How to sketch in a sketchbook

How To Embrace A Sketching Habit (+ Why You Should)

“Sketching is a waste of time – and I’m no good at it!” 

Sound familiar? 

If you feel defeated every time you pick up a pencil to sketch, I get it. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and intimidated while staring down the barrel of a blank page. You might have no idea what to sketch, are convinced there’s no value in sketching, or just plain second-guessing your entire ability to sketch. 

Well, we need to wipe that slate clean!  

Let’s start by defining what a “sketch” actually is. You’re probably thinking that a sketch is a bunch of scribbly lines thrown together on a napkin (or maybe in a sketchbook because “real” artists use sketchbooks – you were thinking that, right?).

How to sketch on paper

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a sketch is 

“a rough drawing representing the chief features of an object or scene and often made as a preliminary study.” 

Please reread that definition not once, not twice, but three, four, or ten times. Did anything jump out at you? What about the part that says, “often made as a preliminary study”? Hmm… I think we’re on to something here! If that definition doesn’t take the pressure off, then I don’t know what will. 

Guys, the whole purpose of creating a sketch is to capture the “overall idea” of something. A sketch is not a full-blown rendering. A sketch is just an IDEA–a mere thought! Don’t get caught up in the self-doubt talk of “I can’t sketch” or “I don’t have the right art materials to sketch.” 

How to sketch in sketchbook

You CAN sketch and you DO have the right materials.

You can sketch in pen or pencil, markers or crayon, ketchup or mustard – you name it! There are no rules. You can sketch on a dirty napkin or in a dedicated sketchbook. The point is to not let the selection process prevent you from getting started.

Remember, a sketch is meant to be a quick representation of something you’d like to illustrate l-a-t-e-r. Or a simple moment captured in time with the tools you had. We need to learn to embrace the messiness of a sketch – sketching is meant to be quick and imperfect, and it shouldn’t be stressful because this isn’t your finished product.

So, why should you embrace a sketching habit?

Sketching is a superb tool to build artistic motivation because you’re more likely to finish a sketch than an actual illustration or painting. And the more you finish your sketches, the more you’ll feel confident in your art. To learn more about finishing your art, read my tips here.

Loose sketch in sketchbook


Schedule a short amount of time to sketch regularly, ideally 30 minutes or less. Pick a set amount of days per week or number of objects/scenes you’d like to sketch, then stick to it. Make sure to complete each sketch and try not to overthink your work. Then, move on to the next one. A sketch is meant to be imperfect. Use this challenge to learn how to let go and accept the process.

Another easy way to get started with sketching is to take a few art supplies with you on your next trip! Here are a few examples of supplies to pack. 

Without the pressure of having to make your sketch look perfect, you might be surprised at how beautiful your study turns out. Just because you did a rush job with a No. 2 pencil on printer paper doesn’t mean you can’t fall in love with the final sketch. If you do, frame it! 

Crab Sketch

And if you’re dead set on jumping straight into illustrating or painting without sketching first, that’s okay too. Sketching doesn’t always have to be a preliminary study for your next huge oil painting. Sketching can be a form of art in and of itself. 

So, whether you sketch to create a final illustration or you simply want to capture your favorite cafe while sipping on a latte – remind yourself to keep the process unedited. Take a cue from the evolving world of social media. Gone are the days of coveting these beautiful, blemish-free images. You do not need to filter everything. 

Keep it raw. Keep it real. Keep it stress-free. You might surprise yourself.