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Joe of our Seattle Store on Personalizing your Sketchbook Covers

When I go out to draw at a coffee shop or the park or wherever, I grab all my stuff and head out. The items I take with me on these excursions change almost every time; I might take pencils or watercolors or markers or whatever. But the one thing that doesn’t change is my sketchbook. I use everything in it and, until it is full, it goes everywhere with me. So, at some point I usually put a little effort into decorating the cover.

Decorating a sketchbook cover serves a number of functions. First, it’s like any other book cover. If you have a whole bunch of similar or identical sketchbooks, the cover art can be a way to tell them apart. Or maybe the cover art can remind you of which drawings are in the book. Second, the cover can be the inspiration that gets your drawings started. It could be an image or idea; maybe a quote or even a cookie fortune taped on the front—something you can refer to that’ll help get the creative juices flowing when you’re in a drawing funk. Third, decorating a sketchbook helps make the book special and precious. For me, a sketchbook is just a place that collects a bunch of throw-away drawings from my daily activities. Until I name it. Then it is like a cat or a dog; I can’t give it up once it’s been named. Now it’s part of the family. And once the book becomes precious, all the drawings within—whether they’re already drawn or to be added in the future—they all take on more meaning. They become part of the sketchbook entity. They become part of what makes it whole.

I got the idea to decorate my sketchbook covers from a number of artists and it seems there are as many decorating methods, techniques, media and ideas as there are artists out there. I’m going to talk about the few I’ve used.

Sometimes I’ll decorate or name a sketchbook before I’ve begun using it. That has been the case with the one titled Coffee Shop Sideshow. I use this method when I want the book’s cover to influence the contents. When I pick up this book, I am reminded that its purpose is to record all the characters I encounter when I’m out and about. I can draw other stuff in there, but really, this book exists to record the daily circus on parade before me. For this cover, I used Molotow Markers, Faber Castell Pitt Pens, Alvin Graph Paper, Richeson Transfer Paper, DANIEL SMITH Watercolors, Winsor & Newton Gouache and a Golden MSA Spray Varnish to help keep the design intact.

Other times, I’ll use a sketchbook for a while and wait for it to name itself. This was true of my sketchbook featuring the fist of the Bear Revolution. Upon paging through this sketchbook when it was half full, I noticed I was drawing an awful lot of poorly-drawn bears (one of my specialties), most of which were engaged in very un-bear-like activities.

This made me feel like the poorly-drawn bears were revolting and taking over the sketchbook. I designed a logo for the revolution and slapped it on the cover. This cover was created using only a white Faber Castell Polychromos Pencil which worked well on the cloth cover material.


Jodi, our Web and Email Manager, was inspired by a recent article and technique by Brenda Swenson and, using a similar style, featured Cherry Blossoms on her cover. Jodi plans to document Spring in Seattle, so her cover reflects both the theme and style of future contents. Her painting was executed using a limited palette of DANIEL SMITH Watercolors over DANIEL SMITH Buff Titanium Watercolor Ground and a Pitt Pen sketch, protected with Golden MSA Spray Varnish.


Some of my covers have really simple designs. I have a whole series of sketchbooks that are all just named after contemporary pop stars. These covers feature names like Miley, Biebs or J-Tim written plainly across the front. Some of my other sketchbooks have elaborate covers like the Coffee Shop Sideshow logo or one where I created and used stencils and spray paint to depict a gentlemanly triceratops. There are really a staggering amount of materials and design ideas you can use to decorate a sketchbook cover.

Please head over to our FaceBook page and let us know how you do it. Or pop over there to read some of the ideas posted by your fellow artists. Creativity can be contagious. And, as always, keep those pencils moving!


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