The Importance of Using a Sketchbook in the Creative Process

May 24, 2018

You’ve probably been told to use a sketchbook if you’re in a creative field such as Illustration or Design. There is a familiarity that we have with a drawing stylus and a piece of paper that we just don’t have with anything else. But more than that, there is something about the physical artifact of a paper with some marks on it in this digital age that delights us even though we may not be able to articulate why.. The permanence of it denies the ephemeral disappearance of a digital sketch on a Surface Pro or an iPad Pro. Both of which are fantastic devices that I love to draw on… But they still aren’t paper and pencil.

After decades of using and experimenting with sketchbooks and various tools, I have developed a system that is extremely mobile and is also a remarkable record from which you can actually learn more about art, design and yourself. My sketchbook system has evolved over the years. I literally have a stack of sketchbooks from the floor to my mid thigh. And that does not include anything since March 25, 2007. Pretty specific right? I know this date because prior this, I used 9x12 spiral bound sketchbooks that allow you to fold over either cover to draw in comfort. Except for the spiral binding. Before that I used gigantic unweildy 11x16 spiral bound sketchbooks in which the binding was at the top. I never really covered a full page in drawings on those things. I thought professional Illustrators drew BIG, so they would help me do that. And they served me ok for some years before I moved to the 9x12 format. That was much better, but I still didn’t carry my sketchbook around much.


So that March in ‘07 I bought a very cheap 5x9 sketchbook thinking I’d try Journaling and sketching in the same book. I had failed to make a combo sketchbook/journal a dozen times before with my other sketchbooks. But this time, the size made all the difference! It was so small and so easy to carry, that I could take it to Church without it being conspicuous. It can be tucked  between the waist of your pants and your shirt at the small of the back like a waiter does their ordering book. I could take it to dinner with my wife or to lunch with friends. It was EASY to have with me at all times. If you have your sketchbook with you all the time, you will sketch more. This had a profound impact on my work and my understanding of design.


I could quickly sketch things that I saw. This meant I was studying more of the world than I had previously. Because it was used for taking notes in Church, I didn’t mind writing my thoughts when sketching wasn’t working. So I have notes on illustration ideas and typography that I had seen. Because I used it both for my graphic design work and my illustration work, the two informed each other and made me stronger in both disciplines. But best of all, eleven years later, I have a library of my own ideas from which to learn and be re-inspired. The more sketchbooks I collect, the more resources I have to pull from when I take on new projects. It is like fertilizer in a garden- Most of the sketches are crap, but they bring about good fruit.


All of this is to encourage you to buy a small sketchbook and record your ideas. Write them. Sketch them. Use pens, pencils, crayons, whatever you want. Tape cool magazine photos in them or business cards. But get one. And take it everywhere with you. You’ll be glad you did.

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