Some Thoughts and Insights About Sketchbooks from my Creative Retreat

Over the past few weeks I've been lining up artists for my Sketchbook Conversations series. I'm really excited to begin sharing them with you. Look for the first one a week from today.

During my Creative Retreat I spent a lot of time working in my sketchbooks again. And thinking about why I work in sketchbooks at all. As the interviews started coming back and I read what others were writing I was struck by some similarities in our thinking. Insecurities. Fears. But also, once we push past that initial hesitancy, a sense of freedom. Sketchbooks are, or can be, for your eyes only. A place to try things out, to play.

sketchbooks, marker, doodles, drawing, houseplants, mittens, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

There are some pages in my sketchbooks that I'll never show to anyone. Awkward experiments that haven't worked out. Hastily rendered pages created when my heart just wasn't in it or my focus distracted. There are also mistakes. Accidents. Messiness.

What I've come to realize is that this is the point of sketchbooks. Sketchbooks afford us the freedom to make mistakes and have accidents. Mistakes and accidents are crucial to growth. Growth can be hard and painful. And I think that's part of what sometimes makes me reluctant to work in my sketchbook. Although it's fun and freeing, sometimes it's also just that, WORK.

gouache, sketchbook, painting, roses, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I wrote myself a little note on my inspiration board/side of my desk*. It's at the bottom and says "do the work".

It's a good reminder.

Other times sketchbooks don't feel like work at all.

sketchbook, sketches, marker, flowers, garden flowers, summer flowers, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I've been playing with marker in one of my sketchbooks lately. In the evenings watching Netflix or DVDs from the library. It's fun not to have to worry about the outcome. Sometimes my sketches are realistic and sometimes they're entirely made up.

sketchbooks, marker, doodles, flowers, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I don't often do made up. My art can be so serious and careful. And I love painting that way, but it's also nice to loosen up and play. It doesn't always work out, but I've come to realize the end product isn't the point.

For that reason, although I think there's value in sharing our sketchbooks -- on blogs, on Instagram, etc -- to help hold us accountable and to foster community, I see the other side, too. The value of creation in private. Our inner critics can be very loud without opening ourselves up to the possibility of external criticism, too. There's also the danger that we'll start creating, not for ourselves, but for outside acceptance and approval.

I guess the most important thing I'm taking away from my Creative Retreat and from the inspiration of the Sketchbook Conversations posts is that I keep creating, keep playing and working in my sketchbooks.

I hope you'll be inspired to create, too. Maybe sketchbooks aren't for you. And that's ok. You don't have to create with paints or markers or pens or pencils. Creativity isn't limited to sketchbooks or to any specific medium or outlet. Listen to the whispers of your spirit. Follow your heart and your imagination. They will never lead you in the wrong direction.

I'll be back on Friday with an exciting invitation. See you then.

*The art on the side of my desk is mine except: 1) postcard with the dresses from Uppercase Magazine's Feed Sacks Volume of the Encyclopedia of Inspiration, 2) "You have cool hair" card from Moo, 3) bird bookmark -- design by Dana Barbieri printed by Uppercase Magazine, 4) black and white floral and hand lettered illustration print by Dana Barbieri


  1. I love this post Anne. It is always encouraging for me to read your words and learn from the things you have experienced. It occurred to me today that I am forever saying to you that I find it hard to use a sketchbook. That it is true, but I forgot to say that I have dozens of notebooks all over the place that contain my thoughts, quotes, doodles, instructions, recipes, ideas, etc. It is all very erratic and not something I would want to share but I do it all the same! I hope to find a way of unifying all the things I do; (I am reminded that my word for the year is consolidate)and have the confidence to share a book of works in the future. I am so looking forward to the next series of sketchbook conversations, It is my weekly fix! :)

    1. Thank you, Simone! I'm glad you came to realize that "sketchbook" doesn't need to be limited to a strict art school sort of definition. Your notebooks sound delightful and not sharing them is perfectly fine. Important, in fact.

      I'm looking forward to sharing the Sketchbook Conversations again, too. :)

  2. love, love, love your sketchbook paintings, Anne!! My favorite is the coral flowers, but they are all inspiring!! It is snowing madly here today, so I am going off to work in my own sketchbook! Looking forward to your post tomorrow! xo

    1. Thank you, Judy!!

      Hope you had a lovely day snowed in with your sketchbook!



  3. Thank you for your words of encouragement, Anne!I have been working in sketchbooks for more than 8 years since I retired. I have been struggling to challenge myself in the process of practicing art. I find that I am extremely curious about different media and I am still trying to find my "style." It's quite a journey. I look forward to tomorrow's post.

    1. Hi, Janet! Thanks so much for stopping by. 8 years of keeping a sketchbook is wonderful! Experimenting and playing and trying new things is a wonderful way to learn. Finding your style doesn't need to be the end goal. Enjoy the journey. I hope it brings you joy.

      So nice to have you here!

  4. I love your pretty marker sketches Anne. Are you starting to enjoy them more? This makes me want to work in my sketchbook again. I wish there were unlimited hours in the day and I had many more hands. :) I think it's true that keeping them for yourself is fine or showing them if that is what works. I love to peek into sketchbooks.

    1. Thanks, Dana. I am enjoying markers now. It's funny. I'm not sure when the shift happened and I had kind of even forgotten that I didn't like them. I think part of it is learning to let go. To release ideas of perfection and go with the flow (as cheesy as that sounds). Some of the points of my markers are all smashed and the ink is nearly gone, but, strangely enough, it doesn't even bother me. I think a lot of it has to do with expectations.

      I could totally use more hours in the day and more hands. :)

      And you're right. I love getting peeks into sketchbooks, too. That's one of the things that makes the Sketchbook Conversations series so fun for me. Sometimes, though, private is good and necessary. I guess as with all things, we need to follow our heart and our gut and do what feels right to us.

      I hope you find your way back to sketchbooks, again, Dana. I always loved yours.


Post a Comment