The Importance of Keeping a Sketchbook Part One

Let’s talk about personal sketchbooks. Most artists and designers have one. Some are prolific sketchers and some let their sketchbooks sit and gather dust. I was part of the second camp until recently.

Personal Sketchbook on The Conquering Zero

I have always kept a sketchbook. As a kid I would draw for hours. But as I got older, perfectionism started to make art a painful instead of an enjoyable process. I saw the art that others made and set impossibly high standards for myself, and it made me miserable because I was never happy with the finished product. So about two years ago, instead of continuing to practice, I stopped drawing. In fact, I stopped creating art of any kind unless it was for school. I would look at the talented illustrators in my class and think, “I can’t do that. I’m an imposter. I don’t have that kind of talent and taste.”


But a little while ago as I was at my parents’ house going through a box of my stuff, I found my old sketchbook. It was exactly as I had left it two years ago–half empty, with a neat ribbon bookmark making me open it to the next empty page. Underneath the book was a package of Staedtler pigment liners that I forgot I owned. Digging even deeper, I found tube watercolours.


I had to stop and think about this. At the time, the drawings I made in the first half of that sketchbook seemed mundane–worthless, even. But looking at them now brought me back to that first semester of post-secondary two years ago, when I would draw the hairstyles of the girls sitting in front of me in my lectures for the sheer enjoyment of putting pencil to paper. As I was leafing through, a loose page fell out. It was a portrait I had drawn of my now-boyfriend, just after we had started dating.


Then I reflected on all of the art supplies I had purchased over the years. I sometimes joke that I “hoard” art supplies, as do most artists. But I hadn’t used most of them more than once–just kept them in a box like an artifact in a museum.

What would inspire me to collect art supplies but not to use them? What would cause anyone to invest in a beautiful sketchbook and then leave half of it blank?


After finishing work on my projects one day, I sat down with my sketchbook and started to doodle geometric teardrops to relax. I noticed that my jaw was clenched. I realized that somewhere in my teen years, my sheer joy in making art was replaced with fear of failure and a chronic disappointment in my work caused by comparing myself to others. I was no longer making art for art’s sake, but trying to achieve an impossibly high standard that I had set for myself. I want this to change.


Next week I’ll speak more about why it’s beneficial for your sanity and your success as a designer to keep a sketchbook.

In the mean time, reflect on my experience and ask yourself, does this sound like you? Do you wish things were different?

Till next time,


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