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Sept 1, 2023

You may or may not use a sketchbook currently, but I hope my sketchbook journey inspires you somewhat.

Happy September all!

As the schools get ready to go back for a new term and everyone is slowly getting back into a routine, I always feel this time of the year is like a reset and a fresh start - Perfect timing to start a new sketchbook.

I have always used a sketchbook as far as I can remember. You are taught to use one from an early age, right through to Art school. But, after I graduated in 2012 (BA Honours Degree), I fell out of love with a sketchbook and just painted on pieces of paper again. I guess I didn't understand the importance of them at that time!

I started a new sketchbook on the 1st of January 2016, when I first discovered a Moleskine watercolour album* and Reeves Fine Gouache*. Before this, I always thought that acrylic paints were the best thing since sliced bread.

A5 Molesine Watercolour Album painting (2016) by Farah Shah

I picked a topic that was of an interest to me - Birds. I have always been fascinated by these little creatures, after seeing my cat trying to talk to one. Thanks kitty cat! Using a sketchbook meant I could learn how to use gouache paint without a worry and just enjoy the process. These small paintings are still over on my early Instagram page.



Attending Art School between 2016-2018, I continued to use a sketchbook but in a very different way. With a fast paced course and projects, you have to use one without any thought or care in the world - just as long as you had something to show at the end of each module.

Working in this fast way did have its moments - I used to rip out pages as I thought they were not good enough, or begin new sketchbooks as a fresh start (in hope the tutors didn't notice).

However, using a sketchbook in this way did push me to get my ideas down and for my final masters project, you can see that it helped me to create something I might not have otherwise.

A4 Molesine Watercolour Album painting (2017) by Farah Shah

I have always had a rocky relationship with a sketchbook (swapping and changing them) since the MA, that is until recently I discovered a new sketchbook brand - Stillman and Birn*. With a change of sketchbooks and new materials, I am on a new exciting journey once again!



"My sketchbook is a witness of what I am experiencing, scribbling things whenever they happen." ~ Vincent Van Gogh

As I have been finding out, sketchbook practice has helped me grow as a creative person once again! From the beginning of this year, I have been playing more and more in sketchbooks and I am certainly enjoying the process. Not many of you will know this, but I have done a few art hauls this year and spent an absolute fortune on sketchbooks - Just to get one that works for me!

I have found the one - A5 Stillman and Birn Gamma Series* (Other sketchbook brands are available)

A5 Stillman and Birn Gamma sketchbook* painting (2023) by Farah Shah

Since I have started using this sketchbook, my work has become more playful and sometimes I find myself creating all day long. Why you ask? It allows you the freedom to experiment without the worry of what it will look like or the final outcome. Don't worry if something goes wrong, you can cover it up - as long as you are enjoying the process! :)

At A5 size, laid flat to A4, it is the perfect size to capture what I need to and quickly jot down any ideas that I might have seen during the day or and on my travels. Not only that, it is a place where I can freely work out new mediums and experiment with different ideas - which then informs my future portfolio pieces.

BUT, don't let me fool you! Just because I have found the "one" sketchbook, it might not be the right one for you! I would recommend starting with a small and budget friendly sketchbook!

(Portfolio topic and sketchbook reviews will be discussed in a future post)

Before I share some tips with you; by keeping a sketchbook, it will certainly improve your creative voice. If not your creative voice, then think of it as a creative space where you can look over your previous ideas! I know for certain I cannot live without mine today! So give it a go and have fun as sketchbooks do matter!

(This topic covers a big extensive area and will be revisited with future subdivisions!)

Handmade sketchbook painting (2023) by Farah Shah



Here are some tips that can help you start using a sketchbook:

  1. Start small! Start with a small low-cost sketchbook. You won't feel overwhelmed! I still use my favourite A6 size today!

  2. Pick a topic you like! Choose a theme that you are drawn to. Maybe it a favourite toy, a favourite colour or even your favourite clothing item.

  3. Use a new material - even if it is a biro-pen! I always find that switching material gets me inspired to just put a mark down.

  4. Skip the first page! From experience, I always had a fear of messing up the first page as I wanted it to be "perfect". By doing this, you have already changed the way you open your sketchbook.

  5. Work randomly! Working on random pages will inspire you more then working in chronological order. It will help you finish the sketchbook faster.

  6. Don't rip out pages! As tempting as it is - you cannot then look back on your failings and compare pages over time.

  7. Time! Put a time on it. Time yourself and see how much you can achieve within 10 minutes upto 1 hour. I know I work faster because of this!

  8. Keep different sized sketchbooks! Different sizes = different outcomes. You will thank me for this tip, as each sketchbook gives you something different.

  9. Enjoy the process! Once you have put a mark down, you are on your way to having fun! :)

These tips are my own views and just a starting point, which may help improve your work flow, your explorations, experiments and even help you gain confidence whilst finding a creative voice.

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If you want to see more, I have a Patreon page** where you can follow my creative journey and sketchbook process. This month, I am sharing a time lapse video of the autumn bear from this month's newsletter.

Thank you so much for reading and being here! It means a lot to me!

Feel free to share your sketchbook tips or findings. I would love to hear them!

Wishing you a cosy start to September and I hope it is full of Autumn goodness and golden leaves.

Speak soon!

Farah x

*Any products mentioned have not been endorsed or sponsored.

** Seven days free trial as a thank you!


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