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Using a Sketchbook Helps Artists Explore Ideas Freely and Practice Skills Minus the Pressure

A glimpse into retired art professor, Joan Bredendick's sketchbook, shows how her pencil study for cats helped her develop the finished piece seen below... Scroll down...

Lots of ideas floating around in your head, but they’re all a bit sketchy? Maybe now’s the time to break out a sketchbook! Jot them down before they evaporate into thin air. Once recorded, you can go back and tweak, abandon or expand, and then watch them bloom into reality.

“There are so many reasons to keep a sketchbook,” advises retired art professor, Joan Bredendick who learned to keep one while earning her MFA in painting at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL.

“Historically, the tradition and value of keeping notebooks, sketchbooks, and journals can be seen in many significant artists from Leonardo to Jane Austen. Leonardo’s exploration of human anatomy, designs for inventions, and Austen’s story ideas including pencil sketches and watercolors, leave behind rich documentation for later generations.”

For artists, in general, a sketchbook records their artistic journey. What’s more, sketchbooks offer a chance to be creatively free without pressure.

“Some of an individual’s best work is often found in their sketchbook,” Joan says. “There’s no stage fright, their work is less tight and freer in approach. The sketchbook can also provide a road map for starting the next project through working out the composition, writing down the colors, working on darks and lights. It is a way to avoid that dreaded White Paper Syndrome.”

By including magazine photos or other interesting items, a sketchbook can also morph into a useful scrapbook, rich in many forms of ideas. Ideally, artists will fill many sketchbooks over time. They can be as simple as a spiralbound notebook from a dollar store to a fancy leather-bound journal.

Joan suggests the following uses for sketchbooks:

  • Dreams, ideas, themes, feelings, reflections, sayings, and intentions

  • Thumbnail sketches to explore composition, value and color studies, drawing practice (copy master works of art to explore just how they created a work you admire.)

  • Record dates for art show entries, contact information, research, photos for visual reference

  • Spontaneous ideas

“Keeping a sketchbook takes discipline,” Joan advises. “Allow time to draw in it every day like a meditation – drawing from scratch or copying from an artbook. It’s all about learning, developing technique, and generating ideas that you can revisit for future use. Overall, it’s a beneficial way to record, explore, and preserve your own artistic process.”

THE CAT IS THE HAT; watercolor

Another page from Joan's sketchbook exploring Picasso

Joan's sketchbook pages capturing the likeness of sheep.

A look at Pontormo's STUDY OF A YOUNG GIRL circa 1526 -- from Joan's sketchbook.


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