Why bother keeping an art journal or sketchbook?


Note to readers: the following essay is shared with students in my Dreaming On Paper: The Creative Sketchbook workshop.

The images in this post are screen shots of how my memoir, Sketchbooks, looks on my iPad. I’m showing these because to show you it is an outcome (a product!) that happened as a result of the creative journey principles shared in the workshop. Those in the Dreaming on Paper workshop will recognize some of the images, as they are some of the pages from my sketchbooks used in the tutorials.

As I read through this essay in preparation for the upcoming session of Dreaming on Paper, I thought that it was something I’d share with you here on my blog, because the questions below come up a lot.

We work the the principles of listening, observing, flow and alignment as part of the creative journey, so those are concepts you’ll find bolded.

How practical is it to keep an art journal or sketchbook? What are they for? Why bother?

These questions, and variations of, have come from people who are curious about this process. But they’ve also come from within, when I struggle with whatever obstacles arise to interfere with what matters most.

How can  something that is so fun, and so…seemingly frivolous—playing with paint on paper, stream-of-conscious play, inside a sketchbook—really make a dent in the big deal problems and struggles that I am facing right now?

Those obstacles come part and parcel with pursuing any creative dream.


Along with inspiration and desire, comes fear and resistance, bundled together like some weird, cosmic package deal.

To pursue the dreams of our heart, we must confront that which would stop us.

The stuff of creative callings, and combining creativity with business as a creative entrepreneur is a hero’s journey. Not for the faint of heart.

For anyone who creates on demand for a living, for anyone trying to create something out of nothing, for anyone who wants to know themselves and get below the surface of things: keeping a creative sketchbook is a sorcerer’s tool.


The creative sketchbook is where we learn to listen.

What does my body need? What does my heart long for? Who are my people? Where is my tribe? What do I want to do next? What would nourish me most?

For me, the visual journal process I’m introducing you to here, is an essential tool. It’s where all of my healing unfolds, where all of my ideas emerge, where all of my dreams take root, where all of my creative products reveal themselves.



The creative sketchbook is where we learn to observe.

The creative sketchbook shows us how to observe the world within and around us. What makes us happy? Delights? Drains our energy? Inspires? What would we rather avoid?

In short, the creative sketchbook is where all of my work flows from, and my work is able to flow forth because I also have this private, creative space to do my personal growth work and healing.

Keeping a creative sketchbook is where we find our flow.

What feels easy? Where is the profit? What resources do I have? What are my gifts? Where is my zone of genius? Who can I work well with? What do my clients need most? How can I leverage my energy, rather than push upstream?


Keeping a creative sketchbook is where we find alignment. 

Where we connect, and keep re-connecting with our higher purpose.

Keeping a creative sketchbook is how we keep the channel open.

Listening, observing, flow, and alignment happens when we put process before product.

I’ve said in many different ways that all of my work products come out of keeping creative sketchbooks, but sometimes it’s better to show, to point to the outcomes.



This process gives me the courage to give voice to my deepest creative dreams. Over and over again.

That you, too, have the courage to create what only you can make, and feel on fire with purpose about your life, this is what I wish, most of all, for you.


Learn more about Dreaming On Paper: The Creative Sketchbook, here: http://www.lisasonora.com/dreaming-on-paper/

Check out my memoir, Sketchbooks: My Personal Creative Practice, here: http://www.lisasonora.com/sketchbooks-my-personal-creative-practice/ (get it via instant download)

Do you dream on paper…keep a creative sketchbook? What does having a creative process do for you and your work?


25 Responses to Why bother keeping an art journal or sketchbook?

  1. kc January 25, 2015 at 4:12 pm #

    hi Lisa
    uh oh. I just paid for the bundled 3 classes (i received an unexpected gift of $$ from a tiny old insurance policy my mom had!)

    now I am just worried that it’s another thing that I will really WANT to do but will fail to FOLLOW THROUGH with.

    I need a sprinkling of fairy dust to *b*e*l*i*e*v*e* that creative transformation is possible, even for me!


    • Lisa Sonora January 26, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

      @KC – Good for you. I totally understand the worry.

      We will address just those sorts of things in the workshops.

      Meanwhile, what if you journaled about this right now?
      Some prompts for you:
      When I’ve REALLY wanted something and gotten it…
      I’ve already followed through on…
      What I’m really afraid of is…
      And what this fear want to teach me is…
      If the fear were disguised as love, then…
      And I would feel…

      Do those prompts as much as you like, often is good. We’ve got time before we begin the first workshop!

      Your belief that creative transformation is possible will come from your own experience. Doing the work.

      From my own experience, where I am writing to you from, I do believe that if creative transformation is possible for me, it’s possible for anyone. If it’s possible for others, it’s possible for you.
      I’ve never NOT seen this stuff work, when people do the work.

      Can’t wait to “see” you in the workshop, we can dialog more about this as you go through the workshops and things unfold.

  2. Krystyna Moore April 22, 2014 at 6:37 am #

    ‘The stuff of creative callings & combining creativity with business as a creative entrepreneur is a heroes journey. Not for the faint of heart….. The Creative sketchbook is where we learn to observe, learn to listen, find our flow, find our alignment…
    This process gives me the courage to give voice to my deepest creative dreams- over & over again….’

    These words resonant deeply within me as I reflect upon my own hero’s journey…

    This particular journey commenced when I left the ‘real world’ about 18 months ago and strode out alone to pursue my art & creativity & encompass my deep feeling for humanity & my sincere wish to serve…. Many fears have been encountered over the past months…solitude,being lost & alone, poverty, self worth, perseverance, direction, clarity…

    I came upon the Root:30 Day Journal Project and every day for 30 days I consistently responded to the prompts and for the first time in my life consistently kept a journal for 30 days straight. (Over the past few years I have stopped & started many journals though this was the first I had continued with it)

    Then I read about the Dreaming on Paper workshop being offered & intrigued I signed up.

    All of a sudden it felt like a new world was being opened up to me… a format and structure in which I could easily & consistently express… a way in which to document my dreams & wishes… my hopes & longings… a way in which to capture those fleeting creative ideas before they flew off into the ethers… A way to face the blank page of my life with grace & ease… a practical way to give voice to the many ‘wonderings & wanderings’ within me.
    My initiation part of the hero’s journey….

    For me the journey continues and as I stride out into ‘the region of supernatural wonder & encounter mysterious adventures along the way’… I am embracing my new found knowledge that is supporting my journey… ‘Sorcerers tools’ to shed light on my creative cycles…to make sense of my inner compulsions.. to transmute my Dreams into Reality…And aid me in my quest of conquering one of my greatest creative challenges which has been ‘consistency’….

    And Creative Practice is shining a guiding light on this journey…

  3. suzana April 21, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

    What resonates for me most: “This process gives me the courage to give voice to my deepest creative dreams.”

    I began creating my ‘Dreaming on Paper’ journal about the middle of last year (before I found you are running a course of the same name & almost changed the cover because I didn’t want to be ‘copying’ – dumb, huh?). My Dreaming on Paper journal has been absolutely priceless, not only in giving voice to all of my dreams and helping me stay focused on my art/ work but also helping me stay in alignment…

    There is so much to do as we prepare for the Grand Adventure we are embarking upon! Very often, my ‘artist’ self (or my ‘soul self’) gets buried in my roles as wife/ mother/ business partner/ homemaker/ ETC… One thing I did was to include spreads about our dreams as a family & also as individuals (because their dreams matter to me too) & my whole journal reflects all of my ‘roles’/ ‘dreams’.

    At the end of very challenging days, I have found myself simply needing to browse through my Dreaming on Paper journal: to remind myself of my path, that all the ‘challenges’ are just part of preparing the way; to witness the progress that I’m making and to keep focused on what really matters. At times, the proces has helped me to clarify things – and I’ve reworked pages to create ‘truer’ visions that are more accurately aligned with my soul’s journey…

    Creative challenge: to keep up my creative practice in the midst of so many other pressing tasks, especially the necessary interruptions from the ‘new people in our lives’ (business brokers and real estate agents) & the need to keep everything ‘perfect’ for inspections (not much room for ‘creative chaos’).

    • Lisa Sonora Beam April 23, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

      wow! What synchronicity about Dreaming on Paper…

      great minds think alike, right?

  4. Nela April 19, 2014 at 5:37 pm #

    “This process gives me the courage to give voice to my deepest creative dreams.” – this sentence stood out for me because it’s probably the most important lesson for me at this moment. To allow all the creative dreams to surface and make themselves known, even though they scare the hell out of me.

    I had no idea what was possible with sketchbooks until I started reading your blog. And now, at a point when I’m contemplating making some big changes in my career (ok to be honest, I’ve been thinking about these changes for *months* but I let the excuses get the best of me), the idea of journaling and testing those ideas until they are ready to come out fully sounds like the perfect next step.

    I often shut my big ideas up the moment they show up because I get scared.
    Or at best, I make a note and stuff it in my “ideas” folder, and only glance at it occasionally, saying I’ll get back to that later.
    Because big ideas are big time investments, and what if the product ends up not being good?

    I’m not sure I “get” this process before the product thing completely.
    I believe you, but I’m not embodying this myself.
    But I suppose that comes with practice, right?

  5. An April 17, 2014 at 11:49 am #

    Ah, Lisa. You spoke to me when you said “something so seemingly frivolous.” I grew up feeling that I always had to be “productive, ” and for so long that is how I have evaluated myself each day. I completed “Root” with you faithfully for 30 days. What can I say, but everY PART of my life when better during that time. I felt ALIGNED. The I enrolled in your sketchbook class, but “Ms. Smarty pants gotta do it right right left brain” tried to take over. She told me, ” Your pages aren’t pretty. You’re not doing it right.” But I kept listening to you, and went from the intellectual realization to the felt knowledge that, “my journal is for me. It is about the PROCESS; not the product. It’s about allowing myself the freedom to EXPERIMENT; rather than following a recipe. And yes, I ask myself, “am I being indulgent?” And I remember your post from “rest is a weapon.” That’s when I first began following you. Wanna know the secret of the first woman who ever won the Iditarod? She did it by treating her dogs better than anyone else. She gave the rest and food, rather than shouting, “mush.” I’m trying to give more of that feminine, nurturing energy to myself. I give generously to others, but sometimes reluctantly to myself. On airlines, the safety instructions tell us that we need to put on our own oxygen masks first, before we assist those who depend upon us. But I tend to deplete myself. I would be honored and vow my commitment (I’m very consistent at honoring my commitment to others. And this would also be a commitment to myself) if you trusted me with a spot in your CREATIVE+PRACTICE workshop. You can be the midwife for the transformation I’m eager to make. My biggest challenge is freeing myself to simply experiment or play in my sketchbook. So I respond by avoidance, fearing it won’t meet some standard. But you know, just writing that helped. Thank you for the gift if ROOT. And I think CREATIVE+PRACTICE can take me to the next place. But most of all, thank you for what I glean from you each time I read your postings. An

    • Lisa Sonora Beam April 17, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

      Thank you so much for this: the secret of the first woman who ever won the Iditarod?

      I had no idea!

      I used to live in Alaska – the back country – but during summers. Although I did a fair amount of snow hiking in “summer” near Mt. McKinley.

      I love thinking of those amazing dogs being so well-loved.

      As for you – I can relate to everything you said – and I think pretty much every one else here would say, me too…

  6. Paula April 17, 2014 at 4:51 am #

    “To pursue the dreams of our heart, we must confront that which would stop us. The stuff of creative callings … is a hero’s journey…: keeping a creative sketchbook is a sorcerer’s tool.”

    I’ve been writing a lot about magic lately: the power generated at the center of a group of people sitting around a table engaged in sharing food, drink, stories, laughter and tears, the magical appearance of an idea floating by and the magic it takes to bring this idea into reality, and here is the practical magic of the sketchbook, idea book, storage house for what could be, may be, or perhaps shouldn’t be just yet or ever, the magic of the collected, cataloged and curated items that could lead to realizations, revelations or maybe even just a good joke, which is just as important in the scheme of things.

    My struggle is to keep remembering the importance of collecting even those things that seem like ephemera so I can look at them all together – it is this togetherness, like those people around the the table, that produces the magic.

    Thanks, Lisa, for these prompts to get us moving toward that confrontation with those things that stop us. I look around this virtual table and raise a glass to continuing the struggle!

  7. Kimberly November 22, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    I have Goeth’s words that you quoted above- trust yourself and you’ll know how to live- on my desk at all times- it’s so powerful. After seeing your artful version I feel motivated to make my own.

    Thank you for sharing so much of your insights, ways, reasons, experiences and life. I enjoy all of it. You are very brave, on many levels. May your time in MX be filled with the adventure and satisfaction that you desire as you leave 2013 and enter 2014.

    I’ll share a favorite quote; from Natalie Goldberg- “Look over your shoulder. There’s nothing there. We carry it all inside us.”

  8. Iris November 8, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    “To pursue the dreams of our heart, we must confront that which would stop us.” I want to tattoo this on my forearm.

  9. Nela November 4, 2013 at 4:44 am #

    I’m keeping a creative sketchbook and have used it for various purposes… however I think I still haven’t gotten the full potential that you’re talking about.

    My sketchbooks are, above all, a receptacle for my ideas. This is where I note them down when I have a stroke of inspiration, and where I start exploring the possibilities, the variants of forms this idea might take.

    Sometimes I sketch my surroundings instead of photographing it. Sometimes I make a study of objects on my desk. sometimes I draw detailed artwork in it and I take it too seriously, as I might a piece on fancy paper or canvas, which I now know is not the best way to use a sketchbook.

    But years ago when I just started keeping a sketchbook I was mostly using it to get the mess out of my head onto paper. I never heard of art journaling before so I just doodled with my red and black ballpoint pen, the weird and sometimes horrific imagery that was on my mind and I later realized was a symbolic language for my inner state. As my artwork became more elaborate I seemingly forgot about this humble process of doodling my worries and anxiety away. But a few months ago I started doing it again, I started simply doodle for doodling sake, not thinking about this being a potential for future artwork, a practice of artistic skills and all that constricting crap.

    After reading your book “The Creative Entrepreneur” I saw how visual journaling can be used to get insight on actual objective problems (not just emotional ones). I saw the beautiful examples featured there, with written as well as collaged parts, and started using this technique myself. I can say now that I’ve solved at least one major issue by journaling about it and the answers appeared as I was writing, doodling and coloring. I look forward to exploring this technique further.

    One this is certain, I’m a huge advocate of sketchbooks and I’m preparing a video about it in hopes of bringing this topic closer to those who still haven’t caught the sketchbook bug!

  10. teresa November 1, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    I thought nothing much was happening from doing the sketch book process…until I revisited the pages after 7 months or so and discovered that I had made some real leaps in my life. I took on some projects at work that were challenging and I left behind some personal activities that were just not working for me. I was not even conscious that I was making the changes. It was a real pleasure to revisit the pages and see that the playing about with paint and glue and writing actual lead me to DO something.

    Having your guidance through Creative+Practice really helped me to “get” the process. I didn’t really get it until then. The first time I worked through your book I got too caught up in what I thought I should be doing on the pages. This time, after you guidance, I feel so much more comfortable and am anticipating that I will see results and a clearer vision for my business idea.


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