Books About Sketchbooks

I went to India last week for work. It was an AMAZING trip. When normal people make a trip like that they come back with jewel-toned scarves and golden bangles or delicious tea and spices. I unpacked and realized I brought back six new sketchbooks*.

You could say I have a problem, yes.

I’ve been obsessed with notebooks and sketchbooks pretty much my whole life but it’s really taken off in the past four or five years. I do all kinds of work in my sketchbooks — I write, I draw, I do collage, I paint. I have quite a few sketchbooks that I use to do art exchanges with friends. I have a couple I use to practice painting — one for watercolor, one for acrylics. I use one for a bullet journal, with notes and to dos for everything going on in my life. I keep another one in my bag for random notes or drawings (I got this idea from Austin Kleon). I keep a journal in a Moleskine daily planner.

A lot of my inspiration for sketchbooks comes from, well, books. Books about sketchbooks. Seems like there are just tons and tons of these out there. Sometimes they’re focused on other artist’s sketchbooks, sometimes they’re about visual journaling as a hobby, sometimes they are solidly in the memoir space. Most are beautiful — lots of full color photo spreads showing the range of styles and techniques that artists of all kinds use in their personal practices.

Here are some of my favorites:

An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers: This book is what really jump-started my sketchbook obsession. Each of the 50 or so featured artists is given a few pages to show spreads from their work as well as tell stories of their work and lives. Author Danny Gregory makes drawing accessible and fun and if you’re the slightest bit interested, you should start with him to get going. I also highly recommend his first book, Everyday Matters, the first of his memoir sketchbooks.

Drawn In: A Peek into the Inspiring Sketchbooks of 44 Fine Artists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers, and Cartoonists: Gorgeous little collection of work from different artists. I like this one because it introduced me to Julia Rothman, a wonderfully-talented designer and author, and her on-hiatus site Book By Its Cover, which has a great archive of reviews on art books and interviews of artists about their sketchbooks.

The Sketchbook Project World Tour: I am a big fan of the Sketchbook Project, a crowd-funded project that includes more than 35,000 sketchbooks that are housed in a dedicated museum in Brooklyn and regularly tour the US in a van. This book has an overview of the project plus a selection of entries from artists around the globe. I don’t love the organization –by geography — but it’s still lovely to flip through.

Graphic: Inside the Sketchbooks of the World’s Great Graphic Designers: This is one of those books that is a precious object in itself. It’s a big, beautiful book that I keep next to the couch and find myself flipping through often, enjoying all of the bold photographs of more than 100 designers’ sketchbooks. There’s very little text, but there’s enough visual inspiration to make up for that.

Freehand: Sketching Tips and Tricks Drawn from Art: Smaller than the other books on the list, I find this to be a great source of quick inspiration. Each page shows a different art technique with an example from an artist’s sketchbook. This is one of my favorites and a really great little gift.

Do you have any favorites that I’ve missed?

*To be fair I bought three of the sketchbooks during a very short layover in Rome. Groggy after a ten hour flight from Delhi, my heart nearly stopped as I walked past a Fabriano store on the way to the gate for my next flight. It was all I could do not to buy one of absolutely everything.