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Is there something keeping you from implementing sketchbooks in your art room or within your own artistic journey? Are you threatened by the idea of a blank page? Turned off by the book format, afraid you will goof up the entire book? Not sure where to begin? There are many books out there designed to specifically tackle these issues and more. I had the pleasure of reviewing four of the top books on sketchbooks from cutting edge educators and researchers in art education. Check out the reviews below to find the resource that meets your needs. I promise you will be inspired to crack open your sketchbook and get started!
1. The Sketchbook Challenge by Sue Bleiweiss
Pros: This book was created as a result of Sue Bleisweiss’s popular blog: The Sketchbook Challenge. It starts by reviewing the basics, including different sketchbook and media options, then delves into the meat of her sketchbook challenge by focusing each chapter on a general theme. For each theme, Bleisweiss provides a sampling of sketchbook pages that include her work as well as the work of other featured artists. She also includes at least one specific technique for each theme, such as foiling, image transfers and silk fusion. The themes are broad, but thought provoking, including ideas like “dwellings”, “messages”, and “weathered beauty”.
Cons: While Bleisweiss’s book contains a few specific prompts or ideas, especially at the beginning, the majority of the book is based on broad themes. Also, many of the step-by-step techniques are advanced and require specialized materials.
Overall: If big ideas and visuals of other artists’ work get your creative juices flowing, this book would be a great fit. It would also be a good pick if you are in a rut and are looking for fresh multimedia techniques to try and push yourself to the next level. But, if you want a book that provides specific sketchbook prompts, I would suggest you keep looking.
2. The Drawing Mind by Deborah Putnoi
Pros: This book is a sketchbook and a teaching resource blended into one. Deborah Putnoi’s experience as an artist, educator and researcher (with a Masters in Education from Harvard) is apparent in the design of this book. Each page includes prompts, doodles and room for the reader to draw and explore. Putnoi’s theory is to get readers to stop reading about sketchbooks and to start sketching, thus finding their own “drawing minds.” It is an easy read that makes it feel like you are working alongside a caring art instructor.
Cons: Most of the prompts revolve around drawing with simple tools: pencils, charcoal, etc. The prompts are typically very specific and less advanced. Also, the design of the book, although unique and interesting, is more of a workbook and does not lend itself well as a professional text.
Overall: This book is my top pick because it makes me want to draw! If you are looking for a resource that you could walk into your art room and use immediately, this is it. The Drawing Mind could be easily implemented at a variety of levels from upper elementary to the undergraduate level. It is a great book to get the masses drawing, however, there are better options if you are looking to create an advanced sketchbook featuring personalized, thematic work. Don’t forget to come back tomorrow when we’ll be giving away a copy of The Drawing Mind and more!
3. Drawing Lab: For Mixed-media Artists by Carla Sonheim
Pros: This book contains a collection of fifty-two creative exercises, called labs, designed for mixed-media artists. Each lab is written much like a lesson plan including: materials, instructions, examples and even extension activities. The lessons cover a wide range of techniques and media, so there is sure to be a lab that speaks to everyone.
Cons: Although there are many different ideas throughout this book, there really isn’t any cohesion between lessons. The labs are grouped into several lofty themes (like imagination and childhood), but really they read like 52 individualized ideas, without much sequence or spiraling throughout. I would not suggest using this book cover to cover to develop drawing skills. It just isn’t designed to be used in that way.
Overall: If you are looking for ideas to supplement existing curriculum, this book would be a great choice. The labs are fresh, easy to follow and are completely independent from each other, making it easy to pick and choose the ideas that meet your needs. Sonheim’s 52 labs provide a lot of options and the layout is easy to search by medium or lesson idea.
4. Just Draw It! by Sam Piyasena & Beverly Philp
Pros: This book is extremely fresh and creative. Each drawing prompt is almost as fun to read about as it is to try, with ideas like “Drainspotting,” “Round and Round,” and “Drawing Breath.” Piyasena and Philp are clearly versed in the art of sketchbooks and their experience and ingenuity shines through. They link drawing prompts to famous artists where applicable and have designed a progression of drawing prompts that build from one idea to the next, taking students from mark making all the way to exploration and imagination.
Cons: This book was a close second, so there isn’t much that I don’t like. It is geared more towards High School or advanced students and some of the prompts can be a little confusing because of the creative layout, but overall, it is well designed.
Overall: If you are serious about using a sketchbook to improve your drawing skills, this is the book for you. The creative lessons help readers develop skills and build from one lesson to the next. Just Draw It! could be utilized from cover to cover in your classroom or broken down and used to enhance current lessons. The ideas are thought-provoking, interactive and most can be completed with basic drawing tools.
Do you keep a sketchbook? Do you use sketchbooks with students?
If so, how do you see these books fitting into your sketchbook routines?
Which do you think would be the best to use personally? What about with students?