How to Develop a Positive Sketchbook Mindset

Do you horde sketchbooks and art materials with the hopes of finishing them? Do you put them in a 'someday' pile but don't complete your sketchbook? Perhaps your sketchbook mindset might be holding you back rather than helping you progress.

In this post, I want to help you find the right mindset to maintain a drawing habit for those who struggle with perfectionism.

Until a year ago, I did not maintain a sketchbook. I would watch sketchbook tour videos and feel the artists online seemed to create perfect work. I compared myself to their work and wondered if I'll ever get there. I frequently felt intimidated by page after page of beautiful work. This made me feel like my work was horrible, so I did not keep a sketchbook.

Maybe these artists are far more experienced than I am, so everything they create will be much higher quality. Or maybe, they put their messy trials and errors in other sketchbooks. I don't know...

The problem is that we live in a world where we see only curated versions of people's lives through social media. We start to have false expectations about the journey of being an artist. We might put too much pressure on ourselves by expecting beautiful work every time we sit down to draw.

sketchbook drawing

If we focus only on creating art that looks good, we forgo the important learning lessons that come with 'bad' drawings. The practice of gestures, quick studies, and short poses may not look beautiful, but they are immensely helpful in building your artistic muscles.

Maybe one day I will be skilled enough where I create nothing but perfection, but I am not there yet. I want to change the narrative of perfect sketchbooks, where each page is a masterpiece. I hope you will come to accept bad drawings as a part of the process of creativity.

Below are a few practices that have helped me maintain a sketchbook through the growing pains of being at the beginning of my art journey.

1. Practice self-compassion

As creative people, we can often be very critical of our work. According to Ira Glass, we start with great taste, but there's a gap between the art we like and the skills that help us create our work. So we are often left feeling disappointed with our artwork. Everyone experiences this uncomfortable phase in their art journey. You need to understand that disliking your work right now is normal. To get past this phase, the most crucial action you can take is to create more art.

If you commit to working towards your artistic goals, you will be good enough soon.

You are still an artist, even if you don't feel like it right now. Be kind to yourself when you don't like your work, and avoid talking to yourself in harsh language. Remind yourself that your love and passion for art is the reason you choose to draw.

2. Don't judge. Just draw.

Does your mind constantly shout at you about everything that went wrong with your drawing? Mine does. We wouldn't talk to a friend in a mean and rude way, but we are awful to ourselves. I want to encourage you to try to talk to yourself in a kinder tone. Avoid judging your art harshly and see if it helps you create more easily.

Resist labelling each piece of work as good or bad. Strive to always be present in the process of making your artwork.

Dont jude, just draw


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3. Find comfort in discomfort

The act of learning is mainly intellectual, but the experience is primarily emotional. This emotional experience might make us label our drawings as successes and failures. The emotional experience of being a beginner and making mistakes that often keeps people from even trying. As beginner artists, we have to get through the learning phase. We need to get comfortable with being awkward, graceless, and inept until we can draw better.

It's just a stage we must go through to become the competent artists we want to be. Don't let the ugly duckling phase stop you from drawing and painting regularly by embracing the discomfort of making bad art.

4. Buy inexpensive sketchbooks

This pressure to not 'ruin' my sketchbook with messy beginner-level art causes me to procrastinate. My most beautiful-looking sketchbooks go unused. I feel that every page needs to live up to the beauty of the sketchbook. As a workaround, I buy only inexpensive sketchbooks. This way, I am not concerned with ruining them with bad, incomplete, messy drawings.

Inexpensive sketchbooks

A sketchbook is a perfect place to experiment, and the consequences are low. We can make mistakes and create bad drawings, and we don't have to share them with anyone. It can be a personal project.

5. Employ a Growth Mindset

Can you use your mistakes to grow your own practice? If you get caught in a loop of self-criticism and comparison, try to see what you can learn from your inner critic rather than focusing on your feelings of ineptitude by developing a growth mindset.

A person with a growth mindset recognises intellect, skills, and talents as something that can be learned and developed through work. You might think, "My perspective in this drawing appears a bit off; I need a few lessons in this area."

However, a person with a fixed mindset believes that the same characteristics are innately constant and unalterable across time. They might think, "I'll never be a good artist; I just don't have the talent."

Carol Dweck, a psychologist, introduced the ideas of growth and fixed mindsets in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Her research showed that the right mindset could help you acquire the information and abilities required for success.

I believe that how you approach setbacks and challenges in your art practice is down to your mindset. If you view your bad drawings as opportunities to grow, you will look forward to the errors and mistakes.

I promise that maintaining a sketchbook will help you think and see like an artist. If we want to improve, we have to show up and do the work. Maintaining a sketchbook is a must for all artists. No excuses!

figure drawing sketchbook

Our sketchbooks tell a story about our journey as an artist. We can use it as a journal to tell the story of our lives. It's a safe place to get creative, experiment and see what lights us up. A sketchbook is an opportunity to express ourselves.

I'd love to hear from you. Do you have a growth or fixed mindset?

What has been your relationship with maintaining a sketchbook? Do you love or hate them?

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1 comment

  • Hi I just read your article on growth or fixed mindset. Great article! You described me to a t! I’m a beginner. My drawings start out great in my head —then? I had never really thought of drawing the way you described. When I have finished a drawing I see parts that are good and parts that are not too good. I haven’t been keeping a sketch book. Starting now I AM. Over the years of doing woodworking I see all my mistakes. And I’m amazed other people don’t. Thanks for the inspiration! Ron


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