Spending Time with my Sketchbook / by Leslie Fandrich


By Leslie Fandrich // Theme: Exploration // Category: Personal Work


There is one single thing that has made me feel infinitely more creative in 2013 than in all the other years since art college. It has been making pages in my sketchbook. The practice started out slowly, as most things do, but soon it became an avalanche of pages. I carry it with me everywhere, to the coffee shop, to the beach and even once while a passenger in a car. Making something new in my book always feels fresh and fun and I never fear making a mistake, as I sometimes do when faced with a canvas or large sheet of expensive paper.

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.
— Maya Angelou

First, a little history. I've always kept some kind of sketchbook, journal or notebook. I have stacks and stacks of them. During high school they were true sketchbooks, with drawings in them. In art college, I was using them to plan out assignments and figure out what a larger art pieces would look like. During my years as a design professional the tone took on a decidedly more corporate feel with lots of notes from meetings and lists of tasks. By the time I became a mother they were filled with household lists of every kind and very little art. 


Two years ago I began to actively bring drawing and color back to my books. I began trying out different styles and brands and the process was much like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The paper in *that* book was too thin and glossy, the paper in *the other* book was too smooth and yellow, but the paper in THIS BOOK was just right. It was all about the paper. I needed something thick enough that color wouldn't bleed through and I also realized that I needed two books. I didn't want my grocery and to-do lists mixing in with my art.  I finally found the Moleskine pocket watercolor notebook for my art explorations and the soft-cover ruled journal for my lists. They are perfect together. 

The paper in the sketchbook is cold press, so there is some texture to it and it's 200 gsm, which is almost 140lb weight paper. It's ideal for all kinds of media and nothing bleeds through to the other side. The pocket size is perfect to carry around with me. I love the super wide landscape format and I'll either do one long spread or two spreads that compliment each other.


I've also found my favorite pens and pencils and I have a mini watercolor set that came with basic colors but which I've since customized. This summer, I finally found a pencil case that it all fits in! 

My supply list:

You can purchase some of these items on Amazon.


“I don’t think of sketch- books as sacred. They are rough materials. That is where I find beauty. My notebook is with me always. It is an extension of my mind. My mind wanders and I pay attention to where it goes. This is how I practice creativity.” - Paul Madonna

The materials that work for me might not work for you, but you have to start somewhere. Use what you already have. Gesso the pages of an old book. Buy a few things and see if you like what they do. When I first started, I used Prismacolor markers, but eventually I found I liked painting with watercolors better. 

Once you've got all your materials, it's time to sit down and make a few pages. I tend to work on a few spreads at a time and I just keep at them until I am happy. I have taken things out, covered things up, added pages and glued in bits I've drawn in other places. This is why there is no fear of making mistakes. Nothing is permanent and everything can be changed or covered up. It's a safe place to play.

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
— Scott Adams

The easiest way to start is to do a test page/color palette with whatever media you are using. I fill in squares of each color I have and sometimes I write the names of the colors underneath. (This has proved helpful when reordering colors.) Play around with your pencils and pens too, make random marks, fill up the page, scribble. See what they can do. I've also used chalk pastels in my book (see the image below), however those require a fixative to prevent them from smudging so I use them sparingly. If I'm drawing what I see around me, I'll start with a rough pencil outline, then trace over the lines with the ink pens and finish with the watercolors. 


I've found the best time to work in my sketchbook is in the morning with a cup of coffee. It's so nice to start the day with a little bit of playing and sometimes the things I figure out in my book will inform a project later. Don't worry if you don't like something right away, come back to it later and figure out what you need to change.

There have been weeks where I haven't touched my book at all because I am working on large paintings or other projects and then all of a sudden I need to go back to that exploration stage and I will spend days working on a bunch of pages. It's a place to have fun and play, to make mistakes and fix them and to explore. It's been an invaluable part of my creative process.

See more pages in my sketchbook, and be sure to get started making your own!