How to keep a Sketchbook

How to Keep a Sketchbook

How To Keep a Sketchbook by Chad Townsend


About sketchbooks:

I’ve noticed that a lot of guys don’t sketch in them. They will buy a really nice new book and tell themselves: “I’m only going to put my best sketches in it.”   In doing so, they psyche themselves out and only do a couple drawings and then forget about the book altogether. In reality, the point of a sketchbook is to make ugly drawings – pieces and parts of things that aren’t finished and/or really fit together. It’s not meant to be pretty, but then again, sometimes it is. Those gems can be used as ideas for later projects. It becomes a place to practice or get your idea down – a place to wander and think.

It is very important to get in the habit of carrying a sketchbook with you. Athletes spend part of every day practicing and training for their sport. If you want to draw and paint for a living you have to train as well. This article will hopefully give you a boost and give you some ideas and challenges for your sketchbooks.

What to carry:

Nothing fancy! To get started, It doesn’t have to be a high dollar sketchbook. Remember, you’re going to wreck it anyway. What you DO need is something small and portable – you are going to carry it everywhere you go and it will need to fit in a bag or be easy to grab and go.

You only need –

  • 1 pencil
  • 1 pen
  • 1 small pencil sharpener
  • 1 eraser (I prefer a kneaded eraser for many reasons. notably, so it can mold into my pencil box. Also I dislike eraser boogers. Messy).
  • Pencil Box:  I spent years hunting for the perfect pencil box that was metal and could easily slip into my front pocket (see photo).  I dislike carrying a lot of stuff, so this was perfect for me. All that fits in my pocket. (other than the book) Fortunately, I managed to get a few of these boxes as gifts from a company that no longer exists. Unfortunately, I have never seen any like them since. UPDATE: A kind reader sent me a message and managed to find these exact pencil boxes HERE
How to Keep a Sketchbook

How To Keep a Sketchbook by Chad Townsend


< About This Sketchbook:  In case you are wondering, this leather sketchbook cover is made by a company called Oberon.  It’s a cover for those cheap hardback sketchbooks you find at Hobby Lobby, Michaels or Barnes & Noble like these Hardbound Sketch Books. it’s sturdy and I can switch out sketchbooks when I’m finished with them. And they look cool on your bookshelf. (I date and number mine.) I bought this cover about 18 years ago and it has traveled with me everywhere. My wife refers to it as my security blanket! This option helps overcome the mental hang-ups brought on by the investment in the book itself.  If you are going to commit yourself to sketching, I highly recommend these Oberon guys – expensive but a good option. Note: I rub baseball glove oil on it to keep it in shape.



Sketch Wallet created by Ralph Thomas


< Sketch Wallet: Here’s something new and cool to check out! This portable sketchbook created by Artist Ralph Thomas is going a step further and making it much easier for you to carry a sketchbook in your Pocket. Now there is no excuse to not carry one.

What I like about it is It’s always with you. it holds 1 pencil, all of your cards, cash and I love the ability to replace the books when you’re finished with them. It looks and feels nice too. I’ve been carrying mine a while now. I promise I’ll write some thoughts about my experience with it. You can check out videos and pictures on this awesome addition to your toolbox here SKETCH WALLET.


What to draw:

Believe it or not, you are sitting somewhere with loads of things to draw smacking you in the face and you still feel like you have no ideas or nothing to draw. I do that too. you aren’t the only one. if you’re like me you might not find what’s around you as exciting subject matter, but let’s get real for a second. if you ever become a work for hire artist, there’s a good chance you might work on something that isn’t exciting at all and you will have to adapt. I draw lots of day to day items for the productions I am on. I have gotten to the point that I now really enjoy the challenge of drawing each prop in the most interesting way possible. especially if it is something I haven’t drawn before.

I recommend keeping and making a personal list of things to draw. maybe things that you haven’t tried drawing before, or if you’re like me and you work in Games, animation or comics, keep a list of characters to draw. but in case you don’t have a list I’m going to start you off with one.

  • Nature – Tree’s, Plants, Flowers, water, clouds, hills, mountains, Potted plants.
  • Animals – Dogs, cats, horses, birds and bugs. get animal and bug dictionaries and draw each animal in order.The Eyewitness Books in the Children section of your local Bookstore are pretty good visual aids. or just do an image search.
  • People – Portraits, Heads, Quick poses, Hands, Feet, Shoes, eyes, ears, noses, hair, clothe’s and costumes. My pal Will Terrel is probably one of the best guys I know at this. He likes to go over and sit in the Mc. D’s at the local Walter Marthas and draw. everyone that walks through there is a virtual library of interesting characters.
  • Household Items – TV’s, Couch, chairs, tables, shelves, fans, coffee maker, Pot’s and pan’s. Eating utensil’s. bottles, cups, office supplies. Lawn mowers, shovels etc. Ikea Catalogs are pretty good to hang on to.
  • Vehicles and Mechanical items – Cars, Trucks, Cranes, Dump trucks, garbage trucks, planes, helicopters, tanks, boat’s and ships. Robots, space ship’s, rockets.
  • Architecture – Streets, shops, houses, apartments, townhomes, greenhouses, tool shed’s, skyscrapers, monuments, Castles, Historical buildings.
  • Last but not least look at movies, comic books, cartoons, tv shows for characters to draw. Copy what you see or create your own version of what inspires you.

Places to Draw:

The Zoo, Parks, Museums, Monuments. Your local Coffee shop. Look and see if there’s a local sketch group in your town or city. if not, start your own through Facebook and meet at a location like a Coffee shop. they don’t seem to mind people hanging about and they usually have a lot of tables, wifi and oh yeah…. coffee.

Take photos:

Now with the age of smartphones, you have a great tool at your disposal for taking pictures for reference or objects that you think would be great for a project. It’s also a good way to practice laying out camera angles in your art. or snapping pictures of books and tools you’d like to get later on.

How to Keep a sketchbook:

Sketchbooks are not only places to draw but also a good place to write down ideas or tell a story. I know a guy that drew his entire comic in his sketchbook and just scanned in his panels. use it as a journal so you don’t forget that cool moment. Tape down that concert ticket on a page or that wine label of a brand you found you like. jot down notes, reminder’s and contacts if you need. keep lists in your sketchbook. Keep one just for to do lists. make this the main go to place for everything. If you are lost for something to do, I have found unfinished pieces of art in my books.

Personal Sketchbook Challenges:

  • Challenge #1 – Draw at least 30 minutes a day. squeeze in an hour if you can. do it while watching TV or something. remember this is your daily exercise. This is your artistic workout. take it with you.
  • Challenge #2 – See how fast you can fill up your sketchbooks. Start off with an easier expectation like say 6 months. then see if you can work your way to one sketchbook in 30 days. this is one of my goals.
  • Challenge #3 – Fill every square inch of a page if you can. drawing in a confined space and using different shapes can help challenge your creative thinking.
  • Challenge #4 – The EASY challenge. I added this for you guys that just feel too overwhelmed with stuff. So do this. Draw ONE doodle or sketch a day. for a month. that’s it.

How To Keep a Sketchbook by Chad Townsend


I highly recommend joining a social network like Deviant Art or Instagram for posting your art and sketches as a daily practice. It’s a great way to get feedback, Learn and belong to a community. It’s real easy to feel a bit lost and on your own. Sometimes just a “Good Job!” from someone is enough to push you forward. Instagram is by far my favorite social network for sharing my art with people. It receives my top recommendation.


Sketchbooks are for just that. Sketching. it’s not meant for perfect works of art, it’s supposed to be messy, ugly and fun. you have thousands of ugly drawings to make before you start making good ones. so get them out as fast as you can. I can’t remember where I heard it first but it takes a person 10,000 hours before they become an expert at something. so get going and make 10,000 bad drawings! if you need permission, then you have mine. go. NOW!

I hope this article helps inspire you to carry around a sketchbook and start wrecking it. Please comment. your thoughts are welcome!

Written by – Chad Townsend

Edited by – Madeline Townsend 🙂

#Howto # Keep #Sketchbook #art #illustration #animation #comics #cartoon #concept #design #pen #pencil #ink #tattoo #previsual #sketchwallet #sketch #wallet #journal

30 comments to “How to keep a Sketchbook”
30 comments to “How to keep a Sketchbook”
  1. Pingback: Top three – Week #28 | Invisible Paperclip

  2. Hey dude, I only came by to check out your store envy layout (you recommended it to me on Instagram). I really have to get back into the habit of carrying a sketchbook, thanks for the ideas.

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  4. Thank you for this…I’m one of those people that say “only my best” will go in my sketchbook. I’ve always known I was wrong in saying that, but I couldn’t break the habit. Lately, I’ve kept my sketchbook private, so I don’t feel the pressure of others. I will make my books my most precious children, never neglecting them, and drawing in them any time I can, but I will make them the most perfectly imperfect children possible, because that will be what makes them beautiful.

  5. Great post, Love it. I’m trying to fill a sketch book every month or two. Instagram has helped me to try harder and be consistent at sketching.

    • Glad I could help inspire you a bit. When I was dating my wife she felt that we had to reserve another seat at a table for my sketchbook 🙂 she’s since understood why I have it now. Just trash the things. Write your notes and ideas. Things that inspire you too. Make it the thing you go to first. Make it fun not perfect. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Love what you shared here, the idea of even ugly stuff going into a sketchbook. I always had the idea of somebody looking over my shoulder–if something wasn’t good, I’d be ashamed of it and want to rip it out. Well, you’ve encouraged me to drop that idea and just draw….make it fun, not perfect. Thank-you.

    BTW, enjoyed your comment about a place for your sketchbook at the table!

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  8. Great post. I love that you also pointed out the sketchbook as being a place where the messy ideas go. I wrote a post about that exact thing a while back here:

    Your idea of keeping a list of things to draw is something I might adopt. Especially a list of things I normally will shy away from drawing like cars and animals.

    Finishing a sketchbook in 6 months is a goal. I always go back and forth with super productive sketchbook times and not. Finishing one in less than a year was the latest benchmark for me. Sad. 6 months sounds like a doable challenge though.

    Here’s hoping…

    • Another thing I was going to say was that I am in 100% agreement with the reusable leather cover for your sketchbook. I started doing that a few years ago and have finally settled on a process.

      I’m not a fan of the hardcover sketchbooks, so I end up tearing the hardcover off and putting the paper block into my leather cover. When I’m done with the sketchbook I glue it back into the hardcover it came in and put it on the shelf. I took some photos of that here:

      Love seeing other peoples’ processes though. Thanks for the kick in the pants to get back to working on sketching.

      • Thank You Aaron I appreciate the compliments. I’m just trying to help people look at sketchbooks differently and as something that anyone shouldn’t get hung up about and just have fun and use it to think and learn. It’s not perfection. You have some really exciting books there. I was thrilled when I saw them. Great sketches and doodles on your Tumblr too.

  9. I found pencil cases similar to yours in the picture on eBay last night. I have posted the link below, they will come from China. I bought myself some.
    I was one of those who kept their sketchbooks for good stuff but lately I have been moving to your method and am enjoying the creative mind dump so much more.
    I love your work, the style is so cool, I use Photoshop quite a bit for drawing and painting in (still learning though), do you use any custom brushes? your line work is so smooth.

    • Wow! thanks for the find Duncan! Those are my favorite pencil boxes. Glad you’re sketching more too.

      As far as brushes go I do create my own brushes. but the cleanliness probably comes from my youth. My father was an engineer and gave me all of his drafting tools when he switched to computers when I was a kid and showed me how to use the pens and templates. also I apprenticed with several comic book inker’s when I got out of High School. I had to be clean with my work back then. I still do now when I design props for the animators. anyway, my sketches for everything are very very rough. I think all of my time sketching and being messy in sketchbooks has helped. I just go straight to the clean line art after that stage. I find that trying to do a really tight pencil drawing even on paper is a waste of time, Mainly because drawing with ink you get the spontaneity of the line and the drawing has more character than if I try to trace tight lines already drawn. it looks stiff. but that’s for someone who’s been at it a long time. If you’re just going to draw really tight pencil lines you might as well just scan and color your art at that point and skip inking. Inking was done because technology was not good enough reproduce a tight pencil line on news print a long time go.

      • Thanks Chad, that’s a cool insight into your development. This question might be a hard one for you to answer but How did you work out your own style? Was it a gradual thing of looking at other artists work and experimentation before something clicked? I used to draw heaps as a kid (read comics any chance I could) but somewhere I turned into an adult. Over the last couple of years I have really started getting back into drawing and am finding it a bit addictive this time. I am a High School IT teacher in Australia, teaching Multimedia and game development, so it has been fun to take some of my sketches into the classroom and encourage kids to develop their own. I’ve picked up some valuable skills from your videos and site. Cheers

    • Thank you, Lauren! I hope it helps. I’ll be modifying this article with some new stuff soon. I need to add some cheap sketchbooks worth looking at. Also do my review of the Sketch Wallet.

  10. I’m wanting to start keeping one,just getting back into my drawing after a hiatus and I enjoyed your article,it encourages me to start wrecking sketchbooks,so thank you.

    • Yes! Photocopy paper is actually some of the best paper to draw on. It’s great for using copic and prismacolor markers on as well. I’ve made sketchbooks out of this stuff just by folding and stapling sheets together.

  11. Hello, Mister Chad. I just re-sparked my passion for sketching… I’ve also have never been able to keep up with my sketching with school and writing projects, what would be the best way to help me with that? (I’m asking you because I’ve asked three other people and they all said ‘I don’t know’, so I thought I’d get another opinion.) Other than that, this article helped a lot. Thank you <3

    • Hey Paris! The best advice I have is to keep a sketchbook with you. Not something huge and clunky. It is difficult to answer because I don’t know your schedule and habits. however. I suggest… any downtime you have, like sitting on the couch or in bed watching a movie. take that time to draw. use the inspiration of that film (not necessarily drawing the subject matter). Draw when you go out to lunch or dinner with friends. find a weekly sketch group for inspiration and motivation and friendship with like minded people. (You become a reflection of the company you keep) make it fun. and doodle. dont make it a job. find times like these to sit and doodle. I’m pretty sure you have 15-30 minutes in your day to doodle, somewhere. don’t treat it as work but as play. It goes against me saying to take it serious like an athlete but then maybe you need to go the opposite route and make it play. the point is to get that muscle and brain memory and gaining an eye for appealing shapes. I firmly believe anything you do with repetition you get better at it. the more motivation and drive you have the faster the results. I know guys that have masters degrees from art school and are terrible artists. But I think that is because they expected by just going to school and getting the diploma that was gonna buy them the ability and approval of thier peers. had they just applied themselves even a little a day theyd be much better. first and formost do it for yourself. no one else. because you love it. because honestly you and I will never be as good as the artists we love. because we arent those guys. dont compare yourself. you be the best you. and if someone likes what you create then thats a bonus. with effort and failure and effort…. I promise…. The distance between you and the best of the best is so short. how fast do you want to get there? I wish you the best. I believe you can do it – Chad T.

      • Wow, thanks for believing in me Mister Chad. I’ve taken your advice and have been sketching in my down time and have been sketching while writing (with a pen and paper) too. I’ve gotten a lot done. Thank you soo much Mister Chad <3

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