Art: Koosje Koene

A question from a Sketchbook Skool student fired up a big discussion recently about two things that ultimately have no place in your sketchbook.

The question came from SBS community member Katherine, who asked the community in our private Facebook group (which you can join!) if they’d ever tried keeping a themed sketchbook dedicated to one subject. “I started a sketchbook dedicated to bird sketches,” she wrote. “The fantasy of what fun it would be, how great the finished sketchbook would be all vanished under a strange weight of musts and shoulds. Does this happen to anyone else?”

Judging from the response, yes! Many in the community had their own stories of having great ideas about themed sketchbooks—only to see mostly blank pages after the first few were filled.

Don’t get the wrong idea about themed sketchbooks; they’re an amazing feeling to complete a sketchbook dedicated to one subject. Many in the SBS community had great experiences with them, while others felt the same as Katherine did.

Whether you decide to try a themed sketchbook or not, there are two things that don’t belong: must and should. The feeling of being bound to something, rather than dedicated, wrings all the fun out of drawing. And isn’t that part of the reason we’re making art in the first place—because it’s a joy, a complete pleasure (even when things don’t turn out the way we want?).

Having banned musts and shoulds from your themed sketchbooks, here are some tips from the SBS community:

If you miss a day, or two, or a week, just pick it up again and try tomorrow.

Put this sketchbook aside until your enthusiasm for the subject returns.

Have more than one sketchbook at a time. Many Sketchbook Skool fakulty members and students keep multiple sketchbooks—some for themes, others for varying types of sketches, some for specific klasses. Sketchbook Skool co-founder Danny Gregory has a small sketchbook dedicated to drawing his morning cup of tea, but that’s one of many sketchbooks.

Are you abandoning the theme because you think your drawings of your subject aren’t good? All the more reason to keep going! Themed sketchbooks are a great way to see your progress, and the only way to get better at drawing is practice.

Don’t get too specific. You can expand on your theme to include surroundings, or different types of your subject. Too many rules leads to rebellion. Remember, you’re doing this for fun!

If you really don’t see yourself returning to your theme, just give yourself permission to move on. You may end up with a sketchbook full of wonderful series of things: some birds, some people, some boats, some cups of coffee…

Try different styles and different media. Breaking away from your usual style can refresh your inspiration, as can using tools you don’t normally use. The theme is still there, but the styles are different. Try drawing your theme in the style of great masters—a Klee, a Picasso…

Don’t think of it as a collection or a series. Just do one sketch at a time, one day at a time.

Forget rules. As Sketchbook Skool community member Cynthia says, “The only rule with sketchbooks is that there are no rules.”

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Art: Koosje Koene

Art: Danny Gregory

Art: Danny Gregory

Filed under categories: Community