How to Use a Sketchbook to Promote Creativity

Some useful advice for visual artists on keeping a daily sketchbook

Adam Westbrook
The Startup
Published in
6 min readMar 11, 2021

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Photo by DHANYA A V on Unsplash

It took me a long time to understand this, but the day-to-day job of the artist is not ‘making art’, it is filling sketchbooks.

As Austin Kleon says, “filling my sketchbook” is a perfectly legitimate answer to the question “what are you working on right now?”

The sketchbook is a sort of creative engine: with every page, I fill the pistons make another revolution; like any engine, it works best when used often; it is hungry for fuel, meaning I have to be better at seeing and recording the world around me; the art, whatever that is, will be the by-product, the exhaust fumes of this creative combustion.

After 15 months of solid daily sketchbook-filling, here are some things I have learned.

Do not draw anything without warming-up first!

Like a pianist or an athlete, an artist’s muscles and joints need stretching — especially if you draw first thing in the morning.

As I open my sketchbook in the morning, I always fill the first page up with something to warm-up my hands.

Spirals and volumetric shapes are great exercises. They require almost zero brainpower (ideal if you are still waiting for the caffeine to soak in). The only decision required is where to start a spiral, but then the rules are set: keep going until you hit something, then start again.

Additionally, they are a good way of practicing your precision and spatial awareness.

Volumetric shapes are great to practice eyeballing perspective as well as understanding 3D shapes from different angles. Being able to draw the “primaries” — cubes, spheres, and cylinders — in three dimensions unlocks a superpower of being able to draw anything.

Your sketchbook will open…

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Adam Westbrook
The Startup

Video artist working at The New York Times. I write a weekly newsletter about visual storytelling and creativity. https://adamwestbrook.substack.com/