Module 1 —Just Begin

Once you have a clear picture of what you want from your studio notebook (or any creative project), the next step is to begin. Okay, but how? If you feel uncertain, the tendency is to assume you need more preparation. But more planning, more classes, more books and videos don’t help unless you also actually begin the creative work. 

We rarely know what’s going to work for our art until we get in there and test-drive our ideas a bit. A useful trick is to just do anything to get yourself in motion. Bumble around a bit until you stumble on a direction that looks promising, or at least get a better sense of the territory. It’s a good idea to start developing some tricks to force yourself to stop dithering and begin already!

Module 1 Thinking Prompt—Your Motivations

What are (some of) your reasons for keeping a studio notebook? What do you hope this practice will do for you and your art?

After you list a few, pick one and push yourself to clarify it. See if you can make it more specific and concrete. See if you can identify some first steps that might help you discover a path forward, even if you feel like you don’t know where to begin.

If you’re hoping to use your studio notebook to develop your skills, what are one or two of those skills? Do you have any ideas worth testing about how you might use your studio notebook to develop them? Set up a practice page for each skill. Make a list of books or videos to explore? Make a list of artists who are good at the skill so you can study their work? 

If you want to develop your personal style, what does that mean to you? Do you want to list the qualities you’d like to develop in your work? Journal about what holds you back from being more daring and experimental? Make a plan to try different ways of working? 

As always, you can journal about this prompt, make a list, discuss it with other artists, or simply mull it over to see if you discover any new insights. 

Module 1 Activity Prompt—Start with Pure Enjoyment

Option 1—Make It Your Own

I find a brand-new sketchbook more exciting than intimidating, but it still helps me to do a few simple things to break it in and make it mine. For example:

  • Add features I like, such as a pen loop or pocket in the back. (see Module 0)
  • Prepare a page or two with little boxes for days when I only have time or energy to fill a small space.

Option 2—Fall in Love (Again)

Another great way to begin is to just play with your paints on a page or two—dripping, spattering, dropping in color, letting things run. 

Free play allows you to explore how this paper takes watercolor without the distraction of “making a picture”. But the deeper purpose is to give you a chance to rediscover the simple pleasure of watching watercolor do amazing things all by itself. 

It’s good to set aside skill-building and problem-solving occasionally and remind yourself why you fell in love with watercolor in the first place.

No need to fill the page. You’ll be back to write, draw or paint on top of this at some point.

(If you work in a different medium, you can do this exercise in watercolor, if you intend to use a watercolor journal as your studio notebook, or you can adapt it to free play in your medium. Free write, just enjoy moving your body, noodle around on a keyboard. Whatever is your version of “just messing around for the fun of it”.)

These activities set the stage for further work. They’re my little ritual for transforming a new, blank sketchbook into my working studio notebook.

Do you have any other little rituals or routines for making a new sketchbook yours?

Make a “start” on a few pages of your new studio notebook and claim it as your own. Use the prompts, or do your own thing; it’s your studio notebook!

Module 1 Journaling Together Video

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