Sketchbook Starters – Filling a Sketchbook with Ideas

Categories *Grades 3-5 , *Grades 6-8 , *K-2 , Back to School , Drawing

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Sketchbook Starters – Filling a Sketchbook with Ideas

A list of ideas to encourage students to work on their own sketchbooks. This is a good jumping off point for teachers and students who wish to try creating sketchbooks during the school year.

By Eileen Urbanski [Eileen is a teacher at Eagle & Union Elementary in Zionsville, IN]


Students will understand what being an artist means and demonstrate this through:

The use of a sketchbook to record their ideas.

Students will be:

  • drawing from their imaginations
  • drawing from real life objects
  • using “how to draw” instructional resources

The creation of their own Art Book (portfolio).

Students will create:

  • several pictures about famous artists
  • paintings/drawings using new materials like pastels, oil crayons, paint
  • drawings/paintings using new techniques like crayon rubbing, pointillism, computer art, printmaking

What You Need:

  • Sketchbooks
  • Pencils/erasers
  • Craypas®
  • Printing ink pad and stamps
  • 12×18 paper
  • Plastic binding combs

Resources/Books Used

  • Drawing Lessons From A Bear by David McPhail
  • Badly Drawn Dog by Emma Dodson
  • The Artist by John Bianchi
  • Hands Growing Up To be an Artist by Lois Ehlert
  • Art Reprints (search on )

What You Do:

Everyone is an artist – it is our very special skill! Out of all the creatures on the earth only humans possess the ability to be artists!

Introduction :

  • Ask the students if they know what a sketchbook is and ask if any of them have one at home.
  • Discuss how an artist uses a sketchbook.
  • Discuss how they will use a sketchbook.
  • Tell the students that because some of them work fast (rabbits) and some work slow (turtles), everyone will be getting a sketchbook to use for the rest of the year in art class. Tell them that It is used whenever there is extra time in art – if they finish their work before other students. It is a special place just for their art ideas!
  • After Intro, read the book Drawing Lessons from a Bear .
  • Have the students say out loud “I AM AN ARTIST!”
  • Draw a picture of yourself on the cover (this is a self-portrait) and write your name and grade on it.
  • Draw one picture inside using your imagination.
  • Draw one picture inside from a “how to draw” book (students can look through the books you have on hand).
  • Read the book – The Artist .
  • Write a list of jobs that an artist can do on the white board.

Assignment (in the sketchbooks):

  • Draw a beautiful sunrise
  • Draw a rainbow
  • Draw anything you wish (free choice)
  • Read the book – Hands Growing Up to Be An Artist
  • Enjoy the format of the book.

Discussion (talk about the following):

  • How the family works on hobbies/projects at home.
  • Talk about how the students will be creating their own Art Book. Emphasize that it will take a while to do each picture, but when they are done, they will be able to take it home and show everyone what they learned.
  • Talk about famous artists’ paintings.
  • Talk about materials like pastels, oil crayons, paint.
  • Talk about new techniques, pointillism, computer art, printing.


  • Make a picture inside the sketchbook using a new material.

Activity/Vocabulary Ideas for the Sketchbook:

  • Van Gogh – Starry Night Crayon Rubbing, Markers, Expressive, Texture, Brushstrokes [ lesson plan here ]
  • Edvard Munch – The Scream Oil Pastel, Crayons, Bold Colors, Movement, Emotion [ lesson plan here ]
  • Piet Mondrian Compostion in R-Y B – Paint, Primary Colors, Shape, Line [ lesson plan here ]
  • Leonardo DaVinci – Mona Lisa Watercolor, Crayons, Portrait, Depth (showing near and far)
  • George Seurat – Sunday Afternoon In the Park Marker, Dots, Computer Pointillism, Landscape [ lesson plan here ]
  • Wassily Kandinsky – Improvisation Printing, Non-Objective [ lesson plan here ]


Continue to come up with ideas for the sketchbook. When the school year is complete, students can take the books home and share with family and friends.

The Art Book – Portfolio Assessment

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Sketchbook Ideas

Sketchbook Ideas for Elementary Compiled from ArtsEdNet Talk mailing list Grades: 1 to 6

Input from Art Teachers


As far as favorite things to draw there are many. Sometimes we take time to keep a colour diary in the sketchbook of the colours in the sky at the same time everyday for a week. Close up drawings from different parts of their gardens or other outdoor places are also fun. The family members and friends, their shoes or other specific things. For the young ones, their favorite toys or stuffed animals.

From Rosa Juliusdottir


From Sandy Poos (archives 9/13/96)

Grades 1 to 8 1. An alien spaceship has landed in the schoolyard. Draw a picture of it. 2. High in the Himalayan Mountains lives an abominable snowperson. Draw what the snowperson look like. 3. You have made a startling discovery while skin diving! Draw what it is! 4. Have you ever been to the circus? Draw a picture of your favorite act, with yourself as the ringmaster! 5. Draw a picture of your Mother or Father at work. 6. Draw a picture of your shoe, overlapping three different views on the same page. 7. Draw a picture of your pet. 8. Fill a page with drawings of bugs, sea shells, or something you collect. 9. Draw a family member or a friend from memory. 10. Draw a picture of yourself as you think you might look in ten years. 11. Have you ever had a daydream instead of doing your work? Draw a picture of a daydream. 12. Draw a picture of your house and yard, then draw a big dinosaur in the yard! 13. What is the best story your grandparents tell about the old days? Draw a picture of it. 14. Draw a picture of your favorite part about school. 15. What does your dream car look like? 16. What does the bogeyman look like? 17. If you could cast a magic spell, what would it be? Draw a picture of it. 18. The famous American Pop artist Andy Warhol said, "Everyone will have at least fifteen minutes of fame in their lifetime." Illustrate your fifteen minutes of fame. 19. A new musical group has asked you to design a CD cover for them that illustrates their music. Be sure that your design is original and does not use any other group's images! 20. Draw a picture of your dream house. You are rich, so include anything you want in this house.

From Mark Alexander (archives 9/1/97)

Grades 3 to 5 I teach K-5. My 3,4,and 5th graders have sketchbooks. I love them and the kids love them. I am constantly showing them my sketchbooks and drawings and they show me theirs. I give homework to my students for them to do in their sketchbooks. Here are some ideas I have used in the past.

1. What is art? 2. Self-portrait? 3. Draw your window. 4. A Value scale. Still life using as many of the grays as you can. 5. Design your own bedroom ( a floor plan) 6. What would you put in that room, where would you put it, how would you put it. 7. Think of three different animals. Draw the head of one, the body of the second one, and the legs of the third one. Name it. 8. Camouflage something (a bug on a leaf, you in your room, a lizard on a rock) by texture or color. 9. Draw yourself screaming. 10. Sequence drawings. A vampire turning into a bat and flying away, three frogs playing leap frog and the last one falls into a hole, flower growing. These are great later in a zoetrope or a flip book format, animation on a computer. 11. Draw yourself at 16 years old, 30 and 80 years old. Triptych 12. Draw the silliest thing you ever saw. 13. Draw someone picking something up. 14. Draw the Thinker as an animal. 15. Distort something. A short fat pencil. A glue bottle the thickness and length of a pencil. A ruler made with curved lines ( not a bad idea). Great for adjectives. You could start by students listing adjectives and then pick two + an object and draw what it might look like. Kind of like visual "MadLib".

From Nancy Knutsen (archives 9/12/96)

Grades 4 and 5


My 4th and 5th grade students use the journal for • notes on project procedure, including the nifty handouts from School Arts if applicable • word searches which include the vocabulary of the unit being taught for reinforcement • ongoing sketching using still life set ups in the room • self evaluation and critiques • When we do color mixing and exploration, students cut and paste samples in the sketchbook • also samples of tie dye, batik, printmaking etc.

We really put a lot of good "stuff" in the sketch-book. It is such a good hands-on documentation for them to refer to and a great resource to share with the parents. from Barbara (rboville)

1. Making it. We begin by folding a 12 x 18 sheet of paper in half, then gluing subsequent pages inside with a thin line of glue to the front cover, or most recent page. I order and use 8 ½ x 11 copy paper for this purpose. We can always add pages, as needed, to the sketchbook in this manner.

2. Cover designs. Examples: Who Am I? pictorial statements about the student, i.e., sports, hobbies/leisure activities, accomplishments, food preferences, pets, 6th grade. Name Design (typography) 5th grade. Portrait, Landscape, or Still Life, 4th grade.

3. Transition (from playground/classroom). Class begins with 6 minutes of "Silent Draw" time. At the beginning of the year, I introduce this time as mental exercise for the right side of the brain, and as a visual diary.

4. More Art Starters. Reproducible pages from "School Arts," or idea stretchers such as: imagine yourself/your world as a bug, a bird, an alien, etc.

5. Art History/Study Guides. I compile information about an artist, or period, or style of art (that we may be studying), and type this up. Sometimes, I'll photocopy a picture of the artist, or artwork, and include it as a small thumbnail print with the text. Students take turns reading aloud in class, and every student then has his/her own copy for future reference.

6. Demonstrations. Feature placement, shading, 3D drawing, perspective; these are just some of the topics that, as I demonstrate, the students practice in their sketchbooks.

7. Idea Refinement. Thumbnail sketches for assigned projects.

8. Review. Pop quiz, critiques, or self assessments are written on blank sheets in sketchbooks.

From Cheryl (Ckart)

Grades 5 and 6

Three things the children particularly enjoyed and took very seriously!

1. We had our principal come in and model for us. (The AP came in one time and the librarian too.) We split it up but all were honored to model for us. 2. Outdoor -around the school mini draw time... just don't sit in a fire ant hill! 3. It just so happens that our maintenance man dresses like the holiday certain times of the year... The day he came in like a scarecrow... I nabbed him. Not all classes had him... but it was just one of those things you couldn't pass up. 4. Have a mini still life set up so that kids who are finished early can go work on the still life in their sketchbooks. Also I did not make weekly assignments in the sketchbook. I wanted the sketchbook to be fun, not a burden to them. I also let the class decided on what they wanted to do for an assignment... They would vote: Something out of a window... or on a playground... or in their bedroom.... They were proud to carry them around and were selective with what they put in it. Several really got the hang of putting ideas in it for future work.

From Laurie

A single focus sketchbook called "The/My Special Interest Book" that students were responsible for maintaining throughout the year/semester/quarter. I have assigned such a book for my 6th graders to work on when they are all "done!" We have been in school for three weeks, but already they are showing me their "books" that they will work on as the year goes by. The topics range from horses to Monster trucks, and they can write, draw, add clippings, photos, whatever they want.

Charlotte Griswold (archives 9/1/97)

Also see IAD's Drawing Drawer for other ideas.

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Sketchbook Basics

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What is a sketchbook and why is it necessary for an artist to have one?

A sketchbook is simply put, a book with empty drawing pages in it.

This book is however your personal growth factory because you are going to sketch, draw, write, paint, experiment, mess and make mistakes in it.

Generally you never even show anybody your sketchbook. It is your private art journal in which you, and you alone, can document and watch how you progress.

As only you will see the inside of your journal, there is no pressure on your part to perform or get anything perfect. Nobody will see your mistakes so you can lose your abandon and play to your hearts content.

In the process you will improve your art beyond anything you ever imagined.

Then in a few years time you will be able to page back through your sketchbooks and relive your artistic journey and see how far you have come.

In my opinion every artist should first be given a sketchbook and a pencil (no eraser) and be sent out to sketch at least 10 pages full before they ever follow a single tutorial or buy any more art supplies. That way they will always have some before sketches to look back on - something very few artists have.

sample sketchbook sketches of plant pots

Sketches from my Sketchbook

Sketching Equipment

Let's start off by looking at the equipment you will need to start your sketchbook.

1) Sketchbooks

They are available in a variety of sizes, paper types and makes. I will mention a few, but in the end, you will have to make your own choice depending on what is available in your area and to suit your own pocket. I always recommend that you try to buy the best you can afford.

Things to look out for when purchasing a sketchbook are:

a) Sturdy : You will be taking your sketchbook with you everywhere you go. In the car, on holiday, hiking, you name it so ensure the cover is sturdy enough to handle the rough and tumble it is going to endure.

b) Paper Thickness : You don't want the pages to be too thin for two reasons. The first is that you don't want any of your harder pen / pencil strokes to score the sheet of paper below it. The second is the problem of bleeding. If you are using inks or paints and the paper is too thin it can bleed through the sheet onto the one below. I recommend ensuring the paper is at least 160gsm thick.

c) Size : The size sketchbook you buy will depend on where you are going to use it. If you going to only use it in the studio then one with larger pages will allow you the freedom to either make multiple sketches / studies of the same subject on the same page or one larger study per page.

Smaller sketchbooks (A4 / 9" x 12" or smaller) are better for working outdoors as you generally need to hold the sketchbook in your hand as you work so anything larger tends to be unstable in your hand.

d) Paper Colour : Most sketchbooks come with white paper inside, but you can also get ones where the paper is off white, as well as coloured. (Strathmore have a good variety of paper colours from tan to grey to cream)

If you are wondering why you would want to use off white or coloured paper then here is your answer : To save you adding a heap of colour / tone to the paper you choose a paper that is already the base colour you need. You then only need to add the shadow and highlight colours to complete the sketch.

Standard Sketchbooks

Mixed media sketch pad

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(This tutorial contains affiliate links to products we recommend you use when sketchbooking. If you purchase through our affiliate link we will get a small percentage of the purchase price for the referral. This helps us to create more tutorials. It will however not affect the price you pay. All products are the ones we personally use. To purchase the product you can click the photo of the product.)

Standard sketchbooks normally come in three different styles.

  • Hardbound Similar to a hard cover book these sketchpads are very sturdy. You will however find that they often want to close on themselves while sketching because of the stiff cover. Open it in the store at a variety of places (front, centre, back) to make sure the cover will remain open while drawing.
  • Paperbound This type does not have a hard cover. Generally the cover is little more than a thin cardboard which does not give much protection to the papers inside the book. Only use these sketchbooks in light duty situations, like in studio.

The advantage of wirebound sketchbooks is that you can flip the whole book open and back on itself. This takes up less space and is easier to hold than a glue bound book.

Using these are also recommended if you want to remove the pages for framing, etc. later as individual pages can be removed without affecting the integrity of the rest of the book.

I like the mixed media sketchbook shown above because you can use it to add watercolour, acrylic, gouache and a variety of other media over your sketches to give them colour and make them look interesting. The pages will however not bleed through like many of the other sketchbooks do.

Moleskine Sketchbooks

Moleskine watercolour sketchbook

These sketchbooks are normally made from quality heavy paper that is perfect for outdoor handling.

The paper is suitable for pencil, pen and ink washes and gouache. Many are reasonably priced and have special hard covers for durability. They are available from large to convenient pocket size.

Moleskine sketchbooks are very popular with Urban Sketchers who like to use pen and ink for the sketch and then add colour over it using watercolor washes.

Tombow pencil set with mono eraser

When sketching we don't need a lot of pencils. You basically need only 3 pencils - one hard, one medium and one soft. I recommend a 2H, B and 6B.

If you are working outdoors and have more space in your bag, then by all means take more with but I seldom use more than these three, In fact I will often use only one pencil.

The pencils I recommend and use are the Tombow pencils shown above. I have also successfully used and can recommend the Faber-Castell, Staedtler and Derwent brands. I just find the Tombow pencils have smoother lead so they glide better over the paper.

The set shown above also comes with a Mono eraser which I constantly use for erasing fine detail into a sketch.

2) Sharpener

Carpet knife and pencil sharpener

You will also need something to sharpen your pencils with. For this a simple little sharpener will do.

If however you want different shaped tips to your pencils, then a carpet knife works well to trim them.

There are many other bits of equipment you can use, but they are not required in order to start sketching so let's move on to learning how to sketch. We will then revisit the equipment later to see how we can expand our options beyond the basics.

The Rules of Sketching

Rule #1 - only you see your sketchbook.

As you are allowing yourself to make mistakes and experiment inside your sketchbook, your sketchbook is a place for your eyes only.

There must never be a penalty for what is inside your sketchbook. You don't want people to see your sketchbook and you feel bad or them judging you for some horrible artworks inside.

Your sketchbook is a place where you are allowed to create horrible artworks, and believe me in the beginning there will be many of those. These horrible artworks will allow you to later create the amazing artworks that will stun the world.

Rule #2 - There are no art rules in your sketchbook

Your sketchbook is your play area where you mess around with ideas, practice and learn without abandon or restriction.

If you want to doodle, then doodle.

If you want to do a super accurate drawing of a local landmark, then do it.

If you want to test out a new paint colour by making a few swatches, then do it.

If you want to practice freehand sketching, then go ahead.

Heck, if you want to see what happens when you mix acrylic and oil paint together, test it in your sketchbook.

In your sketchbook you follow the rules when you want, break them when you don't and sometimes even make your own rules.

Rule #3 - No Fear

Take all the preconceptions, misconceptions, misguided road blocks that people have drilled into your head about how you are supposed to do art and throw them out the window.

Free your mind and allow yourself the space to make mistakes, flops and outright disasters inside your sketchbook.

Out of these flops and disasters you will learn something every single time. Each flop and disaster is a stepping stone along the way to becoming the artist you envisioned when you first started.

Rule #4 - Sketch Often

Drawing and experimenting inside your sketchbook is going to allow you to grow incredibly fast as an artist, but only if you are consistent.

Let's look at an analogy – driving a motor vehicle.

For the beginner there are many things to remember, do and to look out for when learning to drive.

The big L plate displayed on the vehicle warns other drivers to be cautious as anything can unexpectedly happen. It is so easy to become mixed up trying to do many things at the same time, such as engaging the proper gear, pulling off correctly, watching the traffic in the front, sides and rear, traffic lights, pedestrians, etc.

Fortunately, the time arrives when all these actions become so natural that you do them automatically without even thinking about them.

What has happened? Without you realizing it, the subconscious mind has conveniently stored all the relevant information in order to do the thinking for you.

How has this happened? By repeating the actions over and over again. Repetition is the key to success. I cannot stress his enough.

The more you practice the easier drawing becomes. Repetition is a large factor, so sketch regularly.

The Basics of Sketching

Watch on the table

In the beginning start off by drawing simple things. Whatever is around you.

Draw your watch for example. Don't even bother with shadings, just draw the outline and add the numbers and the hands.

As an example let's draw the watch above:

Use your B pencil only. Gently sketch a circle. Correct the circle as you go along until you are happy with the shape. Don't bother erasing the wrong bits, just leave them there.

Now indicate the 12, 3, 6 and 9 marks on the watch face.

This makes it easy to judge the marks indicating rest of the hours so add them in.

Next draw the watch straps. Roughly indicate the stitching.

Finish off by adding the numbers and arms.

Well done, you have just completed your first sketch.

You will probably end up with something like this:

Watch sketch in the beginning

Does it look like the photo?

Probably not because your judgement is well off, but it doesn't matter. You have started to train your eye and hand co-ordination.

Do the same for many more seemingly simple items around you.

Concentrate on getting the shapes and proportions correct.

Don't be shy to use whatever means you need to help you - like using your pencil to estimate lengths or using a proportional divider or redrawing using common shapes. There are many methods like this to help you.

I recommend you follow the How to Draw Quick Sketches Class to learn all the methods.

When you are starting to feel confident that you are estimating the shape and basic features correctly start to add some cross hatching or scumbling to the sketch in order to show some shading and depth.

Hatching is when you use a series of parallel lines to indicate shading. The closer the lines are to each other, the darker the area appears. The further apart the lines the lighter the area appears.

Cross hatching is when you add multiple series' of parallel lines in different directions. You can see examples of hatching and cross hatching below:

Hatching and cross hatching examples

Scumbling is when you use random scribbles to create a shading like in the example below.

To the left you can see a single scumble. Your scumble technique will differ, but it gives you a good idea of how I do it.

Scumbling example

Continue practicing this for a few weeks.

After a few weeks come back here and redraw the watch above.

It will now probably look something like this then because your eye hand co-ordination will have improved dramatically:

Watch sketch after practice

As you gain more confidence start to draw more complex subjects, like your portrait in the mirror or venture outside to sketch objects in the garden.

What to Sketch?

Anything. Anything you see, or imagine, can be sketched.

There is no need to stare at a blank piece of paper. There is more than enough inspiration around you to last for years of sketching. Even the most mundane of objects make for excellent sketching practice.

Just look around you. What do you see? Kitchen utensils, flowers, ornaments, trees, animals, birds, hills, mountains, furniture, clothing, clouds, buildings, rocks, workshop tools, and thousands of others. Even a simple feather has much to teach you about drawing.

Try different angles of the same object, from the side, from slightly above and so on. You will be amazed how drawing the same object from different angles can pose completely different challenges.

Sample sketch of an ostrich drawn using a sharpie

Monotone sketch of an ostrich

The Secret to Good Sketching

What is the biggest key in drawing?


Most see an object, but they don't look at it. What do I mean by that?

You see a mug on a table. So what! But have you really studied it? Have you observed it properly?

What type of lettering is printed on it? How large are the letters? What other features are there? What type of flowers are printed on it. How about their colours?

What shape is the mug and is the ear large or small? What are the different textures on it and how will I represent it on the paper?

So often we just glance over an object. Oh! It is only a mug. As an artist you need to look and observe all the details that make up the object more carefully than the average person would.

Train your mind to look at the object, and not just see. Get this right and you will be well on your way to excellent sketching.

Make Sketching a Habit

Sample sketches of army equipment

Some sketches I did in 1952

We have already discussed why you need to sketch often, now let's take a look at ways that you can turn sketching into a habit.

The most important thing is to :

Make time for sketching.

No matter how busy your lifestyle, if you look at your schedule you will find intervals where you can slot in a quick sketch or two. For example on your lunch break, while waiting for the bus, while on the bus, while watching TV and so on.

Once you have found the time in your schedule, stick to. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you so that you don't get carried away with other things. This is your sketch time. Your time to relax.

In an ideal world you would give yourself at least half an hour to sketch in the beginning as you are not as proficient at judging accurately yet, but if you only have shorter spells available, don't let that stop you.

Choose a subject to concentrate on.

I find that if you concentrate on one subject at a time you learn quicker than when you jump around.

You could for example start by drawing small common items and only worry about sketching the proportions correctly. Once you feel you are happy with your proportions, you may decide to concentrate on your shading work and do a series of shading exercises.

After that you may decide to do a series of hand studies, then figures and so on.

You will find that as you start to gain confidence in a subject you not only work quicker and more accurately, you start to enjoy it more so look forward to your next sketch session, which is a great motivator to keep it a habit.

Carry a sketchbook with you.

No matter where you go make sure you have some form of a sketchbook with you or within easy reach.

It could even be something a small as a notebook and pen carried in your shirt pocket or handbag which you can whip out when the opportunity presents itself and do a quick sketch or doodle.

You could keep a small bag with some sketching equipment permanently in your car so that you have them available wherever you are.

Challenge yourself.

Keep challenging yourself when you start to become too comfortable with a subject. You don't want sketching to become boring or you will lose the habit.

There are endless ways in which you can keep things interesting. Start by changing the subject you are concentrating on. You could add a new medium to the mix like sketching with a pen instead of a pencil. You could start to add colour to your sketches. You may decide to set yourself a time limit on the sketch and so on...

Take Your Sketches to the Next Level

Sample line and wash sketch of a path

Line and Wash Sketch

That brings us nicely to taking your sketches to the next level and the optional equipment I mentioned earlier.

Starting off with simple little pencil sketches opens up the door to an incredible array of new opportunities for you to grow as an artist.

You will find that you will be able to transition to more intricate forms of drawing like photorealistic or pen and ink drawing.

You can start to add colour to your sketches by adding watercolour washes, gouache or acrylic paints.

Your sketches can become the study used to design a more complex painting or drawing done in the studio.

It can open up the door to en plein air (outdoor) drawing and painting.

The easiest and most common add on to sketching is usually pen and ink with watercolour washes, also called line and wash, so let's have a quick chat about that.

Line and Wash

With line and wash you will initially sketch your drawing outlines lightly using pencils. Once you are happy with your sketch, you will go over the lines using ink pens to establish the drawing. You can also add shading and detail using the pen.

With the drawing finalised you then whip out your watercolour paints and a basic brush and add lose layers of colour over the drawing to suggest the colours.

This style is fabulous as it lends itself perfectly to indoor as well as outdoor work on any scale.

You can take a look at our Pen and Ink Lessons for more info about this fabulous method.

To get started with line and wash all you need to add to your equipment are a few different size Felt Tipped Pens and a portable watercolour set like the one shown below.

portable watercolor paint set for outdoor sketching

Click to purchase this set

I hope this tutorial has given you a good feel for what is involved in sketching and wet your appetite to give it a go.

You will not regret making sketching a habit. Good luck.

Sketchbook Basics for Artists. Learn how to start your own sketchbooks and how making sketching a habit can help improve your art tremendously. Online art lesson for Paint Basket and Dennis Clark. art class, art lesson, painting, drawing, sketching

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sketchbook with lessons

Sketchbook Habit: Keeping a Visual Diary

by balzerdesigns

“I am feeling more confident about my drawing than I did at the beginning of class. I’m actually amazed at the progress I’ve made in such a short amount of time.” – Kelly

This is the first in a series of classes all about developing, maintaining, and growing your sketchbook habit — even if you think you can’t draw.

There are two major categories of sketchbooks in my experience —

  • Workbooks which are used as a place to explore ideas for later works of art. They tend to be filled with scribbles, notes, color swatches, drawings, and aren’t usually meant for public viewing.
  • Visual diaries which share a glimpse into the creator’s daily life or travels.  They tend to be filled with watercolor images and are often meant for public viewing.

In this class, we are going to be focused on creating a visual diary habit.

I am going to share my tips on drawing as well as embracing your personal style.

We will draw indoors and outdoors — from life and from photos!

We will be creating mixed media sketchbooks — I simply can’t resist adding collage and pens and all the fun stuff into my sketchbooks!

You can use any sketchbook you want in class, but the first lesson is actually me teaching you how to make your own (it even has an envelope inside to hold collage fodder).

Some other things to know about class:

  • You get 30 HD video lessons.  All lessons are available to you immediately.
  • I do think there is value in taking the lessons day-by-day.
  • For the most part, the daily lessons are short. My goal is for you to be able to watch the video AND create something based on it in less than one hour each day.
  • You have lifetime access to class , so you do not need to complete the 30 lessons in 30 days.  Take your time!
  • A big part of building a habit and sticking with it, is ensuring that it fits into your life. If it takes up too much time or isn’t enjoyable, most people simply won’t do it or lose interest.
  • There is a complete supply list available to you in the classroom the moment you sign up for class.
  • All Balzer Designs students have access to a private Facebook group for sharing their work.

If you’re curious about what to expect, here’s a video for an in-person sketchbook class that shares a peek into some of my sketchbooks:

And here’s a video I shared to instagram.  It’s a super sped up version of a lesson from this class:

  View this post on Instagram   A post shared by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer (@balzerdesigns)

I look forward to seeing you in class!


  • “Julie, I loved this class. It was both inspiring and practical. Inspiring in that I can see many, many new ways to see things and ideas to try. Practical in that I have a very clear idea of how to measure proportion, how to make collage fodder, how to grid, using paint versus pen, etc. I will have to practice all this, of course, to get more skilled but your enthusiasm and wonderful examples really help. I know I will watch many modules from this class again to refresh my memory–there was really a lot to learn. But the main thing is that I can see in my own sketch book how much I’ve ‘improved’–meaning how much more interesting my drawings are and how much more I like them. PS Realizing I’m telling a story (my story) has added to my understanding of what/why I am playing with art.” – Sharry
  • “Hi Julie, Thank you so much for a wonderful class! This is the first online art class I’ve taken and I was surprised by how engaging I found it despite it not being live. Your energy and enthusiasm are contagious! You presented so many new ideas to try and it was very easy to follow your video tutorials. I found myself more than willing to try new techniques – even when I wasn’t sure I was going to like them or thought I wouldn’t have good results. I know that I will return to these lessons again and again as I continue to explore my sketchbook and work on figuring out my own particular style. In looking over my sketchbook from the beginning of class to the end, I see so my sketches have so much more depth now and I’m just so pleased with the direction I’m headed in. I do hope I’ll be able to stick with my commitment to this new practice as I know it is a powerful tool to help me grow as an artist. I hope to see you in class again soon!” – Kelly
  • “Hi, Julie–I’ve taken several of your courses, and you are an incredibly kind teacher, with a great sense of humor!” – Sandra
  • “Hey Julie – A very good and fun class – thank you. Many new ideas to consider and use to expand my creative skills. Well-organized and thought-through. You anticipate the obstacles and pitfalls beginners will experience and ‘head them off at the pass.’ I prefer a live class, such as your Boot Camp, with assignments and discussion but this approach worked for me to keep my momentum going during a time I would not have been able to do a live class.  I particularly appreciated the lesson on Proportions, which was really a super easy way to do Perspective. I also enjoyed the section on Habit-Making.” – Ruth
  • “I’ve taken several classes from you, Julie, and found them all to be insightful, rich in content, and just the right amount of support to launch me off into whatever creative adventure the technique suggests.” – Peggy

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Figure Drawing Atelier: An Instructional Sketchbook

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Figure Drawing Atelier: An Instructional Sketchbook Hardcover – September 17, 2019

  • Hardcover $21.25 24 Used from $14.93 33 New from $17.25

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"The best way to learn about art is to make it. Discover the secrets of great figure drawing as you sketch along with past and present masters. This working artist's sketchbook guides you from beginning gestures to delicate rendering. It's your art, your tradition, your time. Take your voice and add it to the tradition as if the history of art has saved the best for now."

Juliette Aristides Figure Drawing Atelier offers a comprehensive, contemporary twist to the very traditional atelier approach to the methods that instruct artists on the techniques they need to successfully draw and ultimately paint the figure.

The book offers art instruction, practical and progressive lessons on drawing the figure, and high-quality sketchbook paper in a beautiful package that includes blank pages for sketching and copying. Artists will then have a record of their process, like with a sketchbook, which many artists like to document and save.

In this elegant and inspiring workbook, master contemporary artist and author Juliette Aristides breaks down the figure drawing process into small, manageable lessons, presents them progressively, introduces time-tested principles and techniques in the atelier tradition that are easily accessible, and shares the language and context necessary to understand the artistic process and create superior, well-crafted drawings.

Atelier education is centered on the belief that working in a studio, not sitting in the lecture hall, is the best way to learn about art. Every artist needs to learn to master figure drawing. Ateliers have produced the greatest artists of all time--and now that educational model is experiencing a renaissance. These studios, a return to classical art training, are based on the nineteenth-century model of teaching artists by pairing them with a master artist over a period of years. Students begin by copying masterworks, then gradually progress to painting as their skills develop.

Figure Drawing Atelier is like having an atelier in a book - and the master is Juliette Aristides, a classically trained artist and best-selling art-instruction author with almost rock star popularity in the contemporary world of representational art. On every page, Aristides uses the works of Old Masters and today's most respected realist artists to demonstrate and teach the principles of realistic figure drawing and painting, taking students step by step through the learning curve yet allowing them to work at their own pace.

Unique and inspiring, this book offers a serious art course for serious art students and beginners alike.

  • Print length 128 pages
  • Language English
  • Publisher Monacelli Studio
  • Publication date September 17, 2019
  • Dimensions 7.75 x 0.63 x 9.3 inches
  • ISBN-10 1580935133
  • ISBN-13 978-1580935135
  • See all details

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Figure Drawing Atelier: An Instructional Sketchbook

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Beginning Drawing Atelier: An Instructional Sketchbook

From the Publisher

drawing draw sketch sketching block blocking art instruction atelier how-to learning figure body

Editorial Reviews

"Once again, Juliette Aristides proves how gifted she is, not only as a draftsman, but also as a cogent communicator of complex information. The close, living connection between past and present is apparent in her art and her teaching: what a rare pleasure, for example, to admire a historical master such as Michelangelo alongside a contemporary one like Steven Assael! Aristides generously helps her readers - even those of us who do not draw - see and appreciate the excellence in every era." - Peter Trippi, editor-in-chief, Fine Art Connoisseur magazine, New York

"Aristides, a true giant of art instruction books, advances the field once again with Figure Drawing Atelier. At last we have a volume that connects the transitions of constructive drawing with optical approaches in an elegant and comprehensive way. The synthesis is powerful and is sure to empower generations of artists to realize their creative potential." - Joshua Jacobo, founder and CEO of New Masters Academy

"Juliette Aristides’s new book, Figure Drawing Atelier, beautifully presents the most important aspects of classical life drawing in a simple and straightforward manner. Every figurative artist, no matter his or her skill level, should have this book on their studio shelf." - Jon deMartin, artist and author of Drawing Atelier

About the Author

Juliette Aristides is an extraordinary draughts person and artist with a deep and well-rounded education and solid commitment to the atelier movement. She studied at the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and various private ateliers. She is now the director of the Aristides Atelier at the Gage Academy of Art in Seattle, Washington. She is the co-founder of the DaVinci Initiative, which works to bring skill-based art instruction into public education. Aristides exhibits in solo and group shows nationally. Her work can be seen at the John Pence Gallery in San Francisco and the Art Renewal Center Living Masters Gallery online.

Aristides is also the best-selling author of Classical Drawing Atelier , Classical Painting Atelier , Lessons in Classical Drawing , Lessons in Classical Painting, and Beginning Drawing Atelier. Visit her website at She is based in Seattle, Washington.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Product details.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Monacelli Studio; Illustrated edition (September 17, 2019)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 128 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1580935133
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1580935135
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.24 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 7.75 x 0.63 x 9.3 inches
  • #80 in Human Figure Art (Books)
  • #95 in Drawing Specific Objects
  • #206 in Figure Drawing Guides

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About the author

Juliette aristides.

Juliette Aristides, whose beautiful art is featured throughout this book, is the founder and director of the Classical Atelier at the Seattle Academy of Fine Arts. She studied with realist master Jacob Collins and at the National Academy of Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She lives in Seattle, Washington.

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