Karen's Studio Blog

© Karen Lynn Link, Photo of sketchbooks from the artist's collection.

Greetings and Salutations,

Sketchbooks are probably the most important tool that an artist can use. They are essential to capturing ideas as they occur before becoming forgotten and lost forever. They are useful for experimenting with new media and fleshing out visual ideas and compositions.

Not all sketchbooks are the same
There are many shapes, sizes and types of sketchbooks. The most important part of a sketchbook is whether you will use it and that it fits with its purpose. Is it for written ideas like journaling or sketching? What media will you use, pencil, markers or watercolor? This is where not all sketchbooks are created the same.

Journaling or dry media sketching
For pencil or other dry media, whether it’s for journaling or sketching, lighter weight paper might be all you need. Lined paper may also be desired for journaling. If you are doing bullet journaling or sketching with markers, you might need thicker paper in case bleed through bothers you. Not all markers bleed through, but Sharpies bleed through everything including paintings. So be careful when using if you plan on painting over and do not want them to show.

Watermedia sketching
Any use of watermedia will need thicker paper. Look for sketchbooks that say they can handle light washes or similar descriptions. Heavy use of watermedia will still buckle these papers which might be ok for reference material. If you want to do finished watermedia pieces, be sure to buy a paper pad that is specific for that kind of use.

What I use
I find that carrying a small notebook with me is excellent for capturing ideas while running errands. A larger sketchbook is more useful in the studio and on days when I go out and gather reference materials in the field.

I’ve found that bound notebooks, lined or unlined, are better for written reference. I prefer spiral bound notebooks for sketching because I can lay them flat and that makes it easier for me to work. Overly pretty or expensive sketchbooks languish on the bookshelf because they seem too precious. The more utilitarian the better. I do prefer better quality paper that is not too thin and can take light washes when I’m working in ink or other watermedia materials like watercolor or aquarelle (a brand of water soluble crayon).

What I recommend when you are just starting out
When I taught college art classes, I recommended to budget minded students to use copy paper folded in half lengthwise and stapled on the fold for a class sketchbook. A sheet of construction paper or cardstock can be used as a cover and decorated to the artists preference. Any pencil or pen that the student had on hand would be perfect for working in the sketchbook. The most important aspect was to have one place to capture their ideas and sketchbook assignments for class. This was an important lesson for anyone no matter the field they would ultimately work.

The take away
Whether it is journaling or sketching ideas, having a place to record those fleeting moments is important and can be done to individual taste and economically as well. All you need is the interest to do so.

This is Part 1 of a series on sketchbooks and how to use them. Look for Part 2: Ok, I’ve Got a Sketchbook, Now What? next month.

Do you keep a sketchbook or a journal? What are your favorite styles of sketchbooks or journals? Is there anything about keeping a sketchbook or journal that you would like to know more about? Please share in the comments below.

Take care and have a beautiful day,


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