Sketchbook Conversations -- Starting the Conversation with My Story

A couple people have sent me their photos and stories for my Sketchbook Conversations series (there are more on the way and it's not to late to contact me if you're interested in participating), but before I start sharing their stories, I thought I'd share more of mine, especially for those of you who are new to visiting this space.

sketchbooks, art, studio, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Since announcing the 2x2 Sketchbook project a year ago April, I've periodically shared my thoughts on keeping a sketchbook, my hesitancy, my fear, the contrasting pull between wanting to share it and wanting to keep it private.* Before that project I didn't write much about sketchbooks mostly because I didn't work much in sketchbooks.

Looking back on my art journey, I wish I had, especially when I read a post like this one from just over four years ago. I was fired up about working in my sketchbook (for which I had Dana to thank... I was taking her Artful Sketchbook class at the time) and I wrote:

butterflies, sketchbooks, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry
It takes me a long time to work on sketches like that. But I'm enjoying it. I think my work with my watercolors and doing the sketches for those paintings has improved my drawing ability. I can only imagine what daily sketching will do for it! Maybe it's silly to be as excited as I am, but I've always wanted to be able to draw and have always felt intimidated by drawing. Now that I'm enjoying it (and feeling happy with my results), it feels like a whole world of possibilities has opened up for me.
Sadly, after the span of that class I didn't keep up with my sketchbook, only taking it out once in a while when I was feeling inspired.

As with any practice, working in a sketchbook comes down to one thing: discipline. At first it can be very hard to overcome inertia (let's face it, it's easier not to sketch than it is to sketch), but once the practice of working in a sketchbook becomes habit it's much, much easier.

sketchbooks, lily of the valley, tea, doily, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Any of you who have been following me from the beginning know that I am not one of those people who sat down to paint for the first time and discovered a natural talent (Susan Branch and Anna Mason come to mind as examples of that kind of story). No, my journey has been a lot slower.

Although I've been making art since 2010, I didn't truly embrace sketchbooks until late in 2014. The turning point came with my work preparing a piece for Hudson Valley Seed Library's Red Flower Carpet contest.

Red Flower Carpet, Hudson Valley Seed Library, Philadelphia Flower Show, Watercolor painting, botanical art, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The painting I did for it depicts 13 varieties of red flower, some of which I had never  heard of before the call for art for the contest.

I worked in sketchbooks as a necessity for the project.

sketchbook, botanical sketchbook, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Learning the flowers.

sketchbook, watercolor, botanical study, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Planning colors and layout for the painting.

sketchbook, watercolor, painting, planning, process, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I wasn't concerned so much about what my sketchbook looked like. In this instance it was more just a tool helping me work, practical and sometimes messy.

I began using this process for most of my paintings.

sketchbook, drawing, pencil, fuchsia, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

This time period marks another turning point as I began narrowing my creative focus. Until then I had been straddling craft and art, but I was slowly discovering that my true passion was art. I'm not sure if sketchbooks helped me to see this or if working in them was just a natural progression in my development as an artist, but sketchbooks were a big part of the creative unfurling I was doing at the time.

Between painting planning and practice, the 2x2 Sketchbook collaboration with Dana, a daily sketchbook challenge, a daily painting challenge and other sketchbook work, I was spending a lot of time with my sketchbooks. I still do, although perhaps not quite as much as I did while working on those projects.

sketchbooks, watercolor, iris, botanical sketchbook, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I think I'm still transitioning. Still figuring things out. Still learning. Still growing.

I hope that my story encourages you to try what you've been wanting to tackle, whether it's a sketchbook or some other endeavor. In doing so you may end up looking back and wondering why you didn't start sooner.

Other than starting in the first place, my advice is: don't get discouraged if the going is slow. Society loves an overnight success story. It's glamorous and romantic. It's easy. We all like easy. But even those "overnight" successes spent years planning and practicing beforehand.

"Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working."
                              --Pablo Picasso

So get to work.

sketchbooks, plants, drawing, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

But don't forget to have some fun, too, because without joy our work is empty.

*some blog posts where I talk about my feelings about sketchbooks:
  • Here I announce my collaboration with Dana and share my fears surrounding keeping a sketchbook.
  • Here I write about beginning a daily sketchbook and share thoughts after the first 30 pages.
  • This post at the halfway point in the 2x2 Sketchbook project shares how committing to the project affected my sketchbook and general art practices.
  • Here I share my thoughts about Instagram and sharing daily art practices.
  • This post is about experimenting and trying new things in my sketchbook, specifically using markers (not my favorite medium).
  • Here I share my thoughts about sketchbooks after reaching the 1 year point of sharing the 2x2 Sketchbook pages.


  1. A lovely post Anne. I am unable to sketch at the moment for many reasons but am happy to read that your regular sketch book practice has helped you to evolve as an artist.

    1. Thank you, Simone!

      If one of your many reasons is not having enough time, I've found that that's not a good enough reason. ;) Just spending a little bit of time each day will bring you amazing results.

      I hope that whatever your reasons are, that you're managing to find time to be creative and discover joy each day.

      Have a lovely weekend!

    2. Hi Anne. I have been a bit down recently as you can probably tell from my last few blog posts. I am working on this. I hope you have a lovely creative weekend.

    3. So sorry to hear it, Simone! I'll have to pop over and catch up on my blog reading.

      I do hope you have a lovely weekend.

  2. Beautiful work and inspiring thoughts. thank you for sharing, Anne!

    1. Thank you so much, Aga! I hope you'll enjoy the posts I have planned for the coming weeks where I share other artists' sketchbooks, too. If you'd like to be included, be sure to send me an email!

      Enjoy your weekend!


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