Why Carry A Sketchbook Wherever You Go?

notebook of Nick Cave

Notebook of Nick Cave, image source: flavorwire.com

When I meet people who want to work in a creative field but have problems to get the ball rolling I suggest them to carry a small notebook, or sketchbook wherever they go. I tell them not to use a notepad app on their smartphone, but something they can really touch and feel.

You can always wander around with an idea in your head and form or twist it in different directions, but these mind games won’t lead your ideas anywhere. Once you write them down or do some sketches these ideas will take a life of their own. Just by writing down your thoughts other thoughts will arise which will lead to other paths which you would never have found if you just recycled the same old idea in your mind.

“One day I will make something out of that.” Most people might think. But this day will never come if you do not make the first step. And this step is writing your thought down or doing some quick sketches. And if you use some kind of notebooks instead of loose sheets of paper you have the advantage that you have all your thoughts stored in one place. Waiting for you until you are ready to do the next step.

If you work in a graphic field there is another advantage in using a sketchbook which is very important in order to grow as an artist (who one day might want to make a living out of his/her passion): Feedback!

You can hand your ideabook to somebody you are having a conversation with and observe their reactions to your creations. You get instant, (and, if you are good at reading body body language) nearly unfiltered feedback on what you are breeding in your head. So get a glimpse on what works and what does not. Most people won’t shy away telling you what they think is awesome and what they think is crap.

Or maybe you might hear something like my beloved aunt’s reaction which went something like this when she saw the finished storyboard for one of the next episodes of my web series Shadows of Prey:


My aunt is speechless.

“John, did you think about this?”
“Ehm, yes…”
“But… but you are such a nice person. I mean…”

She makes eye contact with my cousin.

“Where does this shit come from?”

My cousin gives my aunt this “You know- it’s John – he has always been strange”-look. My aunt looks back at me.

“John, how long does it take to get one of these ideas?”
“Two minutes.”
“No, no really, how long did it take to think about this thing?”
“Well, two minutes.”
“Why do you do that, why don’t you create nice things?”
“I do. I have some other stories, I just haven’t written them down yet…”

I just love to scare people 🙂

Whatever the reactions might be – take it as it is: Just a single person’s opinion.

And why is it important to always carry the sketchbook with you? Because you’ll never know when the little butterfly called inspiration might touch you gently with its wings. Or when you have some minutes which otherwise would have been lost – waiting at the bus stop, waiting at the doctor’s, sitting in the tram…

notebook of Nick Cave

One reaction I hear rather often when people thumb trough the sketchbook I am currently carrying with me is:

“Wow, you really must have a lot of spare time.”

They could not be further away from the truth. I do not want to bother you with boring details, but you can believe me, that the least thing I have is spare time. 🙂
But what I do is try to make the best of these moments which otherwise would have been lost minutes and hours.

Remember, it does not have to be perfect. It is just a tool to get your projects rolling.

Good Luck! 🙂

What are your experiences with notebooks or sketchbooks? When do you write down your ides or do some quick sketches? Be free to comment in the section below 🙂

9 responses to “Why Carry A Sketchbook Wherever You Go?

  1. Your ideas are great for writers and poets too. I carry a small moleskin notepad, because it’s bendable, and jot down words or feelings that I find in the air while I walk my dog.
    The conversation you wrote about your mother’s reaction is almost identical to the one my mother has with my son, only she prefaces everything with “MIjo, why do you draw scary things…Mijo, you’re so talented, draw pretty things, like vases and flowers…Mijo, you went to art school to draw monsters?”


  2. Thank you 🙂 And yes, your son went to art school so he can now draw even cooler monsters 🙂 I think, that it is important to follow the path you feel is the right one for you. Otherwise we would be living other people´s lifes.


  3. What a great post! I especially love this: “Once you write them down or do some sketches these ideas will take a life of their own. Just by writing down your thoughts other thoughts will arise which will lead to other paths which you would never have found if you just recycled the same old idea in your mind.”

    I often get caught up with little rhymes or sentences or images, and if I don’t write them down, I lose them. If I do write them down right away, they almost always turn into something and grow.

    And regarding people’s weird comments – people never understand the seeds, but they love the flowers.


    • That’s true, and I have noticed, that even if they are just small snippets written down on the bus or when yor are for something it, somehow, turns to “a whole” when you look at it in the context of a whole little notebook or sketchbook.


  4. Awesome page John! I have dozens of notebooks of musical ideas,notes from books i’ve read,and Scribbles of artwork ideas. I always done this instinctively& never thought too much about it. Obviously this has helped me with my Horror Film/art Blog at (silverscreenshadowplay.wordpress.com) Some people don’t say anything when they view my art. It can be frustrating. Not everybody expresses their open opinion on if they like it or not! I guess that I am a rare breed nowadays;I still use a good old #2 pencil and regular Heavy stock white paper for my art not computer assisted “lifeless” images.It’s the “mistakes” in art that makes it unique!!! Keep exploring your creative side! —————RJ


    • Thank you very muc, RJ, you´ve got a great blog, too. And I totally share your opinion, that a computer drawn image can´t compete with a good old hand drawn sketch in a sketchbook 🙂 And for the feedback: In my case I don´t rely on what they say, but the y don´t say. I watch the reactions in their face and body language – that tells a lot about what the like and what the dislike. Or you can simply ask them what they think about your art…


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