3 ideas for unfinished sketchbooks

Keeping a sketchbook is a part of the artist’s toolkit but they don’t always turn into beautiful books full of your gorgeous successful art. Some books are half-filled, running out of steam before the end or a theme can become a chore. Maybe the paper just isn’t right, or the book size feels overwhelming or restricting.

Open on a table, an unfinished sketchbook with blank pages.

So what do we do with those unfinished sketchbooks? Here are three ideas for using them.

Change direction

If your book started out with a theme or concept, perhaps it came to a natural full stop. Not every idea will develop into something more and this can leave you with a half-filled sketchbook. Or in my case, sometimes nearly a whole sketchbook.

If you like the paper, can you give yourself permission to take a new direction? Change the subject, materials or focus and experiment with something new. Recording your development in a sketchbook means sometimes things can get messy or unpredictable. Let your book flow with your art, it’s not always a tidy transition through our ideas or curiosities.

Your sketchbooks can be private, no one needs to see them if you don’t want them to. You are free to make mistakes and it doesn’t have to be perfectly curated so mix up your content and use your sketchbook freely. Try gathering a wide range of references, experiments and ideas like in a commonplace book.

Create collage papers or pattern ideas

Ripping out sketchbook pages is not my usual thing, even if I really dislike them. I have accepted after many years that I will come to value some of those cringe-worthy pages, just privately.

But if a book is really not working in it’s current form, it’s time to get creative and make use of the paper. Make collage papers if your sketchbook is not working for you but the paper is good. If you are new to collage I recommend Lydia Rink who has some great technique videos.

Firstly, archive any used pages in a folder or plastic wallet. Cut them out with a craft knife and check they are dated. If possible make a note of the sketchbook and materials that you used.

Then fill unused pages with colour, patterns or prints that you’d like to use in your work. Gel plates are a fun and accessible way to make prints. Try stencils or stamps to create repeat patterns and get creative with different media.

I prefer a lighter paper for collage but there’s no reason why you couldn’t try your sketchbook paper. These pages can be filled while still in the book to create a library of papers or tear them out if you prefer. This can be really fun if you like to let loose and let go of expectations.

Make the best of a bad book

Maybe you’ve decided that the paper is really not good for you, how can you avoid the wastage? There are heaps of ideas out there for using paper and even poor quality paper can be useful. Here are some possibilities for your art studio.

  • turn strips into paint swatches of your most used colours or mixes
  • cut and fold papers into notebooks
  • use as under-papers while painting
  • test or scrap papers are always useful while working
  • create gift or price tags for items for sale
  • make thank you notes to send with sold artwork
  • recycle into your own handmade papers
  • poor quality paper can be used for packaging if nothing else

Final thoughts

It’s absolutely ok to leave your sketchbooks unfinished.

Your sketchbooks are a wonderful record of your art and progress. Even quick sketches or random scribbles can capture memories of a time. I really recommend you date your sketchbooks and pages.

What do you like to do with unfinished sketchbook? Don’t miss the rest of the articles in this sketchbook series, starting with how to choose your sketchbook.