Thursday, February 11, 2021

Ta Da!

By Barbara Weeks

It’s that time of year when the USk Chicago team usually starts planning in ernest for our annual seminar. Well, obviously, this is not a usual year, BUT we are making plans! We can’t gather all together in person, but we have a great time getting together virtually with our weekly sketch prompts. Why not join together virtually to learn and review sketching pointers and skills? In the past we posted a column on the blog under the headline Tuesday Tips and Tricks ...

Introducing Tips and Tricks Thursday (aka T&T)!

T&T will  be a twice a month column about sketching skill-building ideas. Some of the columns will be brand new, others will be refreshed columns from the past. 

To get started let’s review the benefits of doing what we do – keeping sketchbooks.

Quite a few years ago, (thanks to an invitation from Don Yang) Alex Zonis, Wes Douglas, and I spoke at the American Academy of Art in Chicago as part of their Visiting Artist Series. My section of the presentation dealt with the value and habit of keeping a sketchbook. I want to share my thoughts with you.

I’ve been involved with art for my livelihood since graphic design was called commercial art and cut and paste was literally cut and paste. My first job right out of college was with a small ad agency in Hackensack, New Jersey and let me tell you, I rejoice, everyday, for the miracle of the digital world, 


Every Visual Creative Should Keep a Sketchbook!

There are as many different kinds of sketchbooks and as many reasons for keeping them, as there are sketchers. I’m only going to give you five.

Five Reasons to Keep a Sketchbook

1. Practice – the most obvious, 

Drawing is a skill and must be developed. Great athletes, musicians, actors, and artists, we all need to practice to improve and hone our performance. 

2. Record ideas

Keep a sketchbook with you always. Do it! Ideas can be fleeting. How many times have you thought, “Wow, what a great idea. That will come in handy later,” and when later came the great idea was gone? Jot it down or scribble a quick sketch!

What kind of ideas? A scribbled gesture, an eavesdropped conversation, a fleeting image or thought, a color scheme – anything!

3. Experimentation 

Try out and practice with new media or tools, compositions, play with new styles– again, ANYTHING! 

4. View progress

  • Overall progress – the strides you make in your artistic development over a  period of time, whether it’s months or years.
  • Idea development – the evolution of an idea from the first scribble to finished concept or product.

5. Cheaper than a psychiatrist

This reason may be my own little reason, but I share it with you. Waiting used to be a time of aggravation and annoyance for me. Now, I think, “Oh good I can sketch.” I also have more  sketches done in hospital emergency rooms than I care to think about  but they kept me calm and sane. And sometimes when I’m “in the zone” it’s like meditation.

Good Reasons but How?

Five Tips for Developing the Sketchbook Habit

1. Love your sketchbook (but not too much.) I’ve had  beautiful books given to me, and some I’ve bought myself and saved them for  something special because they’re “too good” – that’s very inhibiting. It’s one more excuse not to start. Get a sketchbook you like but won’t be upset if you spill your coffee on it or the cover gets scratch etc. Get one that you will  actually use.

2. Carry it with you always. (I know I’m repeating myself. It’s that important.) and use it!

I use several sketchbooks at one time, all different sizes. Some are themed – like Urban Sketchers or travel. Some are for convenience or size, a small one in the glove compartment of my car, a tiny one that fits in an evening bag, one  near the TV and the best of all my daily workhorse that is also part journal, part agenda. That’s the one that is in my bag, on my desk and beside my bed. 

3. Get over the first page fear. If a fancy new sketchbook can be “too precious” the first page in ANY sketchbook can be intimidating. 

Some ideas that I’ve had success with in getting over the first page roadblock:

  • Skip the first couple of pages, go back to them later, if at all
  • Paint the palette, brush, or tools that you’re using now
  • Set up an index that you can fill in as you go along
  • Write a favorite or motivating quote

4. It isn’t for sketches only. 

Write in it – grocery lists, phone numbers, quotes, notes.

Glue stuff in it – business cards, ephemera, travel info, maps, napkin drawings,  random scribbled ideas and thoughts etc.

Make it a workhorse, the more you use it the more you use it!

5. Share some of your sketches 

There is a remarkable community of artists all over the world who connect by sharing their work online. They make hospitable and willing companions to sketch with wherever you may find yourself. They’re only FaceBook post away. Sharing your sketches whether it’s Instagram, FB, Pinterest, or wherever, is also a great motivator and you’ll find inspiration in the work of others. The sketchbook habit develops our drawing skills and

cultivates that spontaneous work on location.

By keeping a sketchbook and acquiring the sketching habit, urban sketching isn’t something we do; it becomes part of who we are – Urban Sketchers.

Want to keep up to date by email? Fill in your email address in the place provided in the upper right corner under the banner. We look forward to hearing from you.


  1. Oh, Barbara, what a great, inspiring article! Thank you for sharing!❤

  2. Thanks Barbara,for an inspiring article!

  3. I love this. Very good reminders. It is also fun and very interesting to look at your sketchbooks for the last year or two, and to go to older ones to see how you have progressed, if you have the same interests, etc. And sketchbooks for the last year will be an important journal for the challenges of the pandemic.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.