100 Sketchbook Ideas + Ideas for Page Backgrounds

My high school art teacher had a ton of awesome lists of sketchbook ideas that we used for inspiration. I loved those lists so much that I wanted to come up with my own lists for my students. A lot of the ideas came from different drawing exercises I did during college and from looking back at old sketchbooks and different techniques/themes I used, and also from looking at other peoples’ sketchbooks on Pinterest or in books (The Sketchbook Project).

A MASSIVE LIST OF SKETCHBOOK IDEAS

DRAWING AND PAINTING FROM OBSERVATION

  1. Fabric – drape a piece of fabric/clothing over a chair. Shine light onto it and draw the folds and wrinkles. Or draw a pillow
  2. Crumpled paper, origami, tissue paper, tissues, wrapping paper, brown paper bag
  3. Trash, the contents of a trash can, recycling bin, the trash bin by the curb waiting to be picked up
  4. Powerlines, electrical towers, electrical outlets, fire hydrants
  5. Accessories – sunglasses, glasses, earrings, necklaces, rings, jewelry
  6. Things you wear – your favorite shirt, clothes, shoes
  7. Draw objects that mean something to you (stuffed animals, family heirlooms, cultural objects, etc.)
  8. Food – Illustrate your favorite family recipe, draw your breakfast, lunch, dinner
  9. Still life – set up a bowl of fruit, a vase of flowers, houseplants, etc.
  10. Anatomical Illustrations – look at Da Vinci’s sketchbooks, anatomy textbooks, and models of the human structure and draw
  11. Natural forms – Make detailed observations/ botanical illustrations of flowers, plants, trees, tree bark, pinecones, leaves, acorns, shells, mushrooms, lichen, moss, etc.
  12. Insects – bugs, beetles, spiders, butterflies, caterpillars
  13. Animals outside your window – deer, squirrels, birds
  14. Technology – study and draw the inside of your phone, computer, a motherboard, your calculator
  15. Old Electronics – televisions, radios, walkie talkies, old cameras, cassette tapes
  16. Doors, windows, houses, neighborhoods, stairways/steps, ladders
  17. Interior spaces – draw your room, the inside of your closet, the art classroom, the inside of your car, the bathroom, the kitchen, the hallway
  18. Dishes in the sink, the inside of the fridge or pantry
  19. Inside of your backpack, purse
  20. Dump out the contents of your backpack/purse/bag and draw each object
  21. Things in your bathroom – hairbrushes/combs, shampoo bottles, soap, deodorant, makeup, nail clippers, hair curler/straightener
  22. Things on your desk – draw your desk from observation with all the objects on top of it
  23. Things in the kitchen – pots, pans, tea kettle, dishes, cups
  24. Art supplies – brushes, pens, scissors, paint tubes
  25. Open drawer – Draw the inside of a drawer from your desk, the kitchen, bathroom, garage, etc.
  26. Tools – hammers, nails, screwdrivers, saws, pliers, safety glasses
  27. Pets – draw your pet (cat, dog, lizard, pet rock, etc.) from observation
  28. Reflections in water, shiny objects, metal
  29. Draw a small object really large, or a large object really small
  30. Zoom in – draw a fruit, plant, food, technology object (motherboard, wires) up close. Use a magnifying glass to observe the object even closer and to help you see all the details
  31. Zoom out – Draw an object that is really far away (at the end of a road, looking down from a tall building, etc.)
  32. Look up – draw the ceiling, the open sky with the clouds, looking up from under a tree
  33. Draw the sky at different times of the day, label the time
  34. Monochromatic Drawing – collect objects that are the same color and paint/draw them in using colored pencils, pastels, chalk, watercolor, tempera, acrylic, etc.

PEOPLE/FIGURES

  1. Draw yourself from the first mirror you can find
  2. Look down and draw your entire body, without looking in a mirror (it will be a headless self-portrait)
  3. Draw your face in different expressions – smiling, frowny, wrinkling your brow, with your tongue out, etc.
  4. Draw yourself upon first waking up
  5. Draw yourself in a mirror, include all the background space and objects (put the mirror somewhere interesting)
  6. Draw your friends, family members, siblings, teachers
  7. Draw your classmates during another class, people at their desks
  8. Draw your hands holding objects – pencils, keys, food, etc.
  9. Draw your feet with socks, shoes, or without socks
  10. Do gesture drawings of athletes at a football, soccer, ice hockey, or baseball game
  11. Draw the inside of your mouth (try drawing it from observation without a reference image, it’s more challenging!)
  12. Facial features – Practice drawing your eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair, etc. using different materials/ techniques

FROM IMAGINATION AND MEMORY

  1. Illustrate a dream you had. Keep a dream log in your sketchbook for ideas
  2. Read a fairy tale, myth, or book. Illustrate what you think the characters or scenes would look like
  3. What does the inside of your mind look like?
  4. Surrealism – Combine a landscape with an interior space or change the scale of an object and put it somewhere unexpected
  5. Inanimate objects as living objects
  6. Think about a place you haven’t been to in a while. Try to remember what was in the space (furniture? People?) – try to draw the space from only your memory, using no reference photos
  7. Think about a place that no longer exists (an old swing-set in your backyard, woods that were cut down, etc.), try to draw this place from your memory, make up details you can’t remember
  8. Nostalgia – draw moments that you think back on fondly, draw from old childhood photographs, old home videos, etc.
  9. Divide the page up into several boxes (they can be carefully measured out and drawn with a ruler, or messier and more sporadic). In each box, draw a moment from your day (sort of a visual journal/ record of your day). Write down your thoughts if you want.

EXPERIMENT!!

  1. New material – using a material you’re not as familiar with, try out different strokes, techniques, patterns, drawings, swatches
  2. Mixing colors – make a color scale, take notes on which colors were mixed together, group colors that look visually appealing together
  3. Plastic bag monoprint – paint on a plastic bag with watercolor, tempera, or acrylic paint. Scratch lines into the paint with the back of the brush, and print it onto the page
  4. Fruit/ vegetable monoprint – cut a fruit or veggie in half, ink it, and print it onto your page. Experiment with other objects that you think would make a nice print
  5. Collagraph – Cut out a piece of cardboard the same size as your sketchbook page (or smaller). Glue felt, buttons, pipecleaners, foam pieces, etc. onto the cardboard. You can also use hot glue or Elmer’s glue to make designs. Once everything is dry, roll the cardboard plate with ink and print the design into your sketchbook. Draw on top if you want.
  6. Leave a page of your sketchbook outside, keeping it in place with some rocks, and see what happens to it (how will rain, dirt, weather, etc. affect it?). Then, paste it back into your sketchbook and draw on top of it
  7. Mood Drawing – make a page related to an emotion/feeling (happiness, sadness, loneliness, joy, anger, etc.). Consider how colors and subject matter affect mood.
  8. Nonobjective art – completely fill the page with shapes, dots, colors, patterns
  9. Doodles – make a page of doodles, sketches, and ideas that you jot down during free time
  10. Automatic drawing – make a drawing in your pocket as you’re walking somewhere, close your eyes and draw, draw while listening to music paying attention only to the music

DIFFERENT WAYS OF DRAWING

  1. Draw something, then flip your sketchbook upside down. Draw something else on top of your first drawing, use a different color/material if you want, or let the drawings blend together.
  2. 3D Drawing – Using markers or colored pencils, find 2 colors (red and green or red and blue work well) and draw something, then draw the same thing on top shifted slightly to the right or left. If you have 3D glasses, see what the drawing looks like while wearing them
  3. Composite Drawing – Draw a three-dimensional object from one view in one color, then turn the object to a different view and draw it using a different color. Repeat as many times as you want.
  4. Layering – Take several pieces of parchment paper and draw something on each paper. Layer the drawings on top of each other, experimenting with order, and paste them into your sketchbook
  5. Draw something using only your nondominant hand.
  6. Attach your drawing material (pencil, charcoal, etc.) to a long stick. Hold the stick from the farthest end, and try drawing
  7. String art – draw an object/ scene using string/yarn. Apply glue to the page and follow the lines with the string/yarn.
  8. Draw something 4 or more times, each time using a different material/medium/color/technique
  9. Mark-making – Try making marks by dipping forks, sticks, toothbrushes, string, etc. into ink/paint and drawing with them

DISTORTION AND ABSTRACTION

  1. Take a photo of something using a fish eyes lens and draw it
  2. Observe an object, draw it realistically and then in different stages of abstraction
  3. Find an object with an interesting shadow. Draw/paint the shadow only, making sure to pay attention to subtle shifts in color & value
  4. Place an object in a clear container filled with water. Move the water around so it distorts the object. Draw it

DESIGNS

  1. Typography – Create your own letters from A-Z. Name your typography alphabet based on the mood/ feel of the letters
  2. Sketch out a pattern. Transfer the pattern to wrapping paper, fabric, wood, etc.
  3. Using an Xacto knife, cut out a design into the whole page
  4. Zentangle
  5. Create a stamp or stencil and apply on the page
  6. Make a collage based on a theme – fashion, nature, technology, etc.
  7. Find an image from a magazine with interesting colors. Make color swatches below the image of the main colors. On the next page, make your own drawing/painting using the colors you found.
  8. Cut out pieces of similar colors from a magazine to create a pattern/mandala/design
  9. Make a 3D/ anamorphic drawing
  10. An idea for a new product, design, clothing/fashion, fashion illustration

GO SOMEWHERE! DRAWING AT PLACES

  1. Go to a museum/ gallery and sketch the sculptures, people, galleries, artworks
  2. Go to the park, do gesture drawings of people, draw the ducks, the lake, the trees
  3. Go to the zoo – draw the animals, the people, the habitats
  4. Go to a local figure drawing session and draw from models
  5. Go to the mall – sit down somewhere quiet and sketch the people passing by or the interior structure/architecture of the mall
  6. While you’re at Starbucks or grabbing coffee/lunch, sketch your food/drink, the people in the café
  7. Go to a city, draw the buildings, people, traffic, cars, construction sites
  8. When you’re on a family vacation, paint/ draw where you go (beach, mountains, city, etc.), draw while on a hike
  9. Traveling – while you’re in the car, plane, bus, etc. – draw what you see outside the window or the inside of the vehicle

RESEARCH

  1. Research an artist. Paste in pictures of the artist’s work and take notes. Study the artist’s work and make some sketches practicing similar techniques to the artist or sketches inspired by their work
  2. Art History – make a timeline of art history, include fun facts, images, key artists
  3. Art Movement/Period – find an art movement/period that interests you. Research it further, take notes and make sketches about the artists and information about the movement/period

BACKGROUNDS/ STARTING A DRAWING – Draw or paint on top of these initial layers

  1. Use leftover paint from another project to apply background color to a page.
  2. Drip watercolor or ink onto the page. Once dry, try to draw or paint something using the shapes left on the page.
  3. Paste in pieces of tissue paper, overlapping to blend colors if you want
  4. Scratchboard – apply colors using oil pastels or crayons, then add a thick layer of black oil pastel on top. Scratch into the page to create a drawing/ design
  5. Paste in a photo you have or an image from a magazine and draw the rest of the scene/ complete the drawing
  6. Apply a wash of watercolor to the negative space of a drawing
  7. Take notes of observations, feelings, ideas, thoughts, etc. and incorporate them into the drawing or somewhere on the page
  8. Paint the page black. Draw over it with white pencils/charcoal, white oil pastel, or use it as a base for a painting
  9. Tone the page – apply a layer of charcoal, chalk pastel, or pencil to the page and soften with a paper towel
  10. Reductive Drawing – apply a layer of charcoal (it can be a light layer or a thick dark layer). Erase into the page to create the drawing. Add in more charcoal as needed or to draw in details.
  11. Write over the entire page. Draw or paint on top
  12. Paste/ collage in old class notes, pages from planners, or pages from other sketchbooks and draw/paint on top
  13. Paste in old photographs or photocopied photos you have and draw/paint on top of them
  14. Paste in an old map and draw/ paint on top
  15. Paste in dried leaves, flowers, plants and draw around them/ on top
  16. Paste in old ticket stubs, brochures, letters, stamps, etc. and draw around/ on top them
  17. Stitch into the page, incorporate these marks into your drawing
  18. Put your sketchbook under a plant or something else with a distinct shadow, and trace/ color the shadow onto your page. Draw/ paint on top
  19. Weave cardboard, magazine pages, or scrap pages together and draw/ paint on top
  20. Paste in fabric, magazine pieces, thread, yarn, parchment paper, etc. and draw on top
  21. Add flaps or extra pieces of paper that fold/ pop out of the sketchbook
  22. If you know how to knit or crochet, make a small swatch and paste it into your sketchbook. Paint on top of it
  23. Draw something on a separate piece of paper. Tear it into strips or pieces and paste into your sketchbook. Paint on top.
  24. Tape off sections of the page. Paint over the tape with watercolor then peel off
  25. Wrap aluminum foil over a thin piece of cardboard. Use a dull pencil to scratch designs into the foil, paste into your sketchbook
  26. Paint watercolor wash onto a page and apply crumpled plastic wrap to the page, letting it dry then peeling it off to create texture
  27. Watercolor wash with kosher salt sprinkled on top
  28. Splatter and drip paint onto the page
  29. Use a sponge to create texture
  30. Apply a layer of tempera or acrylic as a base, then scratch designs into it with the back of the brush
  31. Sprinkle sand, dirt, charcoal powder into glue or paint and apply to the page
  32. Stain the page with tea or coffee

Sketchbook Ideas Handouts:

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