How is your sketchbook practice?

November 13, 2020 | 27 Comments

I’ve had my head down all week getting ready to start filming my next course – Sketchbook Design. And as a result,  I’ve been thinking a lot about some big ideas related to keeping a sketchbook!

I really loved reading all your comments last week about adding text to your sketchbook pages! A huge thanks to everyone who took the time to leave a comment here on the blog. You can read them here.

Today I would love to hear about your sketchbook practice….

  • How long have you been sketching?
  • Are you sketching as much (or more) than when you first started?
  • Do you have a strategy for fitting sketching into your everyday life? Is it hard to find time for sketching?
  • Are you happy with the amount of sketching that you do?

Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below. A huge thank you in advance 🙂

And check out the comments on Instagram here.

My answer is that I always would like to sketch more and tell better stories about my everyday life. But I have been quite pleased with the amount of sketching I have done locally this year!

However in the last month or so it’s dropped off a little. So once I’ve finished putting the lessons together for Sketchbook Design I’ll be focusing on sketching for myself again.

This week was big! The cameras are all set up and I’ll be filming next week.  For a number of reasons I decided to do the filming myself this time, although my videographer is helping me with the setup and all the editing!  I have piles of sketchbooks all over my apartment – looking for good examples for all the concepts and techniques in the lessons has been a lot of fun! I think my sketchbook bookcase is going to get more chaotic than it already is in this photo!

If you want to find out more about the course – please sign up for updates here.



  • Florence Massin says:

    Hi Liz, this is a big concern for me as I don’t sketch enough and I struggle to sketch more. I would love to sketch every day, but I’ve never been able to achieve that and as a result I still consider myself a beginner after a few years. The only way to get better is to practice, I know that, but don’t know how to do it in « real Life ». Anyway, cheers to you ?

  • Claire says:

    Hi Liz, im excited for your sketchbook course! Im currently doing Foundations run through, and loving it. Funnily enough though, im not doing a whole lot of sketvhing out and about. I kind of do my homework and assignments and figure im good, though i keep planning to get out n about again , im being a bit put off by winter weather among other things! I uhave been a sketcher for most of my adult life, but mainly when i travelled, which i used to do a lot of. For me it was a wonderful way of doculmenting my travels and i would often write details and notes for further info (but ive never been satisfied with how the text looks on my pages,i rarely would do a text set up, just squish it in the corner, so that could be why.. I stopped sketching for years really and only with Covid slowdown and being stuck in one place i started sketching again, so thats been a silver lining for sure. My concern now is just getting back out and doing it on the daily as that is the best for everything -improving,etc, and not thinking i need to be better before putting pen to paper. Inevitably i look back on sketvhes i did at the time, years ago, and thought they were awful then, but now i think well they were pretty good, and i remember so much about that day too! Thanks for the inspiration Liz!

  • Jane Varley says:

    Hello Liz, yes, I have worked in sketchbooks on and off for years. From my student days ( I trained in ceramics ) I used a sketchbook for design ideas and notes. However, drawing far exceeded my interest in ceramics and I’ve used a variety of drawing materials in sketchbooks and on larger sheets. My absolute favourite period was sketching my fellow travellers on public transport when I worked in Sydney and I became quite well praticed at quickly capturing a pose. Like many others I’ve used a sketchbook when travelling and also for its pure convenience for day to day drawing.
    But to answer your questions Liz. My sketching is in fits and starts. Sometimes it’s on a regular basis and then there are periods of drought. No I don’t have a strategy for daily sketching but it is easy to find time when I’m inspired by something. No I’m not happy with the amount of time i spend sketching. Its really not enough so I constantly feel i am starting from scratch as I struggle to find stimulating subject matter that inspires me to draw more.

  • Carmel Campbell says:

    Hi Liz, I do draw everyday and started doing so in 2013. I don’t go out to sketch everyday although I always have a sketchbook with me. I would say in 2020 I have sketched less outside. I used to spend a lot of times in coffee shops. Now I am not sure if they want people staying for hours sketching as space is limited. The restrictions with Covid definitely changed my sketching habit. It is very easy for me to draw each day as I have an art room/studio. My computer is in that room and that is where I start my day surrounded by art supplies. I have spent most of 2020 trying out new techniques. Doing online classes. You can get comfortable being at home! What I need to do is to go out and put into practice what I have been learning. It has been hard to get back into regular sketching. Actually heading out to sketch. Hopefully things will turn around

  • Susanna says:

    I began sketching 3-1/2 years ago and would have given up if I hadn’t taken your courses! I’m now at the point where I can take my sketchbook out on location and enjoy both sketching and designing the 2-page spread with relative satisfaction. I’m not interested in sketching my daily life, but I do enjoy sketching interesting scenes, special events, places I visit, etc. I do these sketches in my “location” sketchbook several times a month. I also have a number of other sketchbooks: a daily “practice & doodle” sketchbook in which I sketch (pen only) all sorts of things like items from the kitchen, what I see out the window, people in magazines, etc); a “techniques” sketchbook for recording elements, mixed media tricks I’ve developed, color mixes and such; an A5 Moleskine in which I do watercolor abstracts with botanicals; and a sketchbook in which I do mixed media. I have other sketchbooks I’ve begun and abandoned before I found myself really wanting to so some sort of art daily (most often sketching). Sometimes, I feel like I have too many sketchbooks going, but I’ve been slowly settling into ways of using different sketchbooks for different things. I noticed in your photo that there other sketchbooks on your shelves, not just the sketchbooks documenting your daily life. As part of your new course (or maybe just in a blog or two), I’d be interested in hearing a bit about your other sketchbooks – what they are used for and how you organize them (I’ve only heard about your Elements sketchbook). My needs and interests are ever evolving, but I suspect my artwork will always be expressed both via mixed media and ink & wash in various sketchbooks. I’m deeply grateful that you continue to be my teacher on this journey and am looking forward to the new course!

  • Hi Liz. I started a sketchbook for travel in 2005, but rarely sketched in a sketchbook afterwards. I started taking drawing and painting classes at the local university, but when Covid-19 hit, I had to stay at home. When reading an article on an art website, I discovered you and your classes. I began to sketch in my sketchbook again while taking Foundations and Watercolor On Location. After taking the classes, I have not sketched as often. I do not have a sketch routine, which I think would help. I miss sketching when I don’t do it, but some day’s go by without a single mark on the page. How does this happen?! I also create fiber art which sometimes competes with my sketchbook.

  • Kate Powell says:

    I started sketching in my twenties (architecture student) and have done so for 45 years, but not formally in a sketchbook until about 2007 when I picked up watercolors. As an acrulic on canvas artist I didn’t sketch in a sketchbook, but on pieces of paper — I love my sketchbooks, putting my thoughts and ideas all in one place.

  • Janet Milne says:

    Hi Liz
    I started sketching when I began travelling with my architect husband 30 years ago. My first sketches were on Isle of Skye and even though they are pretty rocky I still love seeing them and remembering. I gave been mostly a pastel painter in last 10 years though that involves an initial sketch and lots of value sketches. A friend turned me on to your course and I am enjoying it though time is a big issue. Hoping to do better this winter as weather is cooling fast now in Ottawa! Cant figure out how to post sketches in the Gallery. Will consult one of my kids on that I guess. Really enjoying my new focus on sketching and learning a LOT!

  • Lin Frye says:

    Hi Liz! These days I am writing more than sketching. I keep a ‘smallies’ notebook with wee (2″ x 2″) sketches of something from my day — but like always, I struggle to find something I WANT to sketch. I find it easier to write these days — but also am torn about not sketching more.

  • Rod Nohr says:

    I find/make time each day to do several 5 minute sketches on my feet, on the go, in pencil and fountain pen. The sketches are pretty crude. often just scribbles, but they are from the gut and what is felt is important at the minute. Taking longer to do better sketches is really difficult for me, but I am trying.
    I am a mostly retired engineer (agricultural/structural/mechanical) who recently sold the company to the younger generation. Being farm/ranched raised, I went to engineering college and by age 30 started my company. To this day, I consider my self a cowboy/farmer/engineer and still own the family farms!!
    Engineering notes, data and sketches always were important, since there was so much trouble shooting and field work involved in the practice, 3 to 5 minute sketches, often in terrible weather and conditions, were/are common. Thick gloves, wooded pencils sharpened with a jackknife and a dripping nose was common in cold weather like now here. 45 years of my day-book/lab-books in stacks are still in the library.
    My “kit” is carried in a small beat up and stained leather messenger bag that has been across the world with me.
    Notebooks were notebooks, so all sizes, formats and types of paper were used on a quick availability basis. All in all, paper is cheap! Now i am tending to try to use various sizes of Moleskine watercolor notebooks (much more expensive) while trying to learn the use of watercolor pencils and a watercolor field sketch box set in Urban type sketching.
    Being left handed as Liz is, resulted in me using lots of pencils rather than ball point pens (hated ink stained hands). I bet that Liz works in her right brain too!!!! I always have used a few select old antique (1930’s 1940’s) fountain pens (gathered from older family members) at the office, and in recent years went to carrying and using Lamy Safari and Pilots in the field always with converters and Carbon Ink.
    So far, good with the Foundation class.

  • Mary Catharine McDonnell says:

    Hi Liz. I am really looking forward to your upcoming course. I have been sketching daily since December 2013. The sketches are usually fairly quick. I have been doing continuous line ones with my non-dominant hand first and then my dominant hand (I too, am left handed). Using my non-dominant hand first helps me to slow down and “feel” the lines. I don’t get stressed if they don’t turn out as I hope they might as tomorrow, or the next day might be different. I often paint them after or paint loosely first and then add line. I mostly use a fountain pen with permanent ink like D’A or Carbon ink. Since a Golden Retriever puppy entered our lives in March of 2019 I have been sketching her each day, mostly continuous line but not always. I use a very inexpensive sketch book for this. It is a wonderful record.
    I really enjoy looking back at my sketchbooks as they contain wonderful memories. I also have a sketchbook in the car for seizing the moments when I can draw. I find with a sketchbook handy I am never bored!

  • susie baker says:

    Hi Liz, I started with your courses this year – Foundations, Watercolor on Location and now working my way through Buildings. These courses have all instilled and affirmed good techniques to use to achieve satisfying sketches – many tools in one’s toolkit. While doing these wonderful courses, I have been able to stay really focused and committed to sketching. In addition I have an ongoing watercolor class that I’ve been part of for the past 8 years and I find courses and community really keep me on track for my goal of sketching something each day. I usually manage to do so, even if it’s only on a scrap of paper. I look forward to your Sketchbook Design course to motivate me even more.

  • J Susanne Geis says:

    Hi Liz, I started sketching late 2016 as an option for not being able to exercise anymore. I have had some breaks in between due to some health issues, but since late 2018 I have been sketching pretty much every day. Now doing more and more daily and I do make a point of making time during my lunch break and/or in the evening after dinner.

  • Paula Vincent says:

    Hi Liz. I have too many books and want to bring them together into a single everyday journal with sketches. And I don’t mind having a second one for practices & testing of media. I have the time, but since I’m not going anywhere and it’s too cold and rainy now to sit outside to sketch, I’m limited to what’s in my apartment around me or on my tablet that I’ve downloaded. I have been keeping journals forever but never tried adding sketches. I definitely do not practice enough and need to get into that habit.

  • Jane Varley says:

    Hello Liz, yes, I have worked in sketchbooks on and off for years. From my student days ( I trained in ceramics ) I used a sketchbook for design ideas and notes. However, drawing far exceeded my interest in ceramics and I’ve used a variety of drawing materials in sketchbooks and on larger sheets. My absolute favourite period was sketching my fellow travellers on public transport when I worked in Sydney and I became quite well praticed at quickly capturing a pose. Like many others I’ve used a sketchbook when travelling and also for its pure convenience for day to day drawing.
    But to answer your questions Liz. My sketching is in fits and starts. Sometimes it’s on a regular basis and then there are periods of drought. No I don’t have a strategy for daily sketching but it is easy to find time when I’m inspired by something. No I’m not happy with the amount of time i spend sketching. Its really not enough so I constantly feel i am starting from scratch as I struggle to find stimulating subject matter that inspires me to draw more. Having said that, I do have a cheap scribbling/ warm up pad that I doddle or draw any old thing that happens to be in front if me – just to keep my hand in. This can be inspiring in itself!

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks everyone! so great to read your comments!!!

  • Nik Chinook says:

    I’ve been sketching as long as I can remember – literally. One of my favourite childhood memories is playing ‘squiggles’ with my dad (Draftsman and Architect) where we took it in turns to draw a small ‘shape/motif/scribble’ or “squiggle” and the other would have to (in a few minutes) turn it into a recognisable sketch of something. Then it would be the other’s turn to do the same. (in a pre digital age it was of course a great way to keep a fractious bored little boy occupied).
    To this day I see potential sketches in everything from ink spills to fabrics, wallpapers and clouds!

    Sketchbooks have, to some degree or other, always been part of my life but I realise, with retrospect, that in my economically stressed teens and twenties any art materials were so precious that I crawled through their pages, ensuring that every page was (successfully or not) laboured over in an attempt to get great ‘value’ out of it. A sketchbook might last a year sometimes!

    It was only when I went to art college that such a restrictive habit was broken. When in the first week we had sessions where we were forced to use a whole sketchbook in an hour I had both a near stroke and a glorious epiphany.

    As one lecturer put it: “Your time is valuable, your development is valuable, your life and your art is valuable; materials are disposable.”

    Since then my sketchbooks have changed in scale, format and frequency and are always a chaotic mess including shopping lists, crazy story ideas, notes, sketches, beautifully finished drawings, paintings, urban sketches, diagrams, technical drawings, recipes, detailed ink studies and obscure thoughts, double underlined that I later have no idea about :).

    Do I have a strategy? Well I guess it’s not to stress over quality. A poor sketch is no less value as a learning moment than a great sketch. Is ’compost’ of no value compared to a beautiful flower? They are actually both inextricably linked. Your sketch book is your place to grow stuff, to have fun making a mess and being an explorer, interspersed with occasional moments of brilliant discovery. No one else is going to see any of it (unless you so choose), so go nuts.

    One caveat here, which is something that annoys me about the current sketching scene is the cross-over into ‘display journal’ world. Once upon a time people kept journals for themselves but not now. Now there is a whole movement dedicated to creating pages/spreads totally and completely with the aim of setting up elegant photo opps with pretty desktops, pens, writing ephemera, flowers and early morning light falling artfully over the pages, to then post on twitter/instagram/blog etc.

    That’s all completely cool if that’s your aim but I fear that for the Art-Sketching world, the essential experimental and learning function of sketchbooks can get subverted, especially for beginners.
    I see many newbies anxious about having a page that isn’t a perfect drawing/sketch and they are chasing the common urban-sketch norm of each spread having a fully realised and painted architectural scene complete with ‘casual’ notes and charming observations.

    It DOESN’T have to be like that. Take a look at professional artists’ sketchbooks. They’re random, surprising and are often strewn with unfinished scribbles, torn edges and coffee stains. LOL

    Is it hard to find time for sketching? Well there’s no way I can comment on other people’s life/work demands but if you want it enough, you make time. Even with full time day job and a young child, I was finding time to sketch and paint. People often say that don’t know how I find the time but then I hear them talk at length about reality tv shows, soaps or blockbusters they watch, newspaper articles, magazine features, books they have been reading, plays, musicals they went to see etc etc. It’s all about choices. I make my choice to make art and have NO idea about most of the tv shows they rave about for a few weeks.

    No I don’t live some kind of ascetic life; I do a lot of the other things but making art is locked into my list of activities. For example when I was a director at a publishing company I would take my lunch after everybody else so the company canteen was pretty quite. I would eat, not with a newspaper by my side, like many would do (perhaps an iPad these days), but my sketchbook. After I’d eaten I would get stuck into drawing, or tweaking an old sketch, or scribbling notes, or whatever.

    I often pick up my wife from work and when I arrive 5 – 10 mins early I don’t just listen to the radio tapping my fingers, I pull out the sketchbook. It’s all those little opportunities that add up. The other thing is NOT to wait for inspiration. Just start – that is what prompts ideas. Even when you thought you didn’t want to draw, if you just start then often you will go into a creative trance zone (bit like driving on a motorway/freeway) and suddenly you realise that an hour has passed and you’ve done lots of work.

    Am I happy with the amount of sketching that I do? Guess I’d say that when I work out ‘how much sketching’ I’m supposed to be doing then I could answer that. It’s not a contest at the end of the day. Much as I admire these people who post videos turning through the pages of their immaculate, page-perfect sketchbook, it all seems a bit soulless and sad.

    Sketching – drawing – ART is fun! But it’s messy. imperfect, angry, frustrating, hilarious sometimes and so I guess it’s like life. You gotta love it.

    • Helen Leach says:

      Thank you! I’m a newbie (less than a year) and your freedom from “show” is very genuine… encourages me to jump in and do it.

    • Susanna says:

      Thank you so much, Nik, for your thoughtful comment! Many things you said resonated with me. I have no formal art background and only began sketching several years ago. Initially, I struggled with my sketchbook feeling “precious” and with big fears of messing up my sketches and pages (I love that quote from your art lecturer!) Harsh self-judgement was a big problem, too. Courses with Liz and Sketchbook Skool have helped me get beyond these fears, thankfully, and have freed me up so I can continue to improve. I quieted the inner critic by telling myself I’m just learning – of course I can’t sketch the way I want! I always sketch my palette, brush & pens on the first page of a new sketchbook; this gets me over “the dreaded blank first page”. I plan to do the exercise of filling a sketchbook in an hour next time I get caught in a perfection-driven mindset. What a brilliant assignment!

  • Coco Parsons says:

    In answer to your questions
    HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN SKETCHING? Based on my myriad of journals and sketch books, I have been journalling and sketching most of my life. So about 40 years. It has only been over the last number of years, however, that I have been focusing more on sketching and keeping a sketchbook/journal.
    DO YOU HAVE A STRATEGY FOR FITTING SKETCHING INTO YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE? I have finally figured out a sketching process that works for me so that I can develop a sketch incrementally with snatched moments. Hopefully with time I will get faster at doing this.
    IS IT HARD TO FIND TIME FOR SKETCHING? Yes, it is always hard to find time to sketch so I am really thankful when I do get the time. Not that I always make the most of it.
    Are you happy with the amount of sketching that you do?

  • Nadja Volmajer Bezjak says:

    Hi Liz, I started sketching in 2018. I wanted to draw birds and to keep a nature journal. I than found your sketches on Flickr and your blog and I knew this is what I want to do. I was a total beginner. Now that I’m more confident I sketch a lot more but still not enough ? I try to sketch every day but of course the day doesn’t have enough hours. I know I could do a lot more sketches if I would sketch faster. But I spend a lot of time thinking what else I will sketch and how to design the page. The writing takes a lot of time too. I need to write very slowly if I want the handwriting to look good. I have my sketchkit with me almost every time but I rarely use it. Most of the time I plan when I will sketch. This would be different if I would be able to do 10 minutes sketches. Even at home I don’t grab the sketchbook and start to sketch, I sketch when I have an hour or two time and than I think what should I sketch, how to design the page and what to write. So it takes me 2 hours to complete one spreed.
    Greetings from Slovenia,

  • Yvonne Carpenter says:

    Hi Liz,
    Just read your latest blog/email and decided to add a comment here. I have 7 full sketchbooks, 2 more with only 4 or 6 pages left, and 2 others halfway done (a far cry from you, but hey, we have to start somewhere!!!). I used different brands to test the paper. I tend to gravitate towards A5 landscape format for whatever reason. I definitely do not sketch everyday, but not for lack of time, as I have been retired for 2+years now, but sometimes I am just not in the mood to “do a good job”! So I don’t sketch those days so I don’t “ruin” my sketchbook! I know that is a terrible and unproductive thought, and is slowing down my development, but that thought still creeps up often, unfortunately. Sometimes I sketch on a loose piece of watercolor paper on those “off” days as I can always toss the paper if it is a “bad” sketch! Having said that, 95% of the time those loose paper sketches turn out much better than I had anticipated it would, so now I have a box of loose papers of all sizes with sketches that are not so bad and could have been on a sketchbook, lol!!! I am still doing isolated sketches on the sketchbooks, so each page is a separate story, there is no continuity in a spread and sometimes even the sketch orientation is different. Oh well, I will keep on going because sketching brings me happiness, not sure why, it just does! Looking forward to those teaser lessons next week and the full Sketchbook Design course next year! Hope to see you soon, at least on video format!

  • Melissa Gathings says:

    I’ve been sketching 6 years and the intensity varies with the seasons as as I am busy in the fall and winter. I have tried several strategies to find more time and currently do a weekly 2 page spread with high points drawn and text. I really enjoy looking back as the spreads accumulate and the focus on good things lifts my spirits as I am reminded of all the goodness in my life. Currently I am struggling to make a date with myself rather than “fitting sketching around other activities”. Three times a week for a couple of hours is my goal as I prefer a bigger slice of time.

  • Irene Ryan says:

    Hello Liz. I have been sketching for about 5 years and it has changed the way I see life. I also do watercolour painting so I try to combine both. I have done both your “Edges” and “Watercolour “ courses and found them immensely helpful. I try to sketch most days and have almost finished my second “Covid 19” diary which has helped me through this very difficult year!!
    My goal is to sketch more quickly and improve the composition of my sketches. I think your next course will be very helpful.
    I would also like to reduce the amount of materials that I take on location and become more confident when sketching on my own.
    Irene Ryan

  • Beth O’Dell says:

    I recognize a number of classmates from Watercolour on Location and their comments reflect my own experience: lots of half-finished sketchbooks abandoned when daily responsibilities encroached on sketching time or I deemed the sketch too poor to bother with. Going back, I see they weren’t so bad! A daily practice of submitting assignments to the course site or sharing with a Facebook group has been invaluable for kick-starting my sketchbook practice. Also, I tried a few “PlayLabs”. Thanks for the tip. Playing is the key to finding out you have more skills at your disposal than you might have at first thought.

  • Brenda Urbanik says:

    I started sketching late in 2015, early 2016, as that was when I started taking some drawing lessons as I did not know how to draw yet. Then I stumbled upon Sketchbook Skool, and that led me to lots of awesome and amazing sketchers! This year my sketching has taken a “go slow” attitude and I am not opening my sketchbook enough. I could use Covid as an excuse, but I think it’s deeper than that. I find myself disappointed with my drawings. It’s just lack of self- belief I think, because every so often I can create a really beautiful drawing. But I am frustrated because I really wanted to capture memories through urban sketching and documenting my life, but I don’t seem to be doing that. My head is full of stories or anecdotes of the day or sudden thoughts that seem important, but for some reason I hesitate to write them down. It’s not from a lack of time, I do have the time, but I find myself procrastinating, then blaming it all on things like having to do laundry, having to go to the store, having to cook a meal to put on the table. My desire to draw all day long has brought out a monster in me and some resentment towards anything that “steals” my time or “interrupts” me. So no, I am not happy with my lack of meaningful sketching, I find that I am still focusing on how to draw despite the fact that I know I can draw. I know, I am just as confused as you must be feeling after reading my ramblings.

  • Serena Bottini says:

    Dear Liz I’ve watched today the first intro lesson to your new course and I loved it !
    I’ve been sketching on and off for a few years but I’m happy to say that in the last year I’m finally sketching more. My architectural background meant that I did mainly technical drawings and little sketching.
    Last year for the New Year I went with my family to Portugal for the first time and I started a sketchbook so that I could memorize the trip. Of course while on site I did very little ,also because I am very conscious of sketching in a public space. But as we went in lockdown in march I decided to fill my scketchbook ,even if from photos. Now we are again in the same situation and I am in my mind back to Porto and filling my book with new drawings and I realised that the act of concentrating in my sketches really takes my mind to a different space and all the happy memories from the trip come back !
    My pages need some planning, I don’t write a lot, except for the place and date, but I think it would be nice to add some thoughts as well.
    I have several sketchbooks on the going because I love also flower sketching and doodles/zentangles, and I a
    have a few “good” ones that I don’t dare to use because I’m afraid of making a mess (I know that this is quite stupid).
    I will look forward the next lessons and the real course so maybe I will start to use them.
    I love the background music you use and I know that you did the filming and editing all by yourself : well done !
    Thank you and stay safe,

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