My sketchbooks are central to my work, they are a companion in my creative process. Here I share how I work in my sketchbooks.
When I was 16, I spent a year at a high school in the U.S. and my art teacher there, Mrs. Kennedy, required us to keep a sketchbook. My first sketchbook was a large spiral bound pad. I didn’t understand at the time why I would draw a bell pepper or what was under the sink at my host parents’ house, but I’ve always kept a sketchbook ever since.
One sketchbook for everything
Some people create a new sketchbook for every project, every new technique and every interest, but I only have one, in which I note and draw everything that comes into my head. Because separating my ideas neatly doesn’t work anyway. Everything belongs together and so my sketchbook is also a documentation of the things I am intrested in me, a visual addition to my diary.
A sketchbook for commissions
I put everything in just one sketchbook, but for my commissions, I keep in a separate one. If the ideas I develop for commissions were also in my personal sketchbook, I often wouldn’t be allowed to show it until the projects were published and sometimes that takes a long time. Because I don’t carry it around with me, the commissions sketchbook is bigger than the one I take with me everywhere.
One sketchbook, different types of drawings
My sketchbooks are often praised for looking so consistent. The reason they seem so cohesive is that I use the same drawing tools over and over again, and different types of drawings are repeated more often.
➨ There are pages of rather disorganized handwritten notes on ideas
➜ Small pencil sketches for ideas
➸ Pages on which I drew with black felt-tip pen
➽ Double pages with elaborated drawings
I’m happy when the more elaborate drawings turn out nice, but I often care more about the pages of notes and scribbles than the more finished drawings, because they have so much potential.
Because I know in the end the sketchbook has its appeal as a whole, not every page has to look great and be evenly worked through. The rhythm in the book is important, not the single double-page spread.
A companion in the creative process
My sketchbooks are so important to me because I often work out ideas in them over weeks and months. It starts with a note and a scribble and then evolves. They are a counterpart for me, like a conversation partner. A place where I gather my thoughts and feel at home. An important object that I always have with me.
How to start a lettering sketchbook?
Starting a new sketchbook can be stressful. Not only are you faced with the fear of a blank page, but the fear of an entire blank book.
But I have a simple trick to ease my fear of the blank sketchbook: I don’t start on the first page, but a few pages further back in the book. Then, if the first drawing doesn’t turn out brilliant, it’s hardly noticeable later because it blends in among the other drawings.
I fill my sketchbooks more or less chronologically, but often I leave the double page in the middle of a notebook blank to save it for an elaborate drawing. That’s why my sketchbooks are not entirely chronological.
Sketchbook tips in a PDF
For a talk about my lettering sketchbooks, I’ve also summarized my tips in a PDF. You’re welcome to download it by signing up for my newsletter?
Where to put the sketchbooks?
My sketchbooks from the last 25 years are in the basement archive under my office in Hamburg, not far from the Hamburg harbor. I hope that the cellar never fills up, because the loss would be immeasurable for me.
The sketchbooks are not only an archive of my artistic work, I also look at them from time to time. Sometimes I specifically look for ideas that I only vaguely remember. In order to be able to orient myself more easily, I have labeled the spine of the sketchbooks.
My sketchbooks in the media
➜ In 2021 PAGE magazine asked about my sketchbooks
➽ In spring 2022 my colleague Ramona Weyhde interviewed me for an article about lettering sketchbooks in Handschriften-Magazin
➤ Janine Vangool features my sketchbooks on a double page spread in the Fall 2022 issue of her independent magazine Uppercase
I know exactly how bad such a loss would be, because last year I lost a sketchbook for the first time in my life, and an almost full one at that. It was in a bicycle bag that I left while shopping. I was in a hurry and when I noticed the loss 20 minutes later and came back, of course it was gone. The loss was so painful that I just blocked it out for the first few weeks.
Then I tried to remember what I had drawn in the sketchbook, but it felt like memory loss. A quarter’s worth of ideas gone—terrible. Even after more than a year, I keep an eye out for it where I left my bike bag with the book in it, in the mistaken hope of getting it back. My name was not in the book, of course.
Since then, the first thing I write in every sketchbook is my name.
There are so many different types of sketchbooks, in the end you’ll have to figure out for yourself which one works best for you.
But to get started right away, you can just use one of the sketchbooks or notebooks you already have. As you draw in it, pay attention to what you like and don’t like about the book. And when they fill it up, buy a new one based on those observations.
Criteria for choosing a sketchbook
➨ Size – postcard, book, sketchpad?
➽ Format – portrait, landscape, square?
➤ Number of pages – notebook or bible?
➠ Paper weight – Which tools will you use?
➸ Texture of the paper – smooth or structured?
➜ Tint of the paper – white, off-white, gray, brown, black?
➳ Binding – hardcover, softcover, spiral binding?
This is the sketchbook I use
For the past three years, I have always used the same sketchbook from the Art Creation series by Royal Talens. My sketchbooks are a little smaller than DINA5, so they are about the size of regular books. The paper of this series is not bright white but a bit yellowish. I draw on it mostly with pencil, marker and brushpen, but with a thickness of 140 grams, the paper also tolerates liquid media such as gouache and pen and ink.
All tips in the »Sketchbook Intro«
I summarized my tips for how to keep a lettering sketchbook in a PDF. Among other things, you’ll find
➨ 3 first steps to help you start a sketchbook.
⇶ 21 prompts for when you just don’t know what to draw.
➦ The key to loving your sketchbook.
I hope you will find many practical ideas for your own sketchbook in the 12 pages of the »Sketchbook Intro«.