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Art Sketchbook Ideas

by Eilahtan Valvo

This article provides tips and guidance to help you produce an outstanding high school sketchbook. It contains an online collection of sketchbook pages from different qualifications from around the world, including IGCSE / GCSE Art, A Level Art, VCE Studio Arts, NCEA Level 3 Scholarship and IB Visual Art. Many of the sketchbook pages shown below are from projects that achieved full marks. These examples illustrate a wide range of possible approaches to sketchbook content, annotation, and page layout. We hope to inspire those studying within any visual art discipline, including drawing, painting, mixed media, graphic design, sculpture, three-dimensional design, architecture, printmaking, photography, textiles, and fashion.

What is a high school art sketchbook?

A sketchbook is a creative document that contains both written and visual material. It may include teacher-guided sketchbook assignments or self-directed investigation. A sketchbook provides a place to think through the making process: researching, brainstorming, experimenting, testing, analyzing and refining compositions. It offers a place to document the journey towards a final solution, providing a depth and backstory to the accompanying work. The sketchbook is an important part of many visual art courses.

Sketchbook format

For convenience, most students select a sketchbook that is A4 (210 x 297 millimeters / 8.27 × 11.7 inches) or A3 (297 x 420 millimeters / 11.7 x 16.5 inches) in size. An A4 sketchbook fits within schoolbags and is less likely to be lost or damaged during transit. An A3 sketchbook fits more work per page and provides space for larger individual artworks. If a sketchbook is to contain all of the preparatory material submitted (without larger accompanying sheets of developmental work), an A2 sketchbook may be appropriate. Often this decision is set by a qualification, teacher or school. Non-conventional sizes and electronic submissions may also be possible.

Regardless of the format, work primarily in portrait or landscape orientation, rather than alternating from page-to-page (consistent orientation makes it easier for an examiner to flip through the pages and view the work). If electronic submission is required, horizontal pages are preferable, as these display better upon a computer screen.

Four possible sketchbook formats are summarized below. These are just a few of the options available (these may not be appropriate for all examination boards).

Pre-bound sketchbooks

It is essential that pre-bound sketchbooks used by art students contain quality artist paper, suitable for both wet and dry mediums (ideally 110gsm or greater). Different paper types may be glued to pages as required. A minimal appearance is optimal: choose a sketchbook with a plain cover, absent of distracting logos and ornamentation. Consider whether a spiral spine is desired, allowing removal of pages without difficulty. The primary disadvantage of a pre-bound sketchbook is that it is difficult to use wet mediums upon several pages in one session (working concurrently across pages saves time, aids the development of ideas and facilitates connections between pieces). Nonetheless, pre-bound sketchbooks are the most common format of sketchbook used.

Two examples of pre-bound sketchbooks are illustrated below. These brands have been thoroughly tested in a classroom situation, by experienced teachers.

This method can be less daunting than using a pre-bound sketchbook, as there is no fear of ‘ruining’ a page. Creating a sketchbook from loose sheets allows easy integration of different paper types, encouraging a broad range of media. You can easily work on different pages at once, without waiting for work to dry. On the other hand, loose sheets may become damaged and misplaced. Displaying work within transparent sleeves also hinders the viewability of surface quality and texture. Finally, if work is posted away for assessment, the clear-file adds unnecessary bulk and shipping weight.

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