“Habit – a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.”  Oxford English Dictionary.

I usually hear one of two statements from people. “I have no idea how to draw!” or “Where do you find the time to keep a sketchbook?”

I’m keen to address this second question in this blog post. The answer to it lies in your ability to commit to developing a daily sketchbook habit.

So. Before I proceed we need to do a stop check. Are you ready to develop a sketchbook habit? (You can read about the benefits of keeping a sketchbook here.) If you’re reading this post chances are you are keen to give it go.

My sketchbook habit started about 18 months ago now. I’m keen to share how I developed one from the very first day I sat and stared at a blank double page in a brand new sketchbook.

  1. Make a decision about committing to starting a sketchbook.  First of all have confidence that this is something you can have a go at doing. Please don’t care about how good you are at drawing! Draw and sketch as if no-one is watching. (Who says that’s only reserved for dancing?) Second, think about your lifestyle. Do you meditate or take time out in your day? (If you don’t maybe this is the perfect way to do so) Could you build your sketchbook habit as part of your daily mindfulness routine and expand it to become a sketchbook journal that forces you to think about your day? Or maybe you are a busy professional like me and can only grab 5-10 minutes here and there?  If you take a look at my sketchbooks, the pages are split into boxes or into 3 segments that get filled over the course of the day depending on when I have time, grab my coffee break or relax. Or maybe you have time at the end of your day, in front of the TV or dinner table?  You may have spent the day collecting great pictures of things that you can have a go putting to paper. Take the time to think about how you operate and then assess how you can start sketching that means it is realistic to sustain!
  2. Oh but I ran out of time today! Try not to make exceptions. We all know that in order to meet our expectations we need to set realistic ones! A bit like any relationship. Get ready to develop one with your sketchboook.  BE REALISTIC about what you can commit. Its easy to start and be excited about it but slow and steady can sometimes win the race. Some weeks I have 5 minutes here and there per day and others, say on the weekends, I have an hour or maybe more. I would also encourage you to treat this new habit as a portable one – one that can fit into your lifestyle. Keep your sketchbook small enough to carry with you.
  3. Keep it simple! I started with a sketchbook (I didn’t even go for anything specific) a pencil and a rubber. That’s it.  It is so easy to get diverted and attracted by all the sketching materials out there especially when you are new to sketching that it can make you feel a rabbit in headlights. And don’t expect Van Gogh standards from the get go (actually his sketchbooks show us that it took him over a year of drawing people in his sketchbooks to get it right!). Keep your sketchbooks relatively small to start with – say A5 size. Keep your drawings simple. Go for simple shapes with simple lines. The simpler you keep things at the beginning the more encouraged you will be as you progress. Even consider keeping a part written, part sketching journal during the initial stages too.  This can sometimes inspire ideas for you to draw that might not necessarily focus on drawing objects!
  4. Tell others what you are doing! Tell me! (Join Emily’s Notebook community and let me know how you are getting on!) Share what you are doing with others around you. I don’t know what it is about keeping a sketchbook but people love them.  People love seeing artwork and something created by hand by others. I actually opened my instagram account for the sole purpose of sharing my sketches and holding me to account for a small daily post of what I was putting together. I posted what I sketched the night before (with a mini journal entry about it) as a sort of online visual journal. It can motivate you to keep it up! The other group of people to share your new habit with is children.  If you have children its a great way of setting aside time to sketch together, especially when you use it to talk about the day.
  5. Did you know that pleasure based habits are the most difficult to break?  If your brain is releasing dopamine why would it want to give it up! I guarantee with the implementation of the above; pacing yourself, being realistic, and committing to a sketchbooking journey, you will start to enjoy yourself and discover new ways of looking at the world. The more you do the easier sticking to it will become. Why is drawing so pleasurable? Why did I find it so pleasurable in a season of my life that can only be classed as turbulent? It built self esteem, distracted my attention away from my worries oddly bringing perspective and a different viewpoint to my situation, and produced a tangible finished creative product that has only got better with time! Why wouldn’t I want to return to it on a daily basis?
  6. Set yourself a 30 day challenge. Yes. That’s right. Why should this only be exclusive to exercising? A 30 day sketching challenge means committing to making a sketch every day for 30 days.  A challenge like this is a great way of establishing exactly why and what you want to draw. In my blog post “How to Stay Inspired as a Sketchbook Artist”  I talk about working out your why, how, what and when even if its simply a case of wanting to give sketching a try. That’s enough of a reason.  But I’d like to challenge you to explore what you’d like to achieve – become a better artist, draw more accurately, use a sketchbook as part of your mindfulness techniques. Getting better as an artist lies in consistency. A 30 day challenge is a great way of establishing a pattern to your drawing. Make one drawing, fill one box, one page or fill a double spread like I do every day. Create a list or download one. You can even follow along online or post your pictures to social media channels as a way of staying accountable. The other great benefit of accessing a 30 day challenge is you connect to a community of other artists on similar journeys. I find that seeing what others produce motivates me to want to draw more and learn new techniques to become just as good.
  7. Draw what you see! Drawing possibilities are endless. Your mug of tea or coffee, buildings in the street, your sofa, your street, people…your 30 day challenge will support you expand on getting into the habit of simply drawing objects.  Start with inanimate objects around you in the comfort of your own home. They are less likely to move, or talk to you in public spaces! Its important from the ofset to start honing your observational skills from “live” objects as opposed to photographs. There are 5 basic principles involved in drawing as outlined by Betty Edwards in her cult classic, “Drawing with the Right Side of the Brain.” (edges and lines, perspective, tone, shadows and highlights and your own va va voom.)  I’m looking forward to expanding on each of these areas in my other posts. Get into the habit of carrying your sketchbook with you, stopping to look around you at the things that interest you and then getting that sketchbook out and drawing what you see. The fact that your drawing journey is contained within a sketchbook may also encourage you to start to discover your own artistic style. Its the irregularities in how you convey what you see that make a sketchbook the most charming thing of all!
  8. Reward  yourself once you achieve a set amount of time! The best reward at the end of completing a sketchbook is buying another one! Make sure you celebrate your achievement by treating yourself. I’d advocate buying art materials to compliment your new found skill!

I promise you that the satisfaction, mindfulness journey, improvement in skill and thinking, and general daily enjoyment will spur you on for another 30 days!

To get a free download of “How to Build a Sketchbook Habit as Part of your Daily Routine” and access to so many more resources sign up for Emily’s Notebook community here!

I’d love to hear about your sketchbook habits.

Emily x