Why do you sketch?

October 19, 2017 | 60 Comments

I have been meaning to pose this question to you all for a long time… it looks like today’s the day!

So…

Why do you sketch?

Is it an end in itself or is it part of a bigger goal?
Is it just for yourself, or do you want to hang your work on a wall or sell it?

Hmm, I don’t want to ask too many more questions as it might impact your answers and I am hoping for a huge range of reasons!


My answer:

For me sketching is all about recording the moment, a way for me to be more aware of my surroundings and be more present in the here and now. I want to create a narrative of my life and therefore make art primarily for myself. I have no desire (right at the moment) to sell my work.

I like using my personal sketches as teaching material, and sharing them here on my blog – sharing my journey in the hope that it will inspire others to start or continue on theirs. But apart from sketches that I create specifically for my workshops and online courses, I sketch for myself. And that gives me a lot of freedom to experiment and have fun.


Anyway, I could go on and on… but will stop now as I really want to hear from you!!

60 Comments

  • A.D. Smit says:

    You only really understand what something looks like when you draw it

  • sigrun hodne says:

    My sketching is – at the moment – a kind of mindfulness praxis. Mindfulness is usually defined as “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.” Instead of observing my thoughts and feelings I direct my gaze outwards, observing my surroundings. And just as in ordinary mindfulness, sketching gives my peace of mind.

    My sketches are processes, not results. I like to share them, but they are not products for sale – they are more like fleeting moments. Thinking about my sketches as artworks for sale would totally destroy my pleasure in making them.

    • Shelley Hammill says:

      Thank you so much for your entry here. As another person focused on mindfulness your comments have been a turning point in my perception of my own sketches and sketching. I hope you don’t mind but I printed out your response as a reminder, particularly right now while I’m preparing to move and “seem” to have no time to sketch. It’s all loaded in that one little word “seem”. Hmmm.

    • iva ilic says:

      I so agree Sigrun! Sketching is a way to process the reality, our surrounding and our impressions of the surroundings… Also sketching is a tool to come to terms, make peace with “what is”, rather than what we perceive it being, or what we would like things to be…

    • sigrun hodne says:

      Such a wonderful respons, thank you!
      I wish you good luck moving – and really hope you find time to sketch.

      All the best
      Sigrun

    • sigrun hodne says:

      Agree – make peace with “what is” – inside & around us.

    • Shelley Hammill says:

      An anonymous quote I have heard said: ” All suffering comes from wanting to change what is.”

    • Kate Powell says:

      Not quite anonymous — it is a translation of what the Buddha said.

  • melinda mcnutt says:

    I sketch for myself. In fact I had someone approach me recently to ask if I sell my work. My answer to her was no. I ultimately found out that she was looking for a cheap illustrator for her marketing material. And I do not do commission work. Too often if someone is commissioning something they want to dictate what the result will be and it may not match my style or “cropping” preference. Sketching is meditative practice for me especially when I am alone. It is also providing me a social outing with friends that I sketch with once a week.

    • Love your comment!!! Expresses exactly how I feel about my own sketching. For me it’s also therapeutic and something one day my sons will have that reflects their mother’s life.

    • Lin Powell says:

      I feel the same. I used to sell my work, but realized there was no joy in it. Rather than buy something I had done, they wanted me to repeat it in blues, or exactly the same but larger or smaller. Now that I paint just for me, I enjoy the process and don’t worry about the results. It is freeing and meditative, and without any pressure to produce.

  • First I sketch because I enjoy it. I enjoy the process (even so it can involve struggle) and the results too. The magic of seeing a drawing appear on the page. I also enjoy showing and sharing my work. I find it is a way to connect with other people and with my surroundings. A perfect breath of fresh air and a break from the rest of my life. Perfect to recharge my batteries. I am happy to sketch for money and sell my work :).

  • Barbara Post says:

    I sketch and paint in journals for the same reasons you mentioned, catching the moment and remembering everything about it. I have also found that I enter a zone of peacefulness while sketching, a zen like state. The reason I first started sketching was because my husband is an avid nature photographer so our day trips and vacations are to beautiful places where he spends several hours photographing in one area, it seemed like a good fit to me to try sketching to fill the waiting time. Now that we are both retired and traveling to urban areas as well, I plan to try my hand at urban sketching.

    • iva ilic says:

      Same here Barbara… I started sketching nature while my husband was seting his camera for complicated shots. Somehow snapping pictures makes me more anxious (looking for the bigger, better, more spectacular shot), while skecthing calms me down and helps me focus on the bute that is, rather than chasing some perfection i can hope for…

    • Ekaterina Tolstova says:

      Barbara, such a perfect job your husband has, it gives you just a brilliant opportunity to sketch!) many sketchers have problem when they want to stay for a while to sketch, but their friends/relatives want to go further!)

  • Janet says:

    for me sketching is to save a moment in time that i think is beautiful Perhaps the sights are beautiful or the emotion i experienced was beautiful. i also enjoy the process.

  • Rhonda Roebuck says:

    I sketch to really “see” something. I hope that something I record or sketch will be interesting to someone in the future. It is all about the world I live in and putting it on paper. Sketching is a learning process and also an opportunity to teach. I am part of a small nature journaling group, and for all of us, socializing with like minds is wonderful!

  • Stephanie Reitmajer says:

    It is a way of recording my blessed life, and at the same time improve my drawing. It also sets me free. I have a fairly well developed self critic. When I start a painting she roars her head. In my sketch book, I can play and just record what ever interests me. Because after all, I can just turn the page. So, my critic almost disappears. I do not plan to sell sketches, but I do enjoy sharing them. I have been asked by my art association to teach a journal class, but so far have declined. I just want to fill more sketch books. Lately I have started a quest to create my own sketchbooks. The goal is to have a book that contains my favorite watercolor paper. And, any new project always involves new art supplies….my other obsession.

  • Carole Jurack says:

    Never even thought about that question until you posed it. Wow! Came to “art” after I Never entered my mind though I have been an avid photographer for many years. Now I find I take two kinds of images, one as photograph and one as drawing resource. Never thought I could do it but discovered that I can. Guess now I would say that I sketch/draw/paint (watercolor) mostly for my pleasure but to give away as cards, etc. to friends and family. Most fun you can have is to create a special card for a dear friend or family member, enjoy it for a day or two and then send it on its way!

  • Carole Jurack says:

    Lost the words between I and Never. Should say after I retired.

  • Jennifer Nakashima says:

    I sketch for practice to improve my skills, which will help me to record my life in a more accurate way.
    Sketching has made me pay more attention to even the mundane objects of life. I enjoy sketching my elderly mother who I spend many days with in doctors’ offices-a memory that i will always have even after she is gone.
    Sketching has given me a moment of reprieve from the distractions of the world and makes me appreciate the whole of God’s creation, which I can record down on paper.

  • Jane Kirsch says:

    I came back to sketching after retiring. As a kitchen designer in the “old days” before computer generated drawings and plans I enjoyed hand drawing and eventually taught myself to produce water-colored perspectives for clients who couldn’t picture what the plan would look like in their space. Now I’m learning new techniques and challenging myself to lose some of the rules in order to express the spirit of whatever I’m looking at. It’s a meditation practice for me daily. Would never sell anything but want to get comfortable creating cards or paintings to share with friends and family.

  • Pam Cunningham says:

    I sketch for me..I used to paint but it isn’t as spontaneous , portable or convenient.
    Sketching stimulates the imagination,satisfies the urge to be creative and presents challenges as I learn to improve.. ..and It’s a lot of fun!

  • Rae Ecklund says:

    Sketching for me is a way of maintaining skills I learned as an illustrator. Funny thing is, I always thought it was a “use it” or “lose it” situation. And after several years of ‘retirement’, I leaned that we continue to see and record mentally on a daily basis and that most of what I had learned is just lying dormant in my little brain. Sometimes I even surprise myself! And lastly, I think it’s a Love Affair with the tools and the collection of supplies that give me great joy. I think I am having an affair with my fountain pen.

  • Darya says:

    I sketc to leave a mark, a trace of my life and my feelings because my memory for some reason is not really good and reliable. When I started I wanted to post my sketches online, to make them seen, but the more I sketch the more personal they become, so now I’m not too shure if I want them to be seen at all. They are part of my life, my sketchbooks are my little secret world and I’m ok with it. I don’t feel the urge to show it to someone and get an aprowal now (before it was a major part of sketching for me – I needed people to tell me that my sketches were good). Sketching makes me less anxious and makes me appreciate the world around me.

  • Richard Masters says:

    I sketch – or, at least, I want to develop my sketching skills – because I am interested in architectural history and I believe that by sketching a building I will look harder, see more, and record the key features. I may also enjoy the process!

  • Rita Caré says:

    I will do my best with my unperfect English.

    Depending on the momentum… I sketch and paint To:

    . Find Silence.
    . Empty my brain from everything around and focus on something that calls my attention.
    . Be alone in the most strange silence experienced in the middle of a crowd.
    . Be with other sketchers in the most special shared silence.
    . Find myself. To find the inner me lost in my noisy brain…
    . To bring aesthetic places, things, people (what I consider aesthetic probably is not the same for you and for many people) to my life.
    . To feel Free.
    . To listen better.
    . To catch moments forever (with tiny details).
    . To understand.
    . To explain.
    . To learn about myself, about people, about all the details of something or someone, about how the world works, about how a machine works, about how a theory works, about drawing, about painting, about fine arts materials.
    . To share stories, to tell stories, to watch stories (real and from imagination).
    . To grow up as a human being.
    . To be happy like kids with their toys.
    . Sketching is the most enriching activity I’ve ever tried.

    • Bernadette Russ says:

      Your words are well spoken and understood. They are graceful and full of thought and consideration. You may not realize but the words you have chosen contain the marvels and mystery of a pen or pencil in hand. It is obvious how wonderful it is to have the ability and desire to draw. I love the line ” to be happy like kids with their toys.” I can imagine that your drawings are equally lovely.

  • I sketch to connect; firstly with thing I’m sketching – to focus closely and become friends with it. (And yes, really I do mean becoming friends – even with the piece of drainpipe I was sketching this afternoon). Secondly to connect with a part of myself that’s otherwise asleep or inaccessible; and thirdly to make connections with other people in ways that otherwise just wouldn’t happen. I have ME/CFS and having a chronic condition like this means I tend to get isolated. Drawing out on location and interacting with USkers on the internet has been life-changing.

  • Sandra James-Talbot says:

    I sketch to relax, for the joy of making art. I love watching pigment react and colours form. I like the physical act of holding a brush and mixing paint and creating something personal. I like to remember where I was when I sketched – photos don’t have that same aura. I like to learn stuff and study techniques and look at the work of others to improve.

  • Diane Jones says:

    To be able to do something I’ve previously thought I couldn’t do. “Can you draw?” “Nope.” I’m nearing 70 years old so if not now, when? I had to face the fear of failing which is hard because I do other things well. So far, with Liz’s carefully thought out process, I’m succeeding. It’s amazing. I’m grateful. It makes me happy to look back at my work so far. Still, I wait weeks and months between lessons because of that fear that I will only make a mess on the page and waste paper and ink. I need to sketch more often. I need to let myself fail and have pages that are wonky. And I need to remember that I have pages that I love.

  • I think about this question often because I’ve come to realize that the answer(s) impact my approach, my subjects, and even my openness to alternative ways of sketching. I’ve also realized that there is no single reason why I sketch.
    Clearly, though, the biggest reason is that I love driving a pen around paper. If I draw with brush or pencil there is less joy in the process. I draw slowly, at least in part because I’m in no great hurry for the fun to stop and because there is far less fun in adding color.
    I even try to “overcome” these tendencies because I’d like a quicker sketching style. Sometimes I wish for a more “painterly” style. And sometimes I feel I should care more about color. Maybe I will someday but right now, it’s all about the moving of a pen across paper.

  • Anne Macnamara says:

    I sketch for me. I enjoy it as a contrast to years of taking photographs and I want to get better at something that gives me a lot of pleasure. Since discovering your website and Instagram, I have been keen to devote more time to practising on a more regular basis and have the Foundations course identified as part of my career development at work – I am a town planner working within the architecture team at the national level and can’t wait to start and develop my skills.
    Thank you Liz for sharing your passions and creating this community.

  • Carmel Campbell says:

    I sketch for myself. Art has always been a part of my life. However, sketching from life is different. More challenging. It inspires me, I never run out of things to sketch and is something that belongs to me. It has taught me so much about myself and life. I see things other don’t see. I am learning to be kinder to myself. It is somewhere to go to rest when it seems everything is is out of control. It is my anchor! i don’t often show my sketchbook to people. I have been asked if I sell my sketches. When they see my sketchbook their eyes light up when they realize it is a visual journal. It makes my day!

  • Adrienne Hamilton says:

    I sketch to challenge myself and to really see what I am looking at. Sketching also relaxes me and is in its own way a meditation and I look forward to and enjoy the process. Being out in the open air is, in itself, so enjoyable and have found since starting this I have quietly enjoyed watching birds, noticed the rhythms of the ocean more than ever before – peaceful while creative and satisfying.

  • Margi MacMaster says:

    Sketching and painting is an enjoyable meditative practice for just me – where I can reveal my passion for nature and gratitude for life

    I’m excited and enriched by my surroundings and as I journey through life; wherever it is I am; I make the most of having quiet reflection time to really look at light, colour and all that the outside environment provides whether it be by the sea or in a rainforest or by a port or plein air anywhere or outside a cafe or just looking at a sky or up at trees and horizons as I walk anywhere from local streets to memories of my travel to far away places of beauty eg Himalayas, France , Tahiti, Sweden , Denmark etc

    Currently love Looking at French and Italian houses, stone walls and many different doors and experimenting with drawing and Watercolour and teaching myself more and more about it when I have time. I hope I can progress further along my journey and I’m eternally excited to continue to learn- that is what life is about !- one never stops

    Thank you Liz – enjoy sharing your passion too

  • Why do I sketch? I sketch for a few reasons. First, I want to do my own interpretation of what is in front of me by putting a little of myself in what I see. If someone sees my sketch and connects with it enough that they want to buy it, I’m all for that. That means they have been touched by the “me” in my sketch. The second reason I sketch is to record life as it happens. I would much rather sketch a scene than take a photo of it, especially when I travel. It makes me remember everything I saw, felt, heard, smelled, or touched while in that spot. More often than not, I don’t take too many photos of places I visit. Lastly, I sketch because it makes me more observant of the life around me…mostly that is a good thing.

  • Tina Koyama says:

    (I’m reading in the comments above many thoughts that make me nod in agreement!) I am a writer by training, so words come easily to me, but sketching allows me to tell a story visually (and a “story” can be pretty simple, like “Here’s the story of a tree and a truck parked next to it on a windy day” — nothing special or important). Like you and many others here, I sketch to document the little stories of day-to-day life. I could do the same with a written journal (and I do that too), but while I would never share my written journal, I am happy to share my sketches. I feel part of a community through sketching in a way that writing has never done for me.

  • Nola Parsons says:

    Sketching takes your mind into a blissfully peaceful retreat. Away from the problems and pressures of this busy crazy world. Time passes effortlessly. Communing with nature in this way is therapeutic. It is one thing to admire a landscape or be in awe of a building with historical or architectural significance, but to want to capture that moment with a pen and a wash of colour is a gift a few of us are lucky to have. It may not be a perfect representation but the significance of that drawing means far more to me than a the click of a camera. I can remember that day, those surroundings and the ambience of the occasion forever. It connects me with nature and draws me into the beauty of the world around me. It encourages me to see the finer details and intricacies of the surrounding landscape. It is also a challenge and who doesn’t enjoy a challenge to improve their drawing ability. One day someone may want to buy it but at the moment it is part of my personal journey.

  • Sketching for me is meditation, connecting with my environment, a way to connect with others (either through sketching with them or through passers-by initiating conversations), documenting a moment (especially when travelling) and consolidating memories. It is quite possibly also now an addiction – I cannot imagine not sketching!

  • Liz Steel says:

    thank you everyone for these amazing comments! I am loving reading all of them.

  • iva ilic says:

    Since age 9 I have always journaled. I probably stopped sketching at the same time. I stopped sketching due to self criticism, comparison and feeling like my drawings “did not measure up to reality and the expectation of others.
    However I always journaled. In times of stress, as stress reliever. In times of confusion, as an internal dialogue to help myself answer my own questions. And in times of “settling” into the a place. For exampke, as a life long learner, I study at different venues: park, coffee shop, library, bedroom, living room , hom office… And to “settle in” or “nestle into” a new environment I would journal for a while, until I would become “one” with the space, ready for studying.
    I discovered drawing and art making by chance, through Brene Brown’s online courses. And I realize that art journaling and sketching adds an important dimension into the meditative practice of journaling and “nestling into” my life, my environment… Through practice of sketching, artjournaling, I have realized I validate my existence. As if there is a witness to my life. Even if the only witness of my life is myself. It is quite tough to describe it. As if my daily living has all of a sudden being noticed by someone. As if I had a chance to be truly present in my life, other than an actor that is trying to improve other peoples’ lives and normally doesnot see herself..

  • Barbara says:

    Reading all these beautiful comments brings a profound awareness of what it truly means to pause and sketch. Amen to all of the above. I didn’t even know these reasons resonnated with me until you expressed your thoughts. Thank you!

    • Caroline Greene says:

      Well put, Barbara, I agree wholeheartedly. I find if I don’t sketch for a few days I don’t feel quite ‘right’. Sketching reconnects me to my life and the world around me in a way that’s quite hard to put into words. I’m very grateful and appreciative of having sketching in my life.

  • Liz Miller says:

    Setting aside time, usually with a sketching group, chosing a good aspect, ideally a comfortable seat, experimenting with techniques and materials, learning from others and sharing. Being in the mindful moment and responding to the sense of place, losing myself in the process, garnering memories. Celebrating the place where I live and finally, enjoying a cup of coffee and chat when the task is done!

  • Kate Powell says:

    I missed painting but could not have my studio of larger canvases. I switched to watercolors because they could be done in a small space. I have sketched without watercolors in journals as an architect and then later as a way to record, understand, connect. Now I do this with watercolors involved, and it is meditation, exploration, and the only unfortunately thing is that the most I’ve gotten over my first learning curves on watercolors I tend to have very personal pages that I can’t share as easily. It has been fun to share and see others — something we didn’t have in my 20’s-30’s unless I happened to be sitting next to someone! Sometimes it is a kind of walking meditation though it would not take the place of my morning meditation… unless traveling.

  • Corinne McNamara says:

    I’ve sketched since I was a child. It’s been sporadic for decades until I found Judy Martin’s “Sketching School” and discovered that sketching was more than just prep for “real” art. I’m a bit obsessive about learning, and, since the 1990s, my stash of books on drawing and painting basic grew as I tried methods and media. I keep going back to sketching – the rules are looser, the materials can be anything I want, and it gives me a record of places and times. Since finding online instructions and classes, I’ve done a lot more practicing. I expected to be retired by now (I’m in my 70s!) with time to devote just to art, but that hasn’t happened. In the meantime, I’ll keep sketching.

  • deb mostert says:

    d. all of the above

    my sketchbook is my playground, sometimes a private space but it’s good to share. Love seeing what others do and how they see the world. Thanks Liz!

  • Beth Pickett says:

    I’m slow posting here, but I’ve loved reading everyone’s comments. I wanted to take some time to think on this, because I didn’t have an immediate answer. My automatic response would be that I came to (urban) sketching seeking an expressive, loose way to draw and use watercolor, which is true. I’m very drawn to styles like yours, Liz, and Marc Holmes and others. I was also drawn to the small, portable, and less intimidating format of sketchbooks. If I’m being honest, the subject matter, urban scenes or otherwise, is secondary to developing my skills to the level I want. As I think back, I’ve sketched and painted throughout my life, but mostly only as an aside to the many other creative things I do. I’ve never specifically brought it into focus as I’m trying to now. I hope it can become a reliable way to chronicle life and travels for me, and I hope the skills I learn with sketchbooks translate easily into larger formats, but I’m not consistently where I want to be with it yet. So I sketch and sketch more, because I know that’s the only way to get there!

  • Evie says:

    Just about all of the reasons listed above….peace, letting go, accepting mistakes & wonkiness, observing the world a little bit at a time.

  • Rodrigo A. Pantoja says:

    I sketch because I love architecture. When I finished high school my career alternatives where architect, chef or engineer. I went for engineering but architecture has always interested me and in my travels I kept finding that what I remembered more intensely and dearly where places like the Hagia Sophia, the Pantheon or La Sagrada Familia more than anything else. One day a couple of years ago I received a WhatsApp message from a friend who was visiting Venezia and the picture he sent had a wonderful palace behind him and his wife. I decided to sketch it and found that I really enjoyed the process and the result. So I’ve kept at it trying to get better every day.

  • Jeanette Gillings says:

    I Sketch because I enjoy the process; I find it “forgiving” – it doesn’t have to be perfect (well, to me anyway); it relaxes me and I’m sure it has reduced my stress levels…. I Sketch for myself…. some I’m happy with; some not but I continue to sketch and (hopefullly ????) improve.

  • Jeanette Gillings says:

    I Sketch because I enjoy the process; I find it “forgiving” – it doesn’t have to be perfect (well, to me anyway); it relaxes me and I’m sure it has reduced my stress levels…. I Sketch for myself…. some I’m happy with; some not but I continue to sketch and (hopefullly ????) improve.

  • Barbara Stumpf says:

    I sketch to unwind at the end of they day and to supplement my journal pages with images. I’m a beginner, so most of the time I copy pictures from magazines — wildlife mostly, and birds especially. Occasionally I also do interior vignettes, such as my piano studio (I’m a teachers) or various tableaux around the house. I find that the time I devote to sketching and water color — or water color pencils, which I like a lot — gives me a sense of timelessness and peace, and helps move unconscious growth processes forward.

  • Paul says:

    I sketch to be present in the moment, to celebrate the commonplace and unusual objects/events of life, to improve my powers of observation, as an active form of meditation, to show gratitude for the “mundane”, as a technical challenge to advance my skills, to open other’s eyes to what they may have missed or taken for granted, to learn more about the natural and urban environment I live in, because there is something magical and mysterious about seeing your subject emerge from a blank piece of paper…and because it’s just plain FUN!!!

  • Deborah Talley says:

    Liz, I am new to your website AND new to watercolor and sketching. I have been following the development of your course to be offered early in 2018. Is this the course you would recommend for a newbie or one of the others. I would appreciate your counsel. Deborah

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