Any self-respecting artist owns a sketchbook; some even use them occasionally. Not very many artists use one regularly for much beyond doing small sketches or value studies for larger studio paintings. I was in the same boat until I discovered how valuable a sketchbook could be.

I was taking a trip to Italy. I knew I wanted to do some small paintings while in a culture so rich with art—a trip of a lifetime! I had been doing plein air painting, but I knew I could not carry much while traveling abroad. So, I bought my first watercolor sketchbook and a pocket-size watercolor set. I was so enchanted with my little watercolor sketches and had such a rich experience creating them that I knew I had found a new expression for my creativity.  

That first little sketchbook sparked a curiosity and excitement to explore where a sketchbook could take me. Not wanting to wait until my next vacation, I bought another watercolor journal and began to use my sketchbook when I went out to do plein air painting. The smaller setup and format worked well, and instead of a bunch of small, loose sketches scattered about the studio, they were bound and easily accessible for reference.

As my love for the sketchbook experience grew, and since I knew I had not invented the wheel, I began looking for books on the subject. I was pleasantly surprised to find a wealth of information and materials for the "art" of keeping a sketchbook "journal." The more I used my journals in different ways, the more personal and important they became to me as an artist.

Over the next several months I'd like to share with you my journey and the different ways you can incorporate this experience into YOUR life. I call it an experience because the very act of using them is intentional. These journals are personal, they are motivational, and they are therapeutic. They are, in effect, anything you want them to be. They are an experience you can pull off the shelf and relive. They are an art form in themselves, and I think you will find that these small but powerful tools will affirm and strengthen your voice as an artist.

Have I piqued your interest?  Let's get you started! Your journals will grow with you, and in time you will find a brand or type of journal that works best for you, but for now, keep it simple and inexpensive.

1. Select your sketchbook

Go to your nearest art or craft supply store and find either a hardbound or spiral-bound Sketchbook. It will need to allow for some experimentation with water-based paints or ink, so it's best if the paper has some weight to it.

Lighter weight paper, usually 65# for drawing, will not give you the broadest use. Find a sketchbook with paper at least 90# in weight. Watercolor sketchbooks are even better at 140#. 

As for size, I like them to be small enough for my purse. An 8x10 can be opened and used as large as 16x20 on two pages. The selection is endless, so don't get carried away or spend a lot. This first sketchbook will be a learning tool. 

You will also need a pencil and eraser for your journaling.

2. Decide on a medium

If you already have a preferred medium, start there. Mine is watercolor.

For now, use what you have. I will discuss colored and watercolor pencils, ink, watercolor, water soluble pencils, and crayons in a later article. 

Pastel pencils and even oil pastels or oils paints can be used, but I don't use these because they take too long to dry and smudge when the book closes. 

3. Make it happen!

For the next few days, I'd like you to record simple things. Every few days, add a drawing (with or without color) done in less than 10 minutes. Just enjoy the process.

Next month, I will begin with the “hows and whys” of travel journaling. Since we are heading into the summer and many of you will be vacationing, let's get you journaling those travels right away! 

The following month we will explore the more frequent uses of a sketchbook, such as daily journals used to record whatever you fancy and to enrich your artistic voice in an everyday setting. 

We will also look at idea journals, where we’ll explore how far to take hobbies, projects, and ideas for larger finished works. 

The fourth article in our series will cover more personal journaling. In this article, I will share how and why you should record memories, personal milestones, and dreams.

As you can see, there are as many applications for the sketchbook journal as there are people who use them. I want to show you how versatile a sketchbook can be and inspire you to fill volumes of journals with your personal vision and voice. Let the journey begin!

Michelle is an artist/writer living and creating in Columbus Ohio. To see more of her work visit her blog, Living a Creative Life, or visit her website.

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