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Sketchbooks in the classroom


I believe sketchbooks are a critical component of art education and every effort should be made to implement sketchbooks into the curriculum.

The Case in Favour of Sketchbooks:

  • Sketchbooks provide crucial insight into a student’s creative process.

  • They are a collaborative project where materials and ideas can be shared.

  • Peers inspire and teach each other through sketchbooks.

  • The teacher can also keep a sketchbook, students can inspire/teach the teacher.

  • Class maintained “materials box” great for encouraging sharing and community (students bring in ‘stuff’ for the box, peers can make use of it).

  • No formulas, no right or wrong answers.

  • “Sketchbook time” warms up the creative process at the start of class.

  • Excellent tool for visual learners. Encourages students to interact with their environment.

  • They provide a place to “play” and experiment. Builds confidence.

  • Portability of sketchbooks encourages art making outside the class room.


While you are explaining why your students are doing sketchbooks don’t forget to define “sketchbook”. The concept is quite difficult for many students, especially the more formulaic and rigid ones. Taken to the abstract, sketchbooks can take infinite shapes and serve endless purposes. 


  1. Choosing a book

  2. Cost

  3. Censorship

  4. Materials

  5. Evaluation

  • Designate an area of the class room to inspire sketchbook work. Include materials, posters, a display board, examples, etc.

  • Mistakes are okay! Discourage tearing out pages. Alternative: rework, overlap, cover over, layer. Tearing out pages ruins the book’s binding and stifles creativity. There are no “right” or “wrongs” in sketchbooks.

  • Encourage sketchbook use as a warm up to start class or cool down to end it.

  • Use the books for gesture drawings, contour line activities, character sketches, paint colour testing, testing new materials, collecting ideas for future projects, thumbnail sketches, specific small assignments, handouts, etc.

  • Students with special needs should be included as well. Depending on the student’s abilities, these activities work well: tearing or cutting shapes out of paper and assembling into designs, stamping, texture rubbings, stencils, drawing, watercolours over top of b/w photocopies, paint washes, folding, creating patterns, complimentary colour exercises, resists (drawing with wax candle, wax crayons or oil pastels then brushing over with watercolour paints), juxtaposition (find magazine pictures of opposites and combine to create ‘weird’ image), self portraits, and comics.

  • Collaborate with other teachers to inspire sketchbook pages. Examples: students reading the Diaries of Anne Frank may take one of her written journal pages and combine with or reinterpret as a visual journal. If reading The Lord of the Flies, what might a journal look like if kept by one of the characters? What materials would they use to make a journal? Science students working on plants can do rubbings or prints of leaves and include notes in their sketchbooks. History/social study students can apply their course work to develop a sketchbook theme. Geometric shapes and mathematical formulae make great additions to the chaos of collage. This is all a crucial component of visual literacy. Many students, myself included, are visual learners and need projects like this to understand and retain course work.

  • Insert waxed/tracing paper between pages when using charcoal, graphite, chalk, etc to prevent smudging. Also try workable fixative sprays or spray varnish (brushing varnish will smear the drawing).

  • Offer thematic assignments as well as traditional sketchbook assignments. For example, require one full page for each principle of design, a two page exploration of personal identity, one page of peace to contrast one page of war, etc.

  • Observe and collect for progress, mark any specific assignments at your natural pace. I avoid writing marks/comments in books in favour of sticky notes (I don’t like when people write on my work, so I respect theirs).

  • Allow students to choose pages for marking (portfolio method). Ask them to indicate their best 5 of 7 assignments and mark those. The other 2 can be included in process marks.

  • To keep the books in class or send them home… that depends on your space and your students. They should have them every class. If not, they use scrap paper and glue it in when they bring their book next day. Not having a book in class shouldn’t be an excuse not to work.

  • Class critique by laying books on tables, students walk around and flip through other books (don’t force this on shy students!). Ask them to do a reflection in their own book, such as a visual representation of something a classmate did that inspired them.

  • Self evaluation: ask them to critique their own books, make list of goals (example: student who only works on pencil anime characters may make a goal of trying to experiment with adding mixed media to characters to go “outside the box”). Ask them to identify experiments they liked/didn’t like.

  • Display journals if space is available (such as in display cases) or by mounting colour photocopies. An online collection is another possibility. Celebrating everyone’s efforts equally allows all students to be “art stars.”

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