How I filled 100 sketchbooks


This may surprise you but I only started to draw when I was in my late 30s. Until then I basically hadn’t done a drawing since I was a kid. 

But in the last 20 years or so, I’ve filled over a hundred sketchbooks.  I don’t know the exact number, but there’s been a lot of them. 

Let me tell you how I went from zero to 100 with a few ideas you can absolutely use yourself to draw more and better.

Filling a hundred sketchbooks wasn’t my goal when I started out. I just wanted to get back to drawing and I wanted to find a  way to fit it into my life.

No time.

My life  was busy — I bet yours is too.  I had a small kid, a wife, a very demanding job, and so I had to fit drawing  into whatever little gaps of time I had. It was like finding a few minutes here and there to check social media

No ideas.

My other problem was I had no idea what to draw,  I knew I wasn’t setting out to be a professional artist with gallery shows and that sort of thing.  I just wanted to have fun drawing and not spend a lot of time worrying about whether I was drawing the right stuff. Or what that even was.

I decided that I would just draw the things I saw around me every day. Ordinary things like what I ate for lunch. My dogs. My kid’s toys. Garbage cans. Parked cars. Stuff I passed on the way to work. It didn’t have to be anything amazing or impressive. It would just be a page in my sketchbook. Or part of a page.  

No ability.

When I first started to draw, I wasn’t very good, But I didn’t let that bother me and I’ll tell you why. 

One, I knew I had just started. I was just  a few months old in drawing years. Or maybe I was just picking up where I’d left off when I was a  little kid. So I gave myself a break. I didn’t worry about whether I had talent or not — cause really who cares? I just kept plodding along page by page.

The second thing was I really felt good when I drew. I felt relaxed, calm, in the zone,  Time flew by. I felt energized and relaxed at the same time, like a good workout session.Maybe you;ve had that feeling doing something you love, even if you weren’t super great at it. It didn’t really matter whether what was on the page was “great art”, no more than it mattered if I was ready for the Olympics each time I went to the gym. 

The voice in my head.

I had this annoying  voice in my head, you probably have it too, that kept trying to interfere with my progress by doubting me or asking me why I was wasting time doing this thing I sucked at.  I would say to the voice, just let me finish this one page in the sketchbook and then we can talk about it. And if the voice said the page sucked, I’d say, I know but I promise I’ll turn the page and make a better drawing on the next one if you’ll let me just finish.

Keeping it easy.

I kept things simple at first. A basic black rollerball pen I took from the supply closet at work. A simple sketchbook that could take abuse.

And it did get abused. I carried my sketchbook with me wherever I went.  It was in my bag, it was on my lap on the subway, it was on the table when I had lunch, I even brought it to meetings. I kept it by my side when I watched TV and I even did a drawing last thing before I turned the lights out.

I was recording everything I did in pictures but also in little notes and captions. My sketchbook was becoming a journal, a record of my life.  Again, it didn’t matter if the  drawings were great or not.  But they all had great meaning to me, I had fun making them,  and they inspired me to keep going,

Branching out.

After a month or so I’d filled one sketchbook and I started on the next. Soon I had a small shelf of sketchbooks.  I started adding some other pens.  A grey brush marker so I could study shading. Then a different grey.  Eventually I added one color, I think it was green. Then another. 

After a couple of years I started trying out watercolors and colored pencils too, I wasn’t great at any of these new media when I started but I’d learn stuff as I kept recording my life and it became another type of fun to have.  It didn’t matter if I was just coloring in like a little kid at first, and in time, I got more sophisticated.

But what mattered was enjoying the process, keeping the habit going, keeping art as a fun part of my life.

In time I got more and more confident in the lines I drew.  And I discovered that I could draw anything, People, animals, cars, fruit, buildings, planes, it was all the same process of looking carefully, drawing slowly until I understood what I was drawing.

Line by line, page by page. 

Eventually, I filled shelves and shelves with sketchbooks of all sizes. They are a great record of our years together. I can flip one open and be transported back to the time I drew them.

Good, bad — indifferent.

Some of my drawings are pretty good, some are kind of awkward, most are just fine,  Just like the days of my life. Some good, some bad, all worth doing.

Now I have all these sketchbooks which is cool. But what’s cooler is all I have learned and experienced over the years of making art, and the pleasure and lessons it has brought me.

Your turn.

Get any sketchbook, any pen, and draw whatever is in front of you right now.  Then, later today, turn the page and do it again. In time you’ll have filled 100 sketchbooks too. And found a great way to spend the rest of your time on earth.

Making art.

4 mins

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