Why do I sketch?

I’ve been thinking lately about the practice of sketching for artists and how you explain that to those who don’t keep a sketchbook as well as non-artists. I am working through the idea of being a sort of art mentor one-on-one with people as well as possibly sketchbook classes or workshops. I am not so much interested in the mechanics of basic drawing and painting as I am the creative and therapeutic benefits of keeping a sketchbook and journaling and guiding people along their own process of finding their artistic voice.


Why do I sketch?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of the word sketch is a rough or unfinished drawing or painting, often made to assist in making a more finished picture, as well as, to give a brief account or general outline of something.

In art school, a sketchbook was a prescribed tool by our instructors. We were told to carry it with us everywhere. We also were taught the task of the thumbnail sketch (pages of them) to plan out our finished pieces and we were often graded on those sketches.

It wasn’t until many years later that I actually started to look at my sketchbook in a different light. I have always been somewhat of a journaler and found that valuable to not only document my life but give me insight as I did a brain dump onto those pages. As I started picking up my sketchbook again and use it to document everyday ordinary things I found the benefits in that as well and realized the two weren’t all that different.

Now I carry around a sketchbook with me almost always. I like a size that is small enough to fit in my purse or bag and with it I carry a variety of pens and pencils. I have come to love it and to look for every opportunity I can to sketch. For me, sketching is play and there are no rules. I have learned to turn off my inner critic that tells me not to mess up the page because it is bound into a book.

Sketching is a pure immediate visual response to my observed surroundings. Whether it’s a memory I am trying to capture or a detail I find beautiful, sketching forces me to slow down and truly pay attention. The ordinary becomes extraordinary and the details of life that can easily be overlooked take on new meaning in its special notice. Sketching makes me want to sit and take notice of everything. It develops in me a gratitude of sorts as I learn not to take the little stuff in life for granted.

I have even found that sketching has helped me in dealing with chronic pain. When I can focus on something other than how I feel, the pain doesn’t have the opportunity to be forefront in my mind. They say that whatever you give your attention to grows…I would rather have that be my creativity and the world around me waiting to be explored.

I would love to hear from those of you who keep a sketchbook why you sketch.

27 thoughts on “Why do I sketch?

  1. Rebecca, thank you thank you for understanding the meaning of the word sketch! I have been corrected by people here and there when I refer to my drawings as sketches! you’re right, a sketch is a rapid work, roughly done, in preparation for some other artwork. And a sketchbook by defnition is meant to be a rapid record of what you need to express. Some “sketches” may turn out to be drawings, too, though!

    I’m a serial sketcher. Go long period in other artforms and don’t draw or sketch much at all. Then I get into a jag where I do it daily! one side effect is the improvement in seeing and recording that comes with doing it more often. And you never forget anything you’ve drawn, even long after the fact.


    • Thanks for your input Liz! I also find that people tend to mix up the words drawings and sketches as well. For me, I like to say that my sketches take 15 minutes and my drawings can take upwards of 15 hours. I also agree with you on the fact that some sketches do end up turning into drawings. I have seen some gorgeous sketchbooks with very well thought out drawings in them.


  2. Wonderful post Rebecca. I agree with everything you state about the benefits of sketching and with your permission I would like to add a few of my own. As you say “sketching is like play,” and I have often used sketching to create the imagined or fantasy. In other words, I use much of my observed visual stimulus to help shape futuristic objects, situations and behaviors. I also like to capture funny thoughts that may only be the germ of a future sketch idea or an alliteration of words (as in a catchy headline or product name idea). And I agree with you that my sketchbook is often my best friend when I find myself stuck in the kind of situation that normally causes unrest for most others: train stations, airports, or anytime I am stuck waiting for someone else to show up at any moment. Great start to a strong theme.


    • Wes, thanks for adding your perspective to the list. I have always admired artists who can conjure up an amazing fantasy drawing out of there head on paper with such skill. I also like to write down my thoughts and words or phrases that catch my attention. It is a great place to let ideas germinate. Thanks for taking the time to share.


  3. A very valid question. I suspect the answer is different for each person. For me it is a visual conversation with myself in an attempt to understand my world, both people and things. Sketching causes me to really look, try to capture the essence and reduce the clutter around my subject. It is deeply personal. I am always afraid as I get to the end of a sketchbook I will lose all that work. I do not frame, do no finished art or ever want to exhibit or sell. My sketchbook is my art.


    • Rich, thanks so much for responding. I know what you mean about fear of losing work. I guard my sketchbooks very closely. I think I am more attached to those than the finished pieces I so because as you stated it is deeply personal.


  4. For me it is an enjoyable form of escape. I am prone to bouts of anxiety and depression. When I am sketching my mind is empty of any negative thoughts. I often will sketch something related to a mood or thought that is lingering.
    As I sketch and my mind is relaxed – it is like writing perfectly into my diary those thousand words which I can’t express so easily in words (as the saying goes). Like my illness, the joy to be found in sketching is hard to explain to anyone who has not experienced it.

    Great Post!


    • Lunch Sketch, Thanks for sharing your personal path with your sketchbook. I whole heartily agree that sketching is deeply therapeutic. Have you seen the book by Eric Maisel called The Van Gogh Blues? I haven’t read it but I admire the author and have read a lot of his stuff.


  5. I have to have my sketchbook and pen with me. I find it exciting. I am never, ever bored, no matter where I end up. I am endlessly fascinated with the people around me and love to capture them in a sketchbook. Although I paint buildings, I rarely sketch them Sometimes I will sketch plants or statues, or the like, but it is the people I love to sketch. But I rarely use my sketches for my larger pieces. I don’t journal, but my sketches often trigger a memory of place and time. So..why do I sketch?! No idea! πŸ™‚


  6. I have always had a sketch book with me no matter where I have been or going, just cant leave the house without it. Like some days it gives me peace if Im stressed (like when my daughter was sleeping in ER while we waited for the Dr to arrive, lots of great tools to sketch… sure took my mind of things), but it means a lot to me, and it goes everywhere I go : ) But I too just see so much, I just have to capture it as much as I can (including ideas in my head). And I sketch for tousand different reasons, love it!!

    Great detail sketching of the stools!!!


  7. Wonderful post! I mostly love to sketch as a way of reconnecting to the world around me; I’m usually drawn to capturing places. The funny thing is, though I love on-location sketching and find it very therapeutic, I don’t do it very often..l think the paradox is that although I love getting out into the world and sketching it, I tend to get stupidly self conscious about it and put my pen down/cover my sketchbook the minute someone takes a seat at the table next to me… Even though I know nobody’s even looking… Lol. I wish I could (and hope to) make it more a daily way of life like most of you here!


    • Mouse, I too get very self conscious about my sketchbook. I like to hide off to the side etc. so no one even knows what I am up to. I am known for strategically placing my drawing hand over my sketch as I draw when people pass by. They probably don’t even know what I am doing.


  8. Sometimes you just have to sketch…or die!! It comes bubbling out of your fingertips and onto the paper…not sure one can stop it, lol! No explanation…it just IS….


  9. Great post, I think you could do some great sketchbook workshops.
    I sketch something everyday, even if it’s only a scribble and I’m never bored…I’d recommend it to anyone who needs to slow down and just observe the world.


  10. Hi I’ve come here via Cathy Holtom’s blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I also am a sketcher. I abandoned thumbnail plans years ago and I don’t journal, but I use it to fill time, to socialise, to record what I see… I do struggle with your thought “For me, sketching is play and there are no rules.” I’m too self critical and dislike it when sketches don’t work out – hopefully Urban Sketchers symposium in July will help with that, and I’ll try to keep your thought in mind too..


    • Sue,
      Thanks for taking the time to stop by and share your thoughts. It is always interesting to hear the diverse reasons we artists pick up our sketchbooks. That is one of the many reasons I feel there are no rules to it. It is so different for everyone. I hear you about the self-critical aspect. I think we all have to give ourselves permission to learn in our sketchbooks and for me that helps quiet that little nasty voice in my head. I forgot who said it but I heard the quote that went something like… If we all painted the same why bother. The Urban Sketchers symposium will be great for you (I wish I could go). I think being around (connecting with) other supportive artists is so important. Enjoy!


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