Sketchbook practice

Draw, draw, draw 

Draw or paint anything you see: trees, flowers, a bicycle, a sheep, a dustbin, a cup and saucer, the texture of old stonework, a group of figures at a bus stop, waves breaking on a beach, shadow patterns in a sun-lit room. 

  • Draw something for a second or third time, perhaps in a different medium. 
  • Draw the same objects or figure from a different viewpoint. Draw unusual views. 
  • Draw the mundane: your favourite drink, your bed, your toothbrush. 
  • Draw people. Anyone is fair game. Draw your friends, your family, your pets. Don’t worry if they move, you’ll get better at drawing them the more you practice. 
  • Vary the size of your sketchbook work, do magnified views of things. 
  • Sketch details that catch your eye. 
  • Draw other people’s work. Go to an art gallery and sketch a picture you find interesting. Note the colours, the composition, the style and the techniques. 
  • Draw a day in your life, turn it into a cartoon in windows. 
  • Planning the design and composition for a project in your sketchbook. 
  • Draw your sense of excitement, your sad feelings. 
  • Draw your dreams, your nightmares. 
  • Capture a thought or an image from your memory before it is lost. 
  • Make a doodle of a flower, a heart, or a squiggle. 
  • Use watercolours to add some colour to the stark white pages for variety. Add colour to some drawings later on. 
  • Drag a light layer of acrylic paint across the page before or after drawing on it. 
  • Glue a background of sheet music, wrapping paper, tissue paper, sweet wrapper or text to the page. 
  • Look up, look round, stay where you are, just draw! 

Draw anything and everything. The more you draw the better you will be. 

Make thumbnail sketches 

Thumbnail sketches are quick, abbreviated drawings in any medium. It’s helpful to draw up some boxes in your sketchbook to prepare for thumbnail work, just a few centimetres square. Thumbnails are good memory aids and planning tools too, excellent for gallery visits to remember key aspects of an artwork. You can also plan compositions by trying out different versions in quick thumbnails. Use thumbnails to plan colour schemes, just mark different combinations in each box. Don’t forget that it is often useful to make notes alongside thumbnail sketches to help illuminate them, especially when you look back at the work a few months later. 


Use your sketchbook to try out different drawing techniques. Do negative space exercises in your sketchbook, do a ‘blind’ contour drawing (drawing your hand (for example) from memory without lifting your pencil from the paper). Do some 30second rapid sketches. 

Collect and glue 

Collect pictures and drawings from magazines and marketing materials that inspire you. Photocopy photographs and drawings in library books or periodicals. Paste these into your sketchbook. Keep things that remind you of places, people, atmospheres and feelings: a piece of fabric, a leaf, a bus ticket, a bill. Secure them in your sketchbook along with small sketches and notes. 


You should carry your sketchbook around with you all the time, it is your home for personal musings. It is a refuge to draw meditatively with or without particular purpose. It is a place for spontaneity as well as for thoughts and work that take some considerable time. 

Exercise: Pick some reference material to draw from, perhaps a single photograph with a figure and

some other details. It could be a photograph you’ve taken or one you’ve found.

Draw what’s in the photograph – the figure, their expression, their clothes, the setting. Try and record all the information from the photograph in your drawing.

Now, draw it a second time but do it quicker. Pick out the important elements in the image and focus your drawing on these. Leave out the information that is less important.

Put the original photograph away and draw it again, this time from memory and with reference to your other drawings.

Finally, draw it again, this time with no reference material at all.