sketchbook ideas

40+ Sketchbook Ideas to Spark Your Creativity

Are you looking for sketchbook ideas to help jump start your creativity? Get inspired to draw and paint with these 40+ fun sketchbook ideas. Find tutorials for each idea so you can create the perfect sketchbook spread, whether you are a beginner or professional artist. 

From nature sketches to figure drawings, there is something for everyone in this list. Get started on your next masterpiece today!

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Sketchbook ideas for complete beginners

For complete beginners, a sketchbook is a place to doodle, improve and express yourself without the pressure of creating a polished looking painting or drawing.

If you don’t know how to get started with a sketchbook, try starting with some simple objects. Find some fruit, or a plant and try drawing what you see in front of you, focussing on the broad shapes and forms.

A good tip is to use some pages for free form expression, some pages for drawing exercises to help you improve and some pages to plan compositions and create studies for larger works you plan to complete.

Drawing sketchbook ideas

Pencil drawing is the easiest medium to get started with. All you need is a pencil, eraser, sharpener and a sketchbook and you’re ready to go!

There’s no end to the possibilities of sketchbook ideas when using pencil as a drawing medium. Here are just a few ideas to get you going:

Draw a portrait with charcoal

Portrait drawing goes hand in hand with charcoal. This is because it’s a blendable medium that can appear soft and subtle, or you can apply pressure to achieve dark shadow values. Charcoal can get quite dusty and potentially transfer onto other pages, so make sure to get some fixative to preserve your drawings. If you’re interested in improving your skills at charcoal drawing, check out our guide!

Draw a charcoal landscape

Drawing a charcoal landscape is a great sketchbook idea, whether you find your references on the field or from photos in the studio. This artist uses charcoal pencils and a tortillion to blend. The great thing about charcoal is the deep values that artists can achieve, without the pencil marks being distorted by a sheen, unlike graphite pencils.

Use brush charcoal

One way of creating incredibly smooth looking blends with charcoal is to get some charcoal powder and brush it on the paper. This technique is especially useful for portrait drawing. To emphasise the shadows, get a charcoal pencil and draw them in. For the lightest highlights, get a small eraser, like the Tombow Mono Zero or a kneadable gum eraser to reveal the brightest areas. 

Draw a tree

If you want to improve your landscape sketching skills, you could practice drawing individual elements like trees or plants individually first. In this video learn how to draw three different trees, including fir trees with graphite pencil.

Draw a rose

A beautiful and easy sketchbook idea, is to fill the page with a rose drawing. Roses are delicate and complex, but also have a lot of symmetry which makes them ideal for beginners. Follow this tutorial to create your own rose sketch.

Start by drawing a simple oval shape in the center of your page. Then draw the petals curling outwards, gradually getting bigger further away from the centre. Shade the inner corners of the petals, where petals above are blocking the light and casting a shadow to give the drawing depth and realism.

Draw a cityscape

Cityscapes are an incredibly fun sketchbook idea, however they are challenging. Use your perspective drawing skills to achieve the correct proportions in the buildings. Choose any city you like, whether that’s a street scene in New York, or your favourite building in London. To draw buildings, you may need some additional tools to help with geometry, like a ruler. 

In this tutorial Alphonso Dunn shows artists how to draw a panoramic city skyline, using ink pen and the hatching technique to create the impression of light and shade. Use an ink pen, like a pigment liner or a fountain pen to create the same effect.

Architectural sketchbook ideas

Teoh Yi Chie creates a wonderful sketch of the Basilica of Superga with a fountain pen and washes of watercolour. He shows artists how to observe the reference and accurately draw angles of the building, to achieve a realistic perspective.

Create a realistic sketchbook drawing with coloured pencils

Oil and wax pencils such as Polychromos and Prismacolors are excellent for creating detailed drawings. They are highly pigmented, layer wonderfully and artists can create clean colour mixes. This is why this particular drawing medium lends itself to realism. If you’re new to realistic drawing, start by drawing a relatively easy subject, such as a leaf. 

One of the most challenging sketchbook ideas is to create a realistic piece. Realistic drawings take time and work, but the results are worth it. If you want to create an ultra polished looking sketchbook that you will keep on a bookshelf for years to come, you can justify spending more time on each of the drawings. Of course, if you really like a drawing you make, you can always remove it from the sketchbook, or scan and print it out to hang on the wall.

Create a pineapple drawing

Create a drawing of a pineapple! Pineapples have an interesting form, with long leaves and small diamond shaped fruitlets, so they make excellent subjects for practising your drawing skills. For this sketchbook idea, I used a Strathmore Toned Tan book, which has a velvety smooth soft cover and thick pages. The toned paper provides a wonderful base to draw on, it speeds up the drawing process as the mid tone values are already established on the paper. I used a burnt umber Polychromos pencil for the shadows and a white Polychromos pencil for the highlights.

Sketching from photographs

This tutorial from Draw Awesome and Art Tutor aims to help artists simplify a reference by playing down the amount of detail. This is an approach that can save heaps of time whilst drawing. 

When it comes to sketching from photographs, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. The first is that you should always use a reference photograph that is high quality and has good lighting. This will help you avoid any frustration later on when trying to recreate the image.

Another important tip is to start with the big shapes and work your way down to the smaller details. This will help you create a more accurate sketch and avoid getting bogged down in the small stuff.

And finally, don’t be afraid to experiment! Try different mediums, paper types and techniques until you find something that you love.

Nature sketching

If you love hiking and being outdoors, why not keep a nature journal. Track the plants and animals you see year round, with quick sketches. This is a great way to feel in touch with your surroundings. You can label the flora and fauna you see too!

Create a wildlife drawing with coloured pencils

Because coloured pencils layer so beautifully, they are the perfect medium for creating wildlife drawings. Draw an photo of an animal you find online, draw your pet, a bird, or you could even take a trip to the zoo and draw an animal there. 

Drawing fur is tricky, so watch how Amie Howard Art layers red, orange and brown tones with short pencil marks to create the impression of squirrel fur. 

Fill your sketchbook with gouache paintings

Gouache is a wonderful medium for sketchbook work. It behaves in the same way as watercolour paint, but is is more pigmented and opaque. This means that you can layer paint a bit like acrylic, leaving some of the highlights until last. The benefit of using it for sketchbook work is that it is fast drying and easy to clean. Here are some fun sketchbook ideas to try with gouache paints:

Create a gouache mountain painting

I created this gouache landscape painting from a reference picture I had taken in New Zealand around Queenstown. The Strathmore Visual Journal made for a great cold pressed sketchbook, as the paper is thick and doesn’t buckle under washes. I also used the Introductory set of Winsor & Newton gouache colours.

gouache landscape painting

I started by blocking in the midtones, then working in the shadows and highlights, whilst also building texture of the plants and grasses with the dry brush technique.

Paint a series of tonal portraits

Paint a series of quick portraits and try to use a limited palette for each. Paint in whatever style you like. Use the gouache paints with water to create transparent looking washes, for soft looking gradations in skin tone. Use titanium white for opaque highlights to layer on at the end. 

Paint flowers in your garden

Get outside to your garden, to a park, or you could even buy a bunch of flowers to paint a still life. 

Watch how James Gurney blocks in the broad shapes and tones with gouache, then refines details. Colours that work well for painting bright flower tones include cadmium yellow, cadmium red and magenta or rose red. Mix your green shades from blues and yellows, or buy viridian and sap green tubes. 

Paint a mountain lake reflection

Follow this tutorial to create a mountain lake reflection painting. I start with washes of colour, then build up details, shadows and opaque highlights. To create the texture in the trees and the clouds, I use the dry brush technique. This is a pretty simple technique, where the artist loads their brush with colour, then removes excess moisture on a paper towel. The dry brush will pick up the texture of the paper, creating organic and broken looking brush strokes. For optimum results, if you want to try using this technique, get cold pressed or rough textured sketchbook. 

Paint nature scenes

Paint along with YouTuber Dadozilla and paint some small, cosy nature scenes. If you’re a beginner gouache painter, starting by working on a smaller scale can be really beneficial. This is because you’ll complete the paintings faster and therefore get more practice at painting a variety of scenes. For more gouache painting ideas, check out our guide.

Create a series of illustrations in your sketchbook

Make a series of small illustrations, whether that’s character designs, typographic sketches or other types of graphics. Get creative, drawing a mixture of wildlife, portraits, or sketches entirely from imagination. You could also sketch some fun, bright objects, like a pair of red roller skates or packaging of your favourite sweets. Sometimes with illustrations, the more obscure the sketchbook idea the better. It can help to think of themes, for example, draw a series of haunted houses, or a series of characterful cats.

Try a sketchbook drawing challenge

A great sketchbook idea, if you’ve got a bit of creative block, is to join a drawing or art challenge. You can find drawing challenges online, for example on Instagram by following hashtags. Challenges like these will give you daily prompts, however, if you want to start a daily sketching practice, you can make your own prompts list too!

100 heads in 10 days

Draw 10 heads per day for 10 days. Use whatever medium you like, for example, charcoal, graphite, oil pencils or even marker. You can be as detailed with these head drawings as you like and draw them in whatever style you like. Whether that’s a cartoony style, or more realistic. 

Inktober

Inktober is one of the most popular drawing challenges, that artists take part in every year in the month of October. It’s super easy to take part, head over to the Inktober website and look at the drawing prompts for each day of the month. Then draw your own interpretation of the prompt. The challenge was set up to encourage artists to improve their skills and start regular drawing habits. However, if daily drawing is too much for you, you could try completing a drawing every other day, or even one per week. Of course, you can use any medium you like, it doesn’t have to be ink pen. Some oil painters take part in Oil-tober, which is a similar daily art making challenge, but with oil paints. Track your progress through the month in your sketchbook and share your results on social media if you feel like it!

Plein air sketchbook ideas

Painting and drawing en plein air is a great way to get inspired and motivated to create. It can be challenging at first, but the results are so worth it.

Here are some tips for painting en plein air:

  •  Choose a subject that is simple and not too busy. A landscape or cityscape with few buildings or people is a good choice.
  •  Find a spot where you can set up your easel and have a good view of your subject.
  •  Start by sketching out the scene with light pencil strokes.
  •  Once you have the basic composition down, start painting in the sky first.
  •  Work on the middle ground next and then the foreground.
  •  Add in any final details and highlights last.

By following these tips, you will be well on your way to creating beautiful en plein air sketchbook paintings. So grab your drawing supplies and head outdoors!

Watercolour sketchbook ideas

Watercolour is a beautiful medium to use in your sketchbook. It can be challenging, but the results are so worth it. Here are some watercolour sketchbook ideas to get you started:

Paint a seascape

Seascapes are mesmerizing and peaceful, making them perfect for relaxing and de-stressing. Paint this moody deep blue seascape, using multiples washes and the layering technique. If you want a clean line around your paper, use some masking tape.

Ink and watercolour painting

This is a fun and easy painting technique that produces stunning results. To create an ink and watercolour painting, start by painting your background with watercolour. Once the background is dry, add in some ink details. You can use a pen, like a fountain pen or a pigment liner. This technique is great for drawing buildings, cityscapes and other features that suit being outlined.

Watercolour pencil drawing

This is a great way to add some colour to your sketches. To create a watercolour pencil drawing, start by sketching out the scene with light pencil strokes. Once you have the basic composition down, you can start colouring in the main areas where you want to create washes. Activate the pencil with water. Then for the final details, you can choose to draw over the painting with dry watercolour pencil.

Acrylic painting sketchbook ideas

Acrylic paints are a versatile and fun medium to use in your sketchbook. They can be used for a variety of effects, from bold and bright to soft and subtle. Here are some acrylic painting sketchbook ideas to get you started:

Paint an abstract acrylic piece

Abstract paintings are a great way to experiment with colour and texture. Acrylics dry fast and are water resistant when dry, so layers will not reactivate as they do with watercolour and gouache.

abstract acrylic sketchbook ideas

To paint an abstract acrylic piece, you could first choose a colour scheme. Abstract pieces can look quite effective with limited colour palettes. Experiment with dripping, flicking and scraping the paint. Check out our acrylic painting techniques guide for some alternative ideas.

Paint a relaxing cloudscape

Paint a relaxing cloudscape with acrylics. Acrylic paint is fast drying, so it can be tricky to blend unless you use a medium to slow the drying time. Use this open working medium to increase the working time of the paint. Use a clean soft synthetic brush to blend cloud textures. 

Paint the forest with acrylics

Forests are complex subjects with lots of leaves, trees and foliage details. Approach a complex painting like this by blocking in the broad shapes and colours. Then gradually work in the details and highlights. You don’t need an extra small brush for the leaves, work with a medium square brush to avoid focussing on details too heavily. 

Pen and ink sketchbook ideas

When drawing with marker pen and ink, make sure to get a thick sketchbook that pen won’t bleed through. Smooth paper works best with pens as it allows artists to create fine details and delicate line work.

Create a portrait drawing with copic marker

Create a portrait with copic marker, or Winsor & Newton’s Pro markers. Colours blend beautifully into one another and are best layered from light to dark, similar to watercolour. If you want to create small highlight details you could use a white gel pen. 

Urban sketching with pen and ink

Watch this tutorial to learn how to create accurate urban sketches. Discover fundamental skills like how to compose the drawing, to frame buildings to create areas of interest.

Draw from imagination in your sketchbook

One of the most rewarding things you can do in your sketchbook is to draw from your imagination. This could be any kind of fantasy scene, from a series of characters in a book that you’ve read or some characters that you’ve made up.

If you get stuck, try looking at some reference images to help you get started. Once you have the basic idea down, let your imagination run wild and see where it takes you!

Keep a travel sketchbook

travel sketchbook ideas

If you get the opportunity to travel, take a sketchbook with you! Drawing in a sketchbook in a new location is a great way to make you feel grounded and in touch with new surroundings. It can also attune your artists’ eye and make you look out for interesting scenes.

Pack a sketchbook and some gouache paints while you’re out touring a new city, find somewhere comfortable to sit with your sketchbook and draw or paint scenes you find inspiring. If you want some tips and ideas about how to keep a travel sketchbook, check out our guide.

Create a double page spread

When creating a double page spread, the format of your sketchbook and the binding will affect how your sketchbook page looks. For example, landscape format sketchbooks are great for panoramic scenes. In a spiral bound sketchbook, the wire separates each page. Make sure to get a thread bound book so that the pages sit perfectly next to each other.

Also, think about the composition of the piece. When creating a double page spread, you will want to make sure that the composition of each individual page works well with the other. This means that you should avoid making one page significantly busier than the other, for instance.

Once you have considered all of these factors, you are ready to start creating your double page spread! There are endless sketchbook ideas for double page spreads, including vast cityscapes, imaginary scenes and more!

Warm-ups, drawing and painting exercises

One of the benefits of having a sketchbook is that you can use it to do warm-ups, painting and drawing exercises.

Warm-ups are a great way to get your creative juices flowing and help you to avoid artist’s block.

These exercises are designed to help you improve your skills and techniques, and can be anything from life drawing to trying out different mediums.

There are many different types of warm-up exercises you can do, but some simple ones include:

Speed drawing

Drawing a series of quick sketches of random objects, people or scenes is a great way to get your hand moving and help you to loosen up.

This exercise is also a good way to warm up before starting a more detailed drawing or painting.

To do a speed drawing, set a timer for one minute and then draw whatever comes into your mind.

You can also try two-minute or five-minute drawings if you want to challenge yourself to create more detail in a short space of time.

Once you have completed a series of quick sketches, take some time to review them and see if there are any patterns or themes that emerge.

You can also use these sketches as inspiration for future drawings or paintings.

Gesture drawing

Doing some gesture drawings is a good way to improve your figure drawing skills.

To do a gesture drawing, start by finding a subject. This can be anything from a photo in a magazine to a live person or animal.

Don’t worry about getting every detail right, just focus on capturing the overall gesture and motion of the subject.

Create colour swatches

A colour swatch is a chart that contains the pigments in your palette painted in a series of small boxes. Label the boxes with the pigment number and colour name for the pure swatches. Optionally, you can create tints and shades of the colours by adding white or black.

Colour mixing chart

Create more colour swatches by mixing pigments together. Colour swatches are a great way of practising colour mixing and getting familiar with the pigments you are using. To create the colour mix swatches, mix up your colours in differing quantities, then label the proportion of colours mixed. You can use these swatches as reference points for when you come to make larger pieces.

Contour drawing

contour drawing exercise

Contour drawing is a great way to improve your observation skills and learn how to capture the essence of an object or subject.

To do a contour drawing, start by finding an object with interesting shapes. It can be anything from a vase to a leaf. Place the object in front of you and look at it closely.

Then, start drawing the outline of the object, starting at the top and working your way around. As you draw, pay attention to the small details and try to capture the essence of the object.

Once you have finished drawing the outline, fill in any details that you see.

Create a composition sketch

A thumbnail sketch is a small drawing that contains the basic elements of your composition. They are generally no bigger than an inch square.

To create a thumbnail sketch, start by brainstorming some ideas for your composition. Once you have come up with a few ideas, begin doing some quick sketches of each one. Think about how you will create a focal point and lead the viewer’s eye in with the positioning of the subject.

Don’t worry about getting the details perfect, just focus on capturing the overall idea of the composition.

Once you have a few thumbnail sketches, take some time to review them and see which one you think has the most potential. You can then use this sketch as a starting point for your larger piece.

Sketchbook cover ideas

Your sketchbook is a reflection of you and your creativity, so make sure to choose a cover that represents that! You can go for a simple and classic look with a black or white cover, or get more creative with patterns, colours and textures.

If your cover has a cotton texture, you could even acrylic paint over it! Prime the surface first with sealant and gesso, then paint your custom design. Wait for it to dry and optionally varnish it.

Mixed media sketchbooks

Creating a mixed media sketchbook is a great way to explore your creativity and experiment with different mediums.

To create a mixed media sketchbook, start by finding a sketchbook that is made from high quality paper. This will ensure that your sketches don’t bleed through to the next page. Once you have found a suitable sketchbook, gather together a selection of mediums that you would like to use. These could be anything from watercolour paints to pastels.

Experiment with different techniques and mediums, and see what you can create! There are lots of mediums that are compatible with one another. For example, you can use oil pastels or soft pastels over watercolour paint. Pastels also go well with matte acrylic, gouache and acrylic gouache.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, as this is part of the learning process. The most important thing is to have fun and be creative!

How to use a sketchbook

A sketchbook is completely personal and unique to each artist. Certain artists will want to put more thought and time into each of their drawings and perhaps only use one medium throughout. Whereas other artists will use their sketchbooks for warm up exercises and to doodle to their heart’s content.

The best way to use a sketchbook if you have art block, is to just get started and not worry about messing up! A sketchbook is a place to learn and improve and you don’t have to show anyone else the contents. Your art will improve quickly, if you create a deliberate, focussed and regular drawing practice, with the help of your sketchbook. If you commit to a regular drawing practice, you’ll finish many sketchbooks over the years. Keep hold of your sketchbooks to track your drawing progress. Each sketchbook page doesn’t have to look like a masterpiece when you first start out, but as your skills improve, more pages will showcase your skills and techniques.

Pick the right sketchbook for your art

It’s important to pick the right sketchbook for your needs. If you want to use watercolours, choose a paper that is heavy enough to withstand the wet media without warping or buckling. For pen and ink drawings, you might want a smooth paper so that you can draw details without them being obscured by the paper’s texture. Find the best sketchbooks for artists in our guide.

Finally

I hope you found these sketchbook ideas helpful and that they inspire you to create your own art. Happy creating!


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