5 ideas for filling your sketchbook

You’ve chosen your sketchbook and now you want to stack up a collection bursting with your art. Here are 5 ideas for filling your sketchbook and supporting your art practice. Choose one or mix them up for a sketchbook that feels inspiring.

These ideas can be the beginning of your sketchbook habit but your book is your own and can be whatever you want it to be. You might not even want to see it as a sketchbook, maybe more of a studio record, art journal or playbook. Filling your sketchbook should be enjoyable and not a chore so try a few ideas until you find what works for you. Dive in and know that any mistakes are as valuable as the pages you love. 

1 A studio companion

You don’t need a studio to keep a record of your art progress but documenting it is a helpful practice. Add paint swatches, print photos of your work and make notes about what you’d like to do more or less of. If your paper is heavy enough you can paint or draw ideas directly onto the pages. Journaling can be included if you like writing.

A studio sketchbook may not be full of perfectly painted pages but it will be valuable in developing your art and creating an archive.

Paint swatches are an idea to use for filling your studio sketchbook

2 Choose a theme

A themed book might seem restrictive or too limiting but it can also be a great way to develop an idea or style. Try setting a limitation such as materials, subject or style. One of my favourite sketchbooks is full of fast, continuous line drawings of faces I saw on tv. The drawings aren’t great quality but the book is evocative and fun.

Pick your theme at the start and write your intention on the opening page. You might want to keep this flexible and allow for some development too.


  • Quick sketches of your family or friends
  • Collages using found papers or other materials
  • Mark making inspired by a landscape
  • Explore an idea for a series through photos, journaling, sketches and paintings
  • Colour palettes
  • Ink drawings of what’s on your table

A themed book is worth a try if you have a lot of ideas in your mind. It can help to pin them down and see if they are worth developing.

3 Sketching outside

Some artists love working outside, observing and recording the sights and sensations of their environment. If this sounds like you, there’s no need to invest in special equipment to start, a small pencil case with a couple of favourite pens or pencils and a light sketchbook are a great way to get started.

If I’m sketching outside I use a travellers notebook with smooth paper and a cheap biro or pencil. I make notes about colour, weather and sounds and can add more when I get home if needed.

Sketching and drawing are an idea to use for filling your studio sketchbook

If landscapes light you up, this is a wonderful way to explore your mark making, colour palette and subject matter. In summer Brighton is filled with slow moving visitors, a lovely opportunity to practice sketching from life.

4 Free mark making

Having a place to freely try mark making is really helpful before committing to a larger painting. Test your tools, new paint colours and combinations and mark making ideas in your book first. I like to do this with small taped areas to create grids. This has the benefit of creating seemingly random compositions too.

Small grid paintings of mark making, an idea for filling your new sketchbook

5 Drawing exercises

When I took adult drawing classes, for homework assignments I would fill sketchbooks with repetitive attempts at noses or continuous line drawings of vegetables. My drawing tutor was cheerful and enthusiastic at these endless pages of often terrible drawing, saying this was exactly what she wanted to see.

They are awkward but joyful evidence of my progress and determination to improve and I value them. Ideas for drawing exercises include blind contour drawing or continuous line sketches to get started.

Build your sketchbook habit and your collection

Keep your sketchbook handy and use it regularly. In the beginning I would carry a small notebook everywhere and scribble sketches of people on the bus, my boots in a train journey or chairs in a waiting room. I wasn’t particularly interested in the subjects but I was building a habit of seeing, drawing and making art little and often.

These days my sketchbooks are filled with acrylic paint swatches and seascape mark making but I always have at least one on the go. Some have a theme but they are sometimes a mix of anything and everything that my creative side wants to try or save for later.

There are endless ideas for filling your sketchbook so if these don’t suit your art then find your own way. If you’re struggling to get started, this article about how to start your new sketchbook and face your fear of the blank page, might help you.

In the next article in the sketchbook series, I’ll be looking at some unfinished sketchbooks. What do you do when a theme loses it’s interest or the book just isn’t working? I’ll have some ideas for those neglected pages.