There’s no one way that a sketchbook should look. Inside or out. No limits, and no rules. This is the place- if nowhere else- that you can let go entirely and create without judgement.
It’s for you
Consider your sketchbook as something that’s for your eyes only. Your sketchbook is where you can be your most honest and raw and authentic self; without the influence of other people and what they might think. Eliminate the idea that it has to be pretty or refined or well-put-together and remember that you have control over what parts of it you share and the parts you keep private. The same way that when you’re drafting a piece of writing you don’t go straight in with well-formed sentences and carefully constructed paragraphs, but no-one has to see the notes and scribbles that went on behind the scenes. I find that when you approach your sketchbook as a finished piece or something to display, you’re inadvertently applying pressure which has an impact on how freely you express yourself.
Make a mess
So take some pressure off by messing about with things like blind contour drawings or timed challenges. Write notes and scribble and splash paint, rip and tear. The more you make a mess intentionally, the less the you’ll fear doing it accidentally. And once you’ve alleviated fear, you enter a whole new realm of creativity.
Make a masterpiece
Don’t hold back either. If you start something in your sketchbook and the mood is taking you to keep going and developing and keep adding to it, don’t stop. I never understand when people ask the point in putting time and effort into a detailed piece of art if it’s just gonna be in a book on a shelf with no-one looking at it. The point is that you still made a beautiful thing. You learned something and got in some valuable practice. You’ve taken at least a tiny step forward in the scale of confidence and ability. Remember that every piece of art you create is worth so much more than the visual outcome alone. It’s the journey, not the destination. And if you do want to display it there are always ways to do that.
Anything and everything
What I’m saying is that you can use your sketchbook for absolutely anything. If it’s where you feel comfortable recording your thoughts and feelings, recording memories, brainstorming, inventing characters, drawing from reference, studying… whatever. It’s YOUR sketchbook. Do what you want.
Now if the thought of ruining a sketchbook with too much confusion and variety is holding you back from using it as often as you’d like, it might help to have a few sketchbooks on the go at the same time. Maybe one purely for things you’re studying and learning, another for experimentation and jotting down ideas, and another where you push yourself to develop more cohesive pieces and spreads. This feels like a good time to just say that what you see on social media often isn’t the full story. You might see a sketchbook tour that’s page after page of amazing artwork, what you might not be seeing is the artists 3 other sketchbooks and assorted bits of scrap paper with experiments and doodles and mistakes.
Prep your pages
There’s nothing more daunting than blank pages in a brand new sketchbook. To kick start creativity, I’ll often decorate a few pages at random with washes of colour or things stuck in from magazines. Maybe some random shapes to revisit for a silhouette challenge. You’re creating art without a lot of effort and giving your pages colour and variety from the start.
Out of order
I very rarely use my sketchbook in page-after-page order. I flip it open at random and start there. Then theres no fear of messing up the flow or seeing the same disheartening pages that didn’t turn out how you wanted day after day.
Speaking of which, and this might be a divisive one. On the one hand I agree that covering up all your mistakes is gonna limit your progress, you need to look at and analyse the stuff you don’t like in order to be able to use that as a reference point for progress. But on the other hand…. there are sometimes those pages in your sketchbook that you just. cant. stand. To the point that you no longer use the book because that one particular page, just knowing it’s there repels you from even touching the sketchbook. What I’m saying is, in this case (and I give it time, I wouldn’t coverup up a bad page straight away) but I’d rather coverup a page if it’s gonna mean I can happily continue to use the sketchbook, rather than stubbornly leave it, knowing that the sight of it does nothing but knock my confidence and dampen my mood to create. Coverups can give you the chance to try again and they often inadvertently add their own element of interest to a page.
The thing to bear in mind is that your sketchbook is yours, its your place to feel as free as you can, play by your own rules, do what makes you comfortable. You don’t need to be hard on yourself, its your universe where you set the standard, no one else.