Sketchbook Mania

sketchbook_mania.jpg It’s kind of embarrassing how many half-filled sketchbooks of all shapes and sizes that I have laying around. As I’ve gotten more in the habit drawing, I tend to pick one up and carry it around in my purse for a while, then lose it in a stack of books. Then start another.

sketchbooks_cathedrals2.jpgBefore now, I never much cared about the lack of continuity, but on this last trip I did so many drawings I was wishing that I had dedicated a new book to it — so that I would have one of those cool travel art journals I see in art books and magazines.


Then I did a few drawings of this family, but messed up the page in between — and had the idea to cut it out, leaving the only the dad’s hand, kind of like a pop-up book.  And that was that. Started cutting up the whole thing.


Moleskine sketchbooks are great because you can cut the threads between signatures and scrape the glue off the back, and have a nice open page. I’ve done this before to frame some sketches, but have never tried to reassemble them into a new book. Now I’m in a quandry how to resolve this.

And I’m noticing how some of my ideas are scattered across many sketchbooks in a very disorganized way and wishing I had a way to keep certain project ideas together.

How about you? Ever cut up your sketchbooks, or do you dedicate certain books to themes to keep your drawings organized. Or do you even care?

38 thoughts on “Sketchbook Mania”

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  2. Hi Pam! Totally late in seeing this. I am terrible about continuity in sketchbooks and having partials. Don’t know what the deal is with that. I took a visual journaling class a few years ago and went through some sketchbooks, cut out pages and images and turned them into new scenes and decorated pages. I photocopied some pages onto good paper and did the same type of thing. I have always loved your art.

  3. I’m addicted to books on sketchbooking. I get on a roll and sketch 20 – 30x/day, then weeks go by…. I love all your books in a pile! I think it is great that you have the habit, even if it isn’t as organized as you think it should be!

  4. Hey Pammie Sue! They’re all so gorgeous — don’t do anything rash! I have the same problem with notebooks and journals – many, many with only a few pages of any kind of writing on them. Love the
    organizational ideas from everyone. Why don’t I ever have organizational ideas? x o Jan

  5. I tend to keep one journal per year. Mine aren’t well organized, but they are dated. So long as I keep them together, it’s not too hard to find whatever I’m looking for. I like the backwards table of contents idea. Many of the suggestions for how to organize journals sound like too much work. Or maybe I’m just too lazy!

  6. Back when I used to write journals I’d date each entry then in the back of the book list the date and topic. I’d end up with a sort of backwards table of contents.
    You could scan all the tables – list them by book (all my sketchbooks and journals are dated on the inside cover by start and end date)

    you could even organize them in Bento if you are really crazy and have a few years worth of extra time! (maniacal laughter ensues)

  7. Hi Dijanne, I know what you mean about the black Moleskine covers. I tried putting stickers on them to help me tell the difference, but can’t remember which stickers I used.

    I’ll have to try something different — I did see one artist who painted the covers of his moleskines, so would like to try that someday.

  8. Hi Pam

    I also have a huge accumulation of sketch/ideas books. I tend to also write a lot in my books and sometiems there will be months where I don’t draw anything much. I always date my entries . I also travel a lot and treat myself to a brand new journal each trip if it’s longer than a week. I tend to buy different looking journals ( I did go the moleskin way for awhile but on the outside they all look the same) so now I keep all different looking ones- and I seem to remember for which trip they were- don’t ask me how? Sometimes it is hard to get an entirely new and different looking sketch book and I have made covers for them- so that this distinguishes them from the spiral bound black covered ones I use at home. I have also started using large sized spiral bound skecth books ( A3 size) for working on particular projects and put everything I have collected , researched and thought of in there. At first it was daunting to use such large books- but now I am enjoying them very much. In this way I have a big book of lace research which I want to recommence,a big book or organics, I have a big book of Caravanserai. I will be making a big book of Egypt and ruined churches/cathedrals in France.

  9. haha, Sandy, I love this, “Got a bad journal page?- rip it out or paint it black…” Sounds like a Rolling Stones song, but good advice!

    Thanks for the encouragement!

  10. Back when i was starting to make quilts, I’ve found that if I put an idea down on paper that I am done with that idea. So I don’t use journals. Instead I do to-do lists and that seems to keep me still thinking about an idea. Now, I do collect ‘stuff’ in vast piles- photographs, sketches, epherema, paint scrapings, whatever, and occasionally realize there is a thread running through that I grab and use immediately before I forget or get on to something else. With all that pile I usually I make a wee book and play around with it until it’s done.

    But Pam, most especially, I want you to know that disorganization is fine, lots of fodder in lots of little books is fine, not numbering or categorizing is fine, and not going after an ISBN is OK too! Got a bad journal page?- rip it out or paint it black or paste something on top. Let your archivist deal with it

  11. What a lovely jumble of sketch books. I usually just keep one going at a time. It’s more of a journal with only a few sketches. Dating pages is an excellent idea.

  12. right now i have two sketchbooks, the thick red one that i chose as my journal sketchbook for 2009 and the moleskin sketch book that i stated back in the beginning of 2008. the red one stays mostly home as it barely fits into my bag except for when i know i’ll be working on something in it outside home. the moleskin is always in my bag and goes everywhere with me, i try to remember to date the pages every few entries. i use it for idea sketching, notes to self and occasionally diary-like entries…
    as far as organizing your books? how about a lovely wood box that you decorate and leave them in. or a fabric Pamdora box? yes the pamdora’s box for Pamdora!

  13. Hi Loreen,
    Great ideas, I think I’m going to aim for separate books for separate projects. I also like the idea of tabs, I sometimes use post-its, but writing labels on them would help too.

    Margaret, thanks for the idea to copy the same sketch to rebind into a different books depending on the project.

  14. That old-fashioned thing the photocopier can be useful too — especially if you want to bind the photocopies into new books of their own (japanese-style, maybe), or make them into accordion books. These can be organised by project, or topic, or date, or whatever…

  15. Hi Pam,
    I used to fill sketchbooks chronologically, but now have several dedicated to different areas to keep related ideas together. There’s one for art quilts; jewelry designs; road trips (small enough to fit in a purse); book design; home decor ideas; and my book projects get a separate one, or at least a dedicated section. They are all black spiral bound sketchbooks with as heavy a paper as possible. I use sticky note tabs to keep track of which is which (too lazy to label the front, apparently.) Am always ready to rip out pages and/or paste things in.

    For a really complicated book project though, I use a binder with nice linen finish bond paper for maximum flexibility.

  16. Hi Stacy,

    I just got Danny Gregory’s new book “An Illustrated Life” today and one of the artists just doodles on all kinds of paper, then later he cuts those out and pastes them into one book. It was a really neat effect because he had done it on a continual basis.

    Good luck on the new journals!

  17. I’ll have to lend my thoughts to the written variety of journal as I only started my ‘sketchbook’ journal this month LOL. I would keep one journal a year. I made it a big deal (for myself) to get one in December for Christmas and that would be the one I would keep. If I happened to have an epiphany while out some where I would simply write it on a small notepad I keep in my purse then rip it out & insert it in the appropriate day. I refuse to lug around journals or sketchbooks as my purse won’t allow that. If I was traveling or some such then certainly they go along in a messenger bag.

    All I have to do then is open the journal & see what year it was. I rarely go back and read them as it takes so much time; but this new idea of drawing is fun and I like taking the time each night to think of something.

  18. I don’t cut up my sketchbooks. I think the order in which the pictures are in has some value. I also think I am too lazy. I like wondering why a journal entry is next to a sketch of a quilt idea. I used to be more more disorganized about my sketchbooks and my journals, mixing them up all the time. Now I use one type of notebook (Miguelrius) for my journals and a variety of others for my sketchbooks, so I can show the sketchbooks to people without worrying about them seeing my personal drama. I scan or photograph the sketches and reorder them that way. I do that quite a bit for projects I am working on to keep all the notes and bits of fabric together. Flickr is useful for organizing, as someone mentioned.

  19. The question, at times, is if my mind speaks or merely mumbles to itself!

    I have about 4 journals that seem to find their way into my bag on rotation. I do have one journal that is only for written thoughts (and some images too) but my interests in pens and inks has made trying new journals & papers a more meaningful thing – so now I have about 10 different books.I thought I might keep one book for doodle drawing and one for more ‘real’ drawing, but that didn’t work so now I no longer care!There is notebook chaos in my land – as well as in my brain !

  20. I have sketchbooks all over the place, and journals, too. Sometimes I pick up a spiral notebook and discover notes or a journal entry from 1985 or earlier. I have given up being organized about that sort of thing, but would love to be more organized in saving photos and memorabilia. It’s everywhere, it’s everywhere……!

  21. I have several unfinished sketchbook/journals…and ALWAYS keep one in my purse. Have you listened to Danny Gregory’s podcasts where he interviews people in his new book about their sketchbooks? They are great interviews and if you haven’t heard them, I know that you would find them most interesting. I sketch, paste, watercolor, make lists (to dos, shopping, grocery, etc). Sometimes I date the pages, but often I don’t. I think a travel sketchbook would be a lot of fun, but haven’t done that yet.


  22. That’s a good idea Carolyn, hadn’t thought of using Flickr to organize them. But then I still have oodles of photos to organize too, sigh.
    Well at least, we don’t have a shortage of ideas floating around, huh?

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

  23. I’m so glad to see I’m not the only one with a stack of half-finished journals. I’ve been thinking about scanning my spreads and then uploading and tagging on Flickr so they can be organized by topic/theme, etc. Some could be marked private or visible only to friends, while others could be shared. (But since I manage to put off most tedious organizational work that doesn’t absolutely have to be done, it probably won’t happen anytime soon ;o)

  24. funny, i was thinking the EXACT same thing about my sketchbooks this morning. I have a million finished and unfinished with ideas for a single project scattered throughout four or five books. I don’t know how to organize them. very frustrating.

  25. This is a very clever idea Cecinatrix!

    I usually start sketchbooks 2-5 pages in anyway, because I find the first page too intimidating to start on, but never thought of going back to make an index.

    Have you seen the book Drawings from Life: The Journal as Art by Jennifer New? She categories people’s journals into chapters like Observation, Exploration, and Reflection, and profiles journals not only from artists, but scientists, architects, and naturalists, among others.

  26. I use one sketch book at a time with dates and I’ve also taken to skipping the first 2-3 pages to write an index: pg# – description – all pgs (& notebooks)I have scribbled on pertaining to that project.

    On “continuing saga” projects, I also write all the pg#s and ntbk info at the top of each page. Sounds kind of anal I know, but I got tired of hunting all over the place for patterns and design solutions.

    I have a background in science and that’s pretty much how I was taught to keep my research notebooks. Of course, I was also taught to include other pieces of pertinent info in my notebook so the things are all distended with taped-in test pieces, prototypes, and labels. Inelegant but useful. 😉

  27. I know what you mean Deb, when I look back at old drawings, I can immediately remember where I was when I drew it and a lot of other things about that time and place.

  28. I work through one sketch book at a time. It is great fun to go back through them and remember what was happening at the time; like a diary.

    I consider the sketches a means to end, not an end in themselves. They most certainly could be an end in themselves, as you are thinking. But my joy comes in working with fabrics, not paper. So as soon as I have developed the idea to a point where I can move to fabric I put the sketchbook away.

  29. Thanks Jill and Gwen, I just bought one of those dial-a-date things at the office store, so now I can stamp-date my sketches. Thought it might look very official.

    Hey Jill, you’ve got me beat on the far-thinking brain cells! I was just thinking about showing the book to my buddies next week, lol.

  30. I do both;pick up random sketchbooks and reassemble sketchbooks. I always date my pages, or at very least the book. I suppose if I didn’t date my pages I wouldn’t know how long it was since I last picked up a particular sketchbook, I do end up wondering when a certain image or idea ocurred.

    I’ve lately taken to using spiral sketchbooks, the Aquabee Super Deluxe specifically. I carefully remove the coils and then treat the paper as single sheets. I can cut, glue, collage, draw, whatever, and then reassemble the work into a book format with some kind of organizational structure. I have even gone as far as putting a hardcover binding around the coiled page. Nita Leland’s books are often bound in this manner.

    In either case, I don’t like planning the finished product while I’m making 2-d work. The book making part is its own process.

  31. Hi Kristin,

    Yes, I’m thinking about doing both pasting and sewing, but wondering if I should put it back into the black moleskine cover or make my own. Too many choices!

    Thanks for all your ideas and comments.

  32. I don’t care too much as my sketchbooks are more like lists of ideas with the occasional diagram (that happens to look like a sketch). I too date most of the pages and can go back to find things in sort of an archeological way.

    As for your cutting up of journals, I say paste too. Forget neat signatures and just cut and paste to your heart’s content until you get the cohesive story you want. I suspect they’ll look better, not worse. 🙂

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