Why I’m Okay With an Ugly Sketchbook

I’ve always wanted a beautiful sketchbook. Not the actual book—anyone can pick up a Moleskine. I mean the content. Faces. Imaginative scenes. Hands. Pen drawings. Posca marker illustrations. You know the ones you see on Pinterest right? But I never got there. Not even 10 pages of beautiful spreads. It bugged me for a long time.

Kinda what my mind pictured when I thought of the ideal sketchbook.

I started digging into why I could never get there. I asked myself why I wanted a beautiful sketchbook. My reason: to look creative and appear imaginative. Whoa! I felt shallow. But my sketchbooks weren’t empty. The exact opposite was true. So I decided to audit the contents. What did they contain? Doodles. Thoughts. Ideas. Wireframes. Designs. Rants. Notes. Tasks to be done.

It was a journal of my life and work. Wow. I never intended it to be one. It indicated what was important to me. It showed what was going in my mind. It dawned on me that a sketchbook is a tool. A tool to help you get from where you are to where you want to be. It’s a log. A way of processing. A way of progressing. An account of the passage of time. A deeply personal thing. Not a sketchbook, but a journal. In which I occasionally sketched and doodled. A tool for the journey. Not the final destination.

Some spreads in my journals and sketchbooks.

I imagine those beautiful sketchbooks I’d seen were indeed part of a journey. A journey towards a career as a concept artist. Or toward a 7th solo illustration exhibition. Or toward a 22nd published picture book. Or just what was on the artist’s mind that day. Or something they were curious about. Or wanted to try out. Not the destination. The pages in her sketchbook helped her get somewhere. Become someone. Achieve something. They were experiments. Prototypes. Tests. Play. Curiosity indulgences. Not the end goal. Not their best work.

Maybe as my dreams and goals change I’ll end up with a beautiful sketchbook. But it will be a byproduct of where I want to be. Of what I want to do. Of intention. Of goals. Of a journey toward something.

What About You?

If you’re struggling to fill up your sketchbook, or if it’s sitting there full of untouched blank pages, and you have a desire to fill it up, ask yourself, “Where am I going? Who do I want to become? And how can this book help me get there?” Start. Experiment in it. Prototype. Make notes. Make it a tool. Use it. Bend it. Tear pages out.

You may discover that you‘re already on a journey somewhere. Already becoming someone. And that this desire to be someone else got in the way. Prevented you from walking your authentic path. You could also start by asking, “What do I want to fill my sketchbook up with? And why do I want to fill it up this way?” See where these questions lead. If you’re someone who does have a beautiful sketchbook, you can ask yourself the same questions.

Is this sketchbook the end goal?
Or is it a tool for helping you get somewhere?


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