Do you add writing to your sketchbook pages?

November 6, 2020 | 50 Comments

I’m just about to start filming my next SketchingNow course – Sketchbook Design – and I’m thinking a lot about the role of blocks of text on my pages. It’s really important to me that my sketchbooks contain a combination of words and images but I know that that is not the case for everyone. So what about you?

Do you add writing to your sketchbook pages?

If yes, I would love to hear why you do and what kind of things you write about.

If no, why not?

If it is something that you wish you did more of… I would love to know what’s stopping you. What are the barriers to writing in your sketchbook?

I would love to hear from you in the comment section below. And check out the comments on Instagram here.

I’m going to be sharing some free intro lessons to the new course to everyone who is on the waiting list for Sketchbook Design. Click here to find out more about the course and sign up for updates.



  • Sue Barrett says:

    I love your text and think it adds so much to your pages! I would like to add text to my pages but often don’t because I don’t like my printing. I want to learn how you add the lines, what size are your !ones.

  • John Burman says:

    I always date my sketchbook drawings. I usually add a note about the place or occasion. Maybe also something like “first day of lockdown”. My sketches in a Moleskine A5 sketch now leave little room for writing on a singe page. In the recent past I have sometimes taken over pages for writing a diary entry. On holiday I sometimes follow your example and draw a little map, but that’s in an A4 sketchbook.

  • Lin Frye says:

    YES ! I add lots of writing to my sketchbooks, in fact, I sometimes think that I am adding ‘sketches’ to my journal! I love the idea of keeping my journals chronological so that, like you, they reflect what is going on in my life. I have been keeping journals for years, and for a time, I kept the writing journal and my sketch journals separate … but I really want to find a way to ‘nicely’ combine the two. I do Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages every day (have been for years) and would like a way to add sketches to those — but more with design in mind … I periodically add more text and images to those pages as time permits during the day. I have to admit that my writing is far more in length than numbers of sketches …and some days I find it difficult to decide what to sketch after I’ve written so much … I’m looking forward to your ideas for this course. Your daily sketches inspire me ….. thank you for all the work you do and for the self discipline to keep going daily!…

    • Bobbie says:

      Like you, I have the same dilemma. This year I finally combined my written journal and my sketching in to an Alpha journal. It feels less fragmented. The only downside is that I am less apt to share my sketches because my journal pages can be personal.

  • Barbara J Neufeld says:

    I almost always write on my pages. Observational notes, date, time, weather conditions, appear in my nature journal. Daily journals and trip journals almost all have antidotes with dates. When beginning a trip I often create a decorative page with title and borders etc. Sometimes I write a quote, faith message, etc.
    I am looking forward to seeing what you do with your journals and am very interested in where you get your date stamps.

  • Jane Varley says:

    Hello Liz, its an interesting topic to mull over. Having used sketchbooks on and off in what feels like forever, it is only in the last couple of years that I’ve added any text at all. And this only short comments about the subject or how I feel about my efforts (ie. could do better)! Looking back on some of my old sketchbooks now, I do wish I had added some similar brief comments and even the date which, perhaps, would make them more meaningful. However, I am not a diary keeper so writing about my daily thoughts or events wouldn’t occur to me. Funny though that my reading interests include a lot of autobiography. Alan Bennett, the British playwright wrote in his Untold Stories that he was embarrassed by some of his early writing. This resonated with me and is probably why I don’t add text. And after all, a picture is worth a thousand words!!

  • So far I have only added individual words or place names to my sketches and only now and then. So far I haven’t had a good typeface, I don’t think cursive is so artistic. Here I would be grateful for a training in my own writing in different fonts (like your writing, for example). Otherwise, I’m really looking forward to this new course.

    Kind regards and stay healthy

  • For outside sketches, Right now I always add weather related comments. First I draw in a location of the sun with time of day so if I update the sketch I keep it’s shading correct. Then I add weather, types of clouds, temperature and how all of that makes me feel.
    For indoor sketches quite different. Sometimes I draw while TV is on and especially on PBS I hear unforgettable amazing quotes that I never want to forget. I only wish I could write them in calligraphy.

  • Jaci Engel says:

    I’m a technical writer by profession so I find text to be much easier to put down than sketches. I often start with meta data (date, temperature, place, occasion), then start drawing. I tend to fill up a lot of space with notes. My challenge is to get beyond including facts – I’d like to start adding impressions and feelings to give my sketches some context. I’m also working on my handwriting 🙂

  • Katie Roberts says:

    I’ve been keeping sketchbooks for only about a couple years, so I’m definitely a beginner. I now always add the date, and since I’m still deciding on what sketchbooks/papers/watercolors/colored pencils, etc I prefer, I add what materials I’m using. I generally draw/paint botanical and nature subjects. I try to identify them and I generally don’t add much else. I would like to try some different lettering styles. And would like to give more thought to layout possibilities.

  • Paula Vincent says:

    Yes, I like to make sure I add the date and I jot a note or two about the where, what or why, especially if I’m traveling. I am not someone who writes in journals and am far more apt to draw pictures with brief notes added.

  • Marianne Nystrom says:

    I’ve been keeping sketchbooks for several years but not on a daily basis. I did make short notes along the way and dated each one. Beginning at the lockdown here in Maryland I did start sketching daily and keeping notes. It’s been fun and encouraging to go back and review how I felt and what I did. This is quite a journey! Liz, I have taken your Edges and I am currently delightfully working through Watercolor n Location. Thank you for all you share and I’m looking forward to sketchbook design?

  • I like to add notes to my sketchbook, because it’s a record of the day for me. I make notes about the weather, or why I chose the sketch, and also the things I liked or things I want to improve for my next sketch. A date is added, too. One thing I’d like to improve on is my lettering and the placement of the notes. My lettering is not consistent in size or shape!

  • Arlene Lennox says:

    I like your text in turquoise blue, so I got myself a bottle of the waterproof De Atramentis Document Turquoise/Cyan ink to do the same. Now I just have to get into the habit of doing it. I do date and place always, but need to do more actual writing/journaling and planning ahead to leave space for it instead of just an afterthought. I am looking forward to your new course.

  • Lin Powell says:

    I don’t always, but often do add text to my pictures. I like to write memories that are associated with the pictures, or thoughts about what’s happening or quotes. When I look back on them, I am always glad of these reminders. Sometimes I add descriptions of the technique because I found in the past, I would return to a page and wonder how I did it, what I used, did I add a special medium or how I developed that technique to make the page.

  • Nadja Volmajer Bezjak says:

    I can’t wait for this course. And yes, I do write in my sketchbook. My sketchbook is an illustrated journal. I write about weather, what I was doing that day or how I was feeling, my thoughts. Sometimes I write what went wrong with the sketch, what I could do better. My problem is that I want my sketchbook to look neat, a pretty journal ?
    Greetings from Slovenia, Nadja

  • Kris Martens says:

    My experience is as a studio painter and teacher. Once I started doing “watercolor paintings” on a small scale when traveling, I thought these were just small painting recording my experiences. In 2018 I did a workshop in France that was focused on sketching and painting in journals. I have just never left my small painting idea and sometimes these sketches become studies for larger works in Acrylic. I do love looking back at the paintings and remembering where I was, what the weather was like, the noise the bugs… all the sensations come back. Having said all that, I love looking at other people’s sketch books and admire your notations and use of space in how the text unites with your images. I do not know if I will ever add text but maybe… turning 75 in a month and there hopefully are many chapters aheas to still explore. Thanks for all your hard work and generous share. You are a terrific inspiration.

  • Diana Wood says:

    Hi Liz!

    Thank you for all you do ! Don’t forget the feel and smell of the day …. sounds, birds singing, etc.

  • Pat Gruttemeyer says:

    Yes! I have dedicated sketchbooks in which I write; specifically, travel sketchbooks that have descriptions of the day’s events and sights, and nature journals that contain factual notations about the flora and fauna, quotes by naturalists, or original poems and thoughts. My other sketchbooks are filled with random drawings and paintings, and are generally without writing. I do not have a daily journal habit.
    Not allowing myself enough room to add text is the main barrier for its absence. However, I prefer to take all the space I need for my sketches first, and worry about the text last. … Looking forward to this new class!

  • Michal says:

    I am undecided. I like to label sometimes. I always date and sometimes add the temperature and altitude. If I’m studying something I’ll do notes with information I’ve looked up and find interesting. I’ve improved my printing somewhat but would like to see more growth. I have a nature journal that includes questions and thoughts. All the above is rewarding and exciting.

    The other side of it is that I just love pure art without comment, looking for gesture and meaning. This also give me great peace.

  • I sketch first then write whatever the sketch suggests, could be a snippet of conversation (esp when sketching people in public), could be what I feel about the subject matter, could be the date, place, time etc.
    Anything goes!

  • Carmel Campbell says:

    When I started sketching I only put the date and location. As I have been sketching for a while it has been hard to break that habit. If I am sketching in a coffee shop I will sometimes put in the conversation I overheard. Most of the time I sketch by myself but even when I sketch with a friend I just mainly put the location and date. I never think to leave space for the text. So when I do end up writing something it will be at the bottom of the page with the date. I can still remember everything about the day with just the date and location. At first I did not like my writing. Now I am ok with my writing. Sometimes when I do write I am in a rush and make mistakes. Not sure why I am in a rush. I have just started a large Moleskine sketchbook in portrait format. My personal goal with this sketchbook is to put some thought into the placement of the sketches. I am still not sure how much text I will write.

  • Lately I have started to add a bit of writing to my sketchbook pages. Normally I just added the date and place, but now if I am drawing with friends I add snippets of the conversation, the sentences that resonate with me or make me laugh.
    I have also found out that it helps to balance a drawing.

  • Barbara L Stumpf says:

    My journals are text-based, with sketches secondary, though I produce one sketch for about every two-page spread. I write for personal growth, to let off steam, to keep teaching notes, gardening notes, comments on current events, on dreams — anything! So I go with the psychic flow, so to speak, and don’t pre-plan my pages. I’ve tried in the past to have separate dedicated sketchbooks, but it didn’t work for me. I like to have stuff all-in-one, so I can see the continuity/relationship between various parts of my life. I have a variety of borders that I use, to make things look organized or pretty, and I keep telling myself that I’ll learn a few more lettering styles one day, but so far that hasn’t happened. I am a retired pastor, so every page is headed with a lectionary passage from the week’s Scriptures, and a box with dates. Sundays, I have a ritual of recording phases of the moon, and meteorological data. I’m looking forward to this course for ideas to make my already pretty useful practice even better!

  • Hannah Sewell says:

    I have just started to over the past six months or so. At first it was just notes about what I was sketching i.e. sketches of things I do with my family. But since I have been keeping a sketchbook more often it has morphed into making notes about techniques and ways to improve my sketches.

  • Liz Steel says:

    Thanks for all the comments everyone! I’m really enjoying reading them all!

  • Ardis Letey says:

    I do add text to most of my sketch book pages, thanks in large part to your modeling. This is a change, except for essential details I’ve included in travel sketch books (what. where, etc.).

    I think my transition also has to do with sketching a lot more and those sketches taking on a different meaning to me. I think my earlier reticence of writing on the page was not wanting to “ruin” a possible framable sketch. I have transitioned from seeing my sketches as individual things that might be a step to something else, i.e. a framed sketch. As I have improved my skills, my sketchbooks have taken on new and deeper meaning – not so much as individual sketches, but the collection becoming a whole. They are not a means to an end, but an end in a and of themselves.

    While we live in a ‘word worshipping’ world, those words can take on an important supportive role. For me, the images are the most important part, yet sometimes words can contribute to the meaning of whole package. And as you have shown us, the writing can also contribute to the page composition in delightful ways. Thank you for again expanding my world.

  • Linda Haynes says:

    I do add text to my sketch book pages. I am really ‘into’ calligraphy, but find this means some of my lettering can look a bit laboured and contrived. I would love to be able to write quickly and neatly, in a quirky way….but not just boring printed lettering.

    I write quotes from people I have met, or observations of the view….locations, weather conditions, etc.

  • Yvonne Kingsley says:

    I have been doing a few sketch books but only when travelling. I usually add the date and place and occasionally add a comment.

    Liz can you please address drawing people in a cafe. I have only done this once with a friend. And the two women got up and moved. Even though our drawing was a side profile.

  • Tonya Dale says:

    I’m a writer (professionally and just by nature) so I wouldn’t *dream* of not having lots of writing in my sketchbooks. I rarely do the meta stuff (weather, surroundings, etc.) unless it’s part of the “story” of the day or experience that I’m recreating in my sketchbook. I love having “straight text” areas as well as curving my words and writing *around* the objects or scenes I’ve sketched/watercolored. The words themselves sometimes become the visual message (a pathway of words cascading through a landscape, just as I walked through it). I have essential tremor, getting progressively worse, so it’s a challenge to keep the shakiness out of my text these days. Sigh…

  • E Robson says:

    I keep 3 types of book which all have text and drawings:
    Daily notes which is a catch-all journal/to-do list/designs/diagrams.
    Travel journals – on location sketches/stories from the trip/ephemera.
    Art sketchbooks – annotated drawings/technique practice/idea development etc.
    Looking forward to the course!

  • Janet Bower says:

    Yes, I like to add text to most of my sketches, rather like a visual diary.

  • I love the look of sketches with writing included. And I like adding the date, in a little ‘box’ with a shadow added, or with a little date stamp in sepia ink. I enjoy writing notes on the sketch, often funny things I’ve overheard or a conversation I might have had whilst drawing. I think the main reason though is that it helps me to feel relaxed about the sketch. I don’t feel precious about it. Sometimes my husband tells me I shouldn’t, in case the sketch comes out ‘well’ and I could potentially sell it. But that changes it for me and makes me tense up, so I stick to doing it my way! I want it to feel free and fun and not worry too much about it all.

  • C R Kanaka says:

    @liz Such a good question. I have always shied away from adding text to my pages. Partly because my handwriting in regular settings is not as pretty as I feel it ought to be in a sketchbook. But then I can’t figure out if I am making things too complicated for myself if I have two different styles of writing. I also worry about being too precious on a page with my sketches anyway, adding writing may add more “preciousness”. All that said, I adore looking at people’s sketchbook spreads and wish I had the skills myself. Now that I reread what you’ve designed here, perhaps after Foundations (still on Lesson 4 here), the sketchbook design course might be in order.

  • Bobbie says:

    I have always kept my written journals and sketching journals separate. This year I decided to combine both and keep an Alpha journal.
    Usually I sketch/paint something and then add my daily observations. If I think I might want to post the picture of my painting I take a photo before I do my writing. Honestly I am enjoying the feeling of less fragmentation. As always, thank you for all the guidance and inspiration you share??

  • Bobbie says:

    I have always kept my written journals and sketching journals separate. This year I decided to combine both and keep an Alpha journal.
    Usually I sketch/paint something and then add my daily observations. If I think I might want to post the picture of my painting I take a photo before I do my writing. Honestly I am enjoying the feeling of less fragmentation. As always, thank you for all the guidance and inspiration you share??

  • Bobbie says:

    Oops – not sure why the? appeared in the above comment?

  • Yvonne Carpenter says:

    Rarely! When I first started sketching, I was doing pen and ink only, no watercolor. I added writing then, but now that I am using watercolor, I tend to use (95% of the time!) every inch of the page so I barely have room for the date, lol! I thought maybe I need a bigger format sketchbook but keep my sketch scale the same so I have white space around the sketches….


    Sketching many of the 17th century buildings in my town (Patzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico), I almost always include text to describe the history of the building. But sometimes my text looks unplanned- more of an afterthought. I so look forward to taking your Sketchbook Design class, Liz! Can hardly wait!!

  • Cathy Ramsey says:

    Combining art and text made all the difference for me (and it started during your Watercolor on Location course — thank you!!) 20 years ago, we bought 10 acres along a creek, and I created a written journal with every date of the year, thinking I would add things I noticed and have a great record of changes and happenings over the years. It is almost completely empty. But when I started drawing and painting again (after ~30 years) it all began to take off; now I have both an enjoyable record and precious memories of time spent appreciating the land, art supplies in hand. I’ll write and paint about the bird migrations (the evening chimney swift count became a fun family event this fall, with a record of numbers by the day, and a couple of different paintings of the birds), the species I’m noticing, unusual visitors, how the trees are doing, how much water is in the creek, etc. I end up with a few different journals: lightweight, handmade ones with watercolor paper that are mostly just for paintings (I take these on trips and out on adventures locally), and more casual, pre-bound ones for near-daily to weekly use that include sketches and notes/commentary. I can’t bring myself to use good watercolor paper regularly for notes, but will add bits here and there when I want to combine several vignettes on a page. For everyday use, I love having the Alpha or Moleskine journals as a place for both. In the end, these hold a special place in my heart. The art is fast and casual as I can’t do the layering wc paper allows, but the stories of what was going on are a big part of the joy in looking back through them. Finding the right paper and binding to make it casual enough to add text helped.

  • Beth O’Dell says:

    Often while traveling through town, I’ll come across a sketching spot utilized for an assignment for either “Edges” or “Watercolour on Location”. Each time I felt compelled to write about the scene which means I had to do a little research which means I learned something. The result is, I have a memory AND history. My life is enriched because of it.

  • Kerstin says:

    Hi Liz, I add text to my travel sketchbooks but not to my “every day sketchbook”. I don’t really know why. I don’t even add dates. I currently use mainly A5 sketchbooks in portrait orientation. Which means that there is not a whole lot of space and I tend to fill up the page with my sketches. I’m not too much interested in adding a whole lot of text but just adding some interesting bits of information that become part of the sketch would be great. I really like how Felix Scheinberger or Maru Godas add text to their sketches that seem to really become part of the sketch because the text itself looks so playful.

  • Mathilde says:

    I would like to add text as well but I don’t know what to write.
    Do I write about what I just sketched? Or about what I was thinking? Or totally not related to the sketch?
    This is the reason want to participate in your new course, learning these different things.
    It is possible that it sounds weird that I don’t know what to write, for that same reason I sometimes don’t know what to sketch, even though I do like to sketch a lot. I would like to sketch my life but how do you go about it?

  • Judith Barker says:

    I think even if your handwriting isn’t “artistic” or “neat” there is a value in having your own writing alongside your drawings.

    • Liz Steel says:

      I totally agree Judith!! any words no matter how messy or how ridden with typos is better than no words!

  • Joy London says:

    I’ve been keeping personal journals for some years with lots of sketches, watercolours, crayons, and text too!, sometimes the text tells what the sketch is about in a few words, other times I write a lot and paint a picture relating to the words as a way of explaining visually! Mostly they are private words, thoughts, items on the news, things around me etc and the picture when flicking back through the years are an easy memory jog, which to me is why I journal, a visual diary.!

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