Sketchbook Assignment

An Easy Way to Keep a Daily Visual Diary

Here's a fun sketchbook assignment for art students, artists, travelers, and anyone who would like to keep a daily visual record of their thoughts, impressions and surroundings.

If you'd like to...

  • discipline yourself so that you draw every day
  • record what you do on a regular day without having to write it all out in words
  • remember a special trip or occasion through art, rather than through photography

...then this Daily Visual Diary sketchbook assignment is for you! Even if you only have 15 minutes a day to draw and sketch, you can participate in this sketchbook assignment. This project is very versatile, so you can adapt it to suit your needs and your style.

Here's how it goes:

First, create a grid in any size you want, as long as it takes up a whole page in your sketchbook. You can draw a "normal" grid, like this:

Blank Grid for our sketchbook assignment

...or if straight lines and edges aren't your thing, you can get creative and make a grid out of different shapes!

Here is a grid I made out of irregular squares and circles:

Squares and circles for our sketchbook assignment

As you can see, you can interpret the "grid" in any way you want! Have fun with it. In my grid, the shapes don't even touch one another, and that's totally okay.

Now that you've drawn your grid (or conglomeration of shapes), your sketchbook assignment is to fill in each of the squares or shapes one day at a time. By filling in one shape at a time, you thus create a visual diary of exactly where you were at that certain intersection of space and time. 

It's pretty cool when you finish and you can look back at each shape and remember, "Oh yes, that's where I was that day!" and suddenly you can recall exactly where you were, who you were with, how you were feeling, and a ton of other things that might otherwise have gotten lost in the stream of time.

Start with any shape you want - some people like going in a linear manner, starting from the top left and moving straight across before moving onto the next row. Others, like me, choose a random shape and fill it in on a whim:

Sketchbook Assignment Beginning

For my first drawing, I doodled a star design inside a square. I considered this my "warm-up drawing", to get me in the groove for this sketchbook assignment.

The next day, I picked another random square and drew something more representional - the top of a mountain as I sat on a bench in Switzerland:

Sketchbook Assignment with Thaneeya

Although it can be fun to fill in a different part of the grid each day, I have to admit that I didn't manage to keep that schedule for this sketchbook assignment. Here's what I did instead:

I carried this grid with me in my sketchbook as I traveled across 3 continents and 1 ocean: from Switzerland to Italy to England, then across the Atlantic on a ship, then from Florida to Australia. The journey took 4 months in total and whenever the moment felt right, I pulled out my sketchbook and added to the grid.

The result is a visual diary that captures my experience of each place, translated into imagery.

As you can see, some drawings are abstract and others are more representational. I felt that the mixture of styles helped to embody my mood and state of mind at each particular juncture in time.

Visual Diary by Thaneeya McArdle

Even if the final drawing doesn't "make sense" to anyone else, it speaks to me of my journey. When I look at this drawing, I see the frosty chisel of Alpine peaks, the top of Brunelleschi's dome, the inside of a Swiss lodge, Montepulciano at night, the churning of waves across the Atlantic, and the peaceful calm of Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens.

The memories are crisp and specific, triggered by these simple 10-15 minute drawings.

This sketchbook assignment is great because there is very little pressure involved. You don't have to be a "good" drawer, and you only need to spend 10-15 minutes on it per day. It's a fun ongoing project to keep on the side while you work on other projects and go about your daily life.

All you need to participate in this sketchbook assignment is paper and a pencil. However, a sketchbook is more ideal because then the drawing will be safe from creasing or from getting lost, whereas a loose sheet of paper might easily get lost or damaged.

Sketchbook Assignment Variations

Visual Journal by Thaneeya McArdle

After you finish filling in your grid, you can fill in the background (if there is one). For instance, I could brush black ink in the background of my grid (as shown above), which creates the feeling even more that each shape is a little portal (or porthole) into another world.

You could color in the background in any way you want, using markers, pens, colored pencils, etc. Similarly, even though I did my sketchbook assignment in pencil, you could draw yours in markers, colored pencils, pens - whatever you fancy.

Here's another idea: cut out each square of the grid and make a collage, or paste them onto handmade paper:

Visual Diary with Handmade Paper

Another idea is to create a painting in this manner. Divide a canvas into different sections, and work on one section per day.

Or how about spending 10-15 minutes each day drawing on a small, 2" x 2" piece of paper. After a month, you will have 30 or so small drawings that you can stitch together to create a handmade art book.

Drawing every day can be relaxing and therapeutic. Some people don't draw (as much as they would like to) because they think they don't have enough time. They worry that they would have nothing to show for it if they only spend a few minutes each day sketching.

Well, if you carry out this sketchbook assignment, you'll end up with an intricate and inspiring grid full of art - a sizable achievement accomplished in little steps!