and finish.
I like to write the date on the first page or inside the cover, leaving enough room to add the end date when I use up the final page. You’ll be glad you took this extra step when you’re an older, more experienced artist!
Explore new color combos
One of my favorite ways to use my sketchbooks is to explore color palettes. I use this space to test new paints, pair up new colors to see how they play together, and push my color comfort zone. Sometimes I’ll fill full pages with little swatches of color just to see what new combos I can come up with.
Stop relying on inspiration
If you’re under the impression that art is something you can only do when you’re feeling touched by the spirit of inspiration, then I’m here to tell you to cut it out! You can’t rely on inspiration to create — you’ll grow your skills at a snail’s pace.
Instead, set time aside regularly to draw even if you don’t feel inspired. Find something to sketch just to get your hand moving. Even uninspired drawings that suck will grow your skills WAY more than if you hadn’t drawn anything at all.
The real secret to growing your artistic skills quickly is the simplest: draw every day. Set aside 20 to 30 minutes in your schedule and draw something, anything. You probably spend over an hour dicking around on your phone every day, so there is certainly time for you to draw.
Try setting your sketch time with a habit marriage! This time can be first thing when you get up, just before bed, during your lunch break — it doesn’t matter. Make it happen and you will reap unimaginable artistic rewards.
Use real world references
You have an inner library of things you can draw. You can imagine all kinds of things and draw them on paper — that’s the gift of art. But unless you make an effort to deliberately add new items to your inner library, you’re restricted.
You can grow your inner library by studying the real world. Draw real objects from the world around you: animals, buildings, people, clothes, food, etc. The more you do this, the richer your inner library.
Can’t figure out what to draw? Just get your pen moving. Fill a page with repetitive lines, dots, blobs of color, geometric shapes. Create like a child without regard to what it’s “supposed” to look like. Draw big uneven loops with a crayon. Just make a mess of form and color and let yourself be totally free.
Try online challenges
There are countless art challenges to choose from in the online creative communities. You can do 30 day challenges like Inktober, Draw This In Your Style challenges, color palette challenges, and tons more. Explore the options available!
Set challenges for yourself
Want to refine your skills in one way or another? Set a challenge for yourself to draw the same subject matter every day for a set number of days (usually 30 days) to develop your skill.
You can pick anything for your challenge, like hands, facial expressions, cats, buildings, or whatever else you can think of. You can also limit your medium, color palette, and other drawing materials to help you hone in on the skill you’re trying to grow.
Above all, make mistakes in your sketchbook. Abandon the idea of a perfect drawing. Focus on Done Not Perfect to get yourself through the page. If you made mistakes, then you have a jumping off point for your next drawing session.
You’ll always make mistakes, and while it might be frustrating, it is absolutely essential to your growth. Embrace the goofs, the weird proportions, the funny color combos, the utter disasters. Each mistake you make is a moment of growth.
Now that you know some great tips to help you get the most out of your sketchbook, it’s time to go and implement them! Remember to not hold yourself to some lofty ideal. Make a mess, screw up, try new things with wild abandon, and generally have fun. You’ll grow your artistic skills faster than you could ever imagine!
Wow, I’m always so nervous about breaking out a clean notebook or sketchpad and making a mistake.. the idea of adding a post it to cover it and start fresh is amazing and also if a color post-it, adds a pop of color to your negative space. I love this! Thanks Shelby!!
I’m so glad you found this helpful, Judy! I hope you feel ready to jump in and make some art 😉
I had the opportunity to get back into my art, which is amateur at best! Then I decided to just do nothing. It’s been a particularly hard last 2 months with hospitalizations, COVID, etc. This was so inspiring, thank you so much. JUST what I needed to happen upon. Thanks for the inspiration!
I’m sorry the past few months have been tough, Beth! Hopefully getting back into art will be a good way to pass the time, entertain yourself, and enjoy the simple act of creating something from nothing. I hope you’re feeling better soon!
Thanks for all the tips! You inspire!