I got to thinking, with Inktober here and a whole pile of empty sketchbooks staring at me, I thought I’d compile a list of ideas to help you fill up one or more of those many empty sketchbooks you might have as well.


I wrote about important people in my life and drew their shoes for Uppercase Magazine! So much fun.

A photo posted by juliarothman (@juliarothman) on

  • Illustrate your favorite recipes (inspired by They Draw And Cook)
  • Draw your outfit, maybe what you’re wearing today, or your favorite outfit or what your kids are wearing. Document your shoe, bag or jewelry collection with notes about the who, whats and whys of the items. (Originally inspired by Julia Rothman’s Kind Soles piece that appeared in Uppercase Magazine #16)
  • Are you an avid reader or music collector? Draw the covers of your favorite books or albums or illustrate scenes based on the stories or lyrics. (inspired by the book, My Ideal Bookshelf)
  • Alphabet project: “A is for ….” This is another idea inspired by Uppercase Magazine. Each issue they do a themed alphabet around their issue theme and provide a word for each letter of the alphabet to that theme, like ceramics, stitchery, pattern & decoration and so forth. Then they provide a definition or visual representation of each term in the alphabet. For example in the Pattern & Decoration issue #21, “C is for Calico” and “W is for William Morris”. For whatever subject you have a particular interest in, you could do an alphabet project and try to think up terms, people or elements and illustrate each of them. In some cases you might have many to choose from and could do more than one.
  • Speaking of pattern: why not turn a sketchbook into a pattern book? Geometrics, repeating, linear, nonlinear, one-color, multi-color, representational, natural, textural… so many to choose from! Check out Uppercase Magazine Issue #21 (now sold out but the Surface Design Guide will be included in the upcoming issue #32), or artists like Lotta Jansdotter, Orla Kiely, Marimekko to get started with pattern design.
  • Attend figure drawing events, or other activities that allow you the opportunity to regularly draw from life be it your local coffee shop, your kids’ playground playdate or your long-suffering partner, pet or child enduring being the subject of yet another portrait drawing. Dedicate one sketchbook or notebook for this purpose. (Inspired by Ladies Drawing Night, Hallmark’s Noon Sketch Group and Roz Stendahl)
  • Collage. If the paper in a particular sketchbook or noteook is not sturdy enough for your favorite drawing or painting materials, use the book to collage in scraps of found materials like labels, stickers, menus, ticket stubs and other ephemera. Gesso the pages to add strength and let the book become a waffle-paged beast. Create an artist’s journal that documents your life events through drawings, photos and ephemera. (Inspired by Make Your Own Ideabook with Arne & Carlos: Create Handmade Art Journals and Bound Keepsakes to Store Inspiration and Memories)
  • Draw your breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner. Or coffee. (inspired by Danny Gregory and Liz Steel)
  • Lettering practice. Sounds simple but using one book for a 15-minute-a-day practice doing lettering drills, writing a quote, the #rockyourhandwritingchallenge or some other specific task will help improve your lettering skills.
  • Dedicate one sketchbook to be your color key. Use this book to test, document and list all the pens, pencils, paints, inks and other art materials your own. Figure out which colors and brands you like, you think mix or blend well and keep them all in one book to use as your giant reference guide. Be sure this book is one with your favorite type of paper and has lots of pages as you will want to continue to update and reference it. A good rule of thumb is to use one side of the book to do swatch tests and then the other side to do a drawing with the materials to see how they perform in “real world” tests. (inspired by Jane Davenport)
  • Draw from old photographs. Go through your family photos or visit the local antique shops or thrift stores and use the old photos as points of reference for your drawings. (inspired by Maira Kalman’s book Girls Standing on Lawns)
  • Draw what you’re watching on television. Or YouTube. If you can’t get out to draw from life, draw the folks on TV. They can be just as interesting. And you can pause them mid-expression. Or rewind. Talking heads from newscast, vlogs or political debates are great for this.
  • While we are on the subject of television, why not draw some of your favorite characters from your favorite shows or movies? There have been lots of wonderful fan art circulating recently from Netflix’s Stranger Things and there’s always a plethora of Star Wars fan art. Embrace your inner geek and draw your favorite scenes from your favorite shows or movies, or create new scenarios. Didn’t like the ending of LOST, fix it. What’ really happened at the end of X-Files? You can draw it.
  • Document the news in illustrations. Be it good or bad, use your drawing skills to capture the moments in time.
  • Collaborative Sketchbook: You can create a shared sketchbook between a friend or loved one be it one other person or a group of people or a whole heap of strangers. (inspired by 3191milesapart.com , Dana Barbieri and Anne Butera from Uppercase Magazine #29 and 1000journals.com)

But really though, what about Barb? . . . . . . #strangerthings #barb #illustration

A photo posted by Mariya Pilipenko (@mariya.pilipenko) on

Need more ideas? Check out the book Playing With Sketches: 50 Creative Exercises for Designers and Artists.

Do you have ideas for things to do with sketchbooks that are piling up? Please leave your ideas in the comments!


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