Strategies for filling sketchbook pages during busy periods

May 24, 2024 | 8 Comments

Following Monday’s article about simple sketches, I want to share a little about my current sketchbook strategies. (Thanks to Ginie for the prompt!)

I have a lot going on at the moment, so I have little time to dedicate to my sketching. But I’m still filling pages in my sketchbook at a constant rate!

This is because I’ve simplified the type of sketch that I’m aiming for (as described on Monday) and because I’ve moved to a smaller book. The softcover square Alpha is much easier to use than the heavy hardcover A4 book that has been my favourite for the last few years.

A smaller book takes some pressure off starting a sketch. Not only does it mean I work smaller, but there is less pressure to finish off the page. In my experience, a larger page produces more pressure to fill it with good sketches.

I’m also using watercolour pencils a lot at the moment, which is a sign of how busy I am. Ideally, I would use watercolour more, but as I prefer to do quick sketches in the time that I have, I’m happy to do a dry media sketch rather than no sketch at all.

The most important part of my sketchbook practice at the moment is my morning ‘walk, coffee, and sketch’. I do this on most work days regardless of the weather or whether I feel like sketching. My morning sketch from these outings typically completes a double-page spread that I started earlier with notes from my morning Bible reading.

Sketching on location makes me happy and gets my creative juices flowing, and I find that I’m more productive after I’ve done a sketch. So as this is an important part of my day I prioritise this little outing. (Just for the record: The morning walk and the coffee are important, too!)

Starting my day with a sketch means that even if the rest of the day gets busy, I have something in my sketchbook and a place to jot down a few notes on what I did.

Here is one more example of this.

If I go out (for anything more substantial than a supermarket visit), I typically try to squeeze in a sketch. My sketches are open-ended (a concept from my Sketchbook Design course), starting with my focus (Foundations Lesson 11), which leaves space for some notes about what I did.

If my sketch is smaller and there is a lot of white space I try to fill it with a small sketch of an object from home. Often I have a few objects in mind to use even if they are not from something of significance that day. In this instance I broke the plate a few days earlier.

Sometimes, I don’t have time for this extra sketch, so I rely on text to finish the page.

Occasionally, the page still looks a bit empty, but in the context of the whole sketchbook, a little white space is always nice.

When I’m out with a friend, doing any sketch is good, even if it’s incomplete. A little colour chart is a good way to fill a space.

Here is another cafe visit (this time I was on my own so I had time for watercolour) and another colour chart!

Note: I like to start a new day on a new spread but you certainly don’t have to do that. I love pages that are filled with sketches done over a few days (I should do it more) and here is an example from last year (in an A4 sketchbook)

I’m not afraid of drawing boring/ugly objects, and I’m always trying to find interesting ways to sketch black objects.

This page only had a simple outline of a T-square on it so I wrote a lot of notes and then added a second sketch from the next day. The colour was added the day after that while I was setting up my equipment for the first Teacups livestream. So this is an example of a spread that had been worked on over a period of time. And although it’s not an exciting page it is my record of an important day.

Although I would love to carve out some more time for more finished watercolour sketches I’m really happy with my sketchbook practice at the moment (and loving the square Alpha).

So, to finish, here is the spread of the two teacup sketches from Wednesday’s article, showing some exciting new handmade paint I received that day. But more about that in a future article!


I hope this article has given you some ideas. Are you happy with the number of sketches you are doing now and your sketchbook practice?



  • Ginie Udy says:

    Thank you very much Liz for this inspiring post! So many good ideas about the practice of sketchbook filling and daily life recording. I’m going to read this article more than once!

  • Jenny Tymms says:

    What a great post Liz! So helpful and inspiring.

  • Jamie C says:

    Love this post! I’ve been wondering how your sketches are setting in your page designs lately! I’ll be exploring that sketchbook strategies tag I see on this post, for sure! I think I may be a bit stalled out because I am in the big A4. I haven’t finished it, and I’m a completist, so instead I’m just dragging myself through the same book. I keep thinking of Sketchbook design class, which always helps me when I do get to it. Maybe if I make my teacup sketches for class bigger I’ll fill the book faster! Another strategy! Haha!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Jamie – yes it can be a pain to finish a sketchbook – especially when it’s big! Teacups is a great idea (with lots of white space!)

  • Ginny Rothstein says:

    Thanks, Liz. So very helpful. On a recent week of hiking and other adventures with friends, I filled a tiny Hahnemuhle Zig Zag watercolor sketchbook (a gift), mostly from photographs, with waterbrush watercolor added later. I have a wonderful memory book ranging from a beetle closeup to a landscape of my 2 cm tall husband wandering down a dirt road! I’m making notes of your other helpful techniques.

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