Following on from Lower Your Expectations When Sketching, here’s a list of things I typically do with a sketchbook (besides sketching in it).
1. Start a new sketchbook by writing my name, email and website on the inside of the front cover, in case I forget it somewhere, in the hope that whoever finds it would return it. I haven’t yet lost one, and hope I never do, but be prepared and all that.
2. Never start on the first page. Nor the second. Nor the third. There’s too much pressure for the early pages of a new sketchbook to have “good sketches” so I start randomly towards the middle or back.
3. Regularly work from back to front, rather than front to back. After all, there’s no rule that pages must be done sequentially like a book, and it supplements #2.
4. Add the date and location to pages, a small note in the corner. It helps put me back into that time/place, and helps me keep track of where/when given I don’t work sequentially in a sketchbook.
5. Use words. Writing descriptions of what I’m seeing or feeling, something I want to remember I’d noticed. Sometimes it’s because it’s faster or easier than sketching, sometimes because I’m out of time, sometimes because the words come more readily to me.
6. Use large clips, top and bottom, to separate wet pages. That way I can continue working without waiting for paint to dry, or worrying about pages sticking together.
7. Never tear out a ruined page, but keep it as a reminder there’s a balance between not giving up in defeat too early and being ready to start anew before I get too irritated with myself, to risk overworking some sketches if they’re not working, to push them further and see if I can rescue what’s already a dud, even if it ends up a total mess.
8. Tear out and mount sketches I think work well and may sell (as ‘originals on paper’). Not every pleasing sketch; many I will always keep for myself and some I keep until after I’ve used it to paint a studio version. I do also take a photograph so I’ve always got a reminder of it.
9. Don’t worry about wasting pages by not working on both sides of each sheet if I am pleased with one overleaf. Sketchbooks aren’t really that expensive if you calculate it in terms of cups of coffee and slices of cake.
10. Don’t consider about how it might appear to others. I’m happy to let others look at my sketchbooks (these days; I wasn’t always), but my sketchbook is first and foremost for me. If it seems chaotic in places, well so is my brain at times.
Update 7 December 2019: The one thing that’s changed in the years since I wrote this list is #8, as I paint a lot more on location on loose sheets of watercolour paper than in a sketchbook. It enables me to work on 350gsm paper, and in turns eliminates the need for #6.
Update 3 April 20201: Instead of using one sketchbook for everything, I’ve started using one for general studio thoughts and experiments, and others for specific locations that I visit repeatedly. I’ve also been enjoying the format of concertina sketchbooks (see Long & Short, and Concertina Daisies).