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The Importance of a Sketchbook

by Ashley Bravin

A regular sketchbook practice is the gateway to bettering your craft. Trust me.

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a hundred times. Keep a sketchbook. But I’m here to tell you why. Keeping a sketchbook will not just improve your art skills or give you a place to catch your ideas, but a sketchbook practice will also transport you back in time. Keep a sketchbook, and your art practice and memories will thank you, and every doodle, note, master study, and still life will be another penny in your art career bank. And it adds up, fast.

I’ve been keeping sketchbooks for decades, and I have stacks and stacks of them lining my shelves, now. I can flip back through years worth of work and memories, and just in an afternoon, I can travel to my years in art school in Pittsburgh, to afternoons spent in quiet museums in front of big art in Los Angeles, or travel across the pond to a small whiskey bar during an artist residency in Ireland. I can flip through pages of hospital stays, and long weekends spent camping in the Sequoias. Everything is there. And the drawing? It only gets better.

Sketchbooks are a playground for testing out new tools and techniques, a shame-free place to try, and fail, and try again, and most importantly, to learn. Sketchbooks reveal their nature in their very name: “sketch - an unfinished drawing.” Absolutely nothing needs to be precious in a sketchbook. It’s just page after page of endless possibility, with no need to regard what came before it, or after it. Pure artistic freedom. Use it.

With practice, sketchbooks quickly become your fastest and steadiest companion through life’s ups and downs, and soon become the first place you turn when you have something to say. A sketchbook practice positions your sketchbook to catch your ideas as they come to you, allowing you to jot down concepts and thumbnails that would have otherwise been lost without a book at your side. Even the biggest ideas start as little whispers. And your sketchbook is there to collect them all.

So try your hand at keeping a sketchbook, and commit yourself to the practice of it, and to the acknowledgment that it is not there to make great art, it’s there for learning, for ideas, and for preserving memories. Future you will thank you.

Ashley Bravin is a disabled artist and advocate with multiple chronic illnesses. Born and raised in southern California, Ashley studied both at Carnegie Mellon University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Burren College of Art in County Clare, Ireland, graduating with a BFA in painting and drawing. Her work has been exhibited extensively throughout the United States and abroad, and has been featured in shows at the University of Arts London, the Courthouse Gallery in Ireland, and the Museum of Art and History and Torrance Art Museum in California. She has been the recipient of two grants and a fellowship to develop her body of work surrounding violence and sports, and has participated as an artist in residence twice at the Chautauqua Institute of Chautauqua, New York. Bravin currently lives and works just outside of Nashville, Tennessee with her medical alert service dog, Rico, and her retired service dog, Rosie.

You can find more of Ashley's work on her website:

Instagram: @ashleybravin, TikTok: @ashleybravin

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