Sketchbook Journaling in Challenging Times

One of the things that art does well – and has done for hundreds of years – is to investigate challenging human experiences. This opens up the potential for reflecting on and understanding our own and others’ mental states and feelings of distress and anxiety.

Jill Bennett
National Institute for Experimental Arts
University of New South Wales

In times of crisis, there is a special role for arts and culture in helping people make sense of uncertainty and their response to it.  This is especially true with the need for physical distancing and self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Whether writing, drawing and painting, or creating music, many individuals are seeking opportunities for self-expression to help them cope with emotional and spiritual challenges.

One great way to exercise your creativity and convey thoughts is to keep a sketchbook journal.  This intimate form can be whatever you like: poetry and verse, drawing, painting, collage, found objects, or whatever inspires your imagination. It can include finished works, sketches, ideas, words and doodles. Best of all, it’s your sketchbook, so it doesn’t matter whether you consider yourself an artist or not. As Paul Klee wrote, “a line is a dot that went for a walk.”  Where will your line take you?

Over the next few weeks, we will explore various aspects of sketchbooks and sketchbook journals, including some online resources. To get you started, here are a few ideas and tips:

  • Sketchbooks can be bought online, or for a more personal touch try making your own
  • A blank page can look intimidating. Draw a few scribbles or words to get started.  Sense how that pencil or pen feels when it moves across the paper
  • Experiment with different media around your home. Ever try painting with an old toothbrush? With black coffee instead of ink?
  • Instead of erasing, try going over a drawing until it’s a shape you like
  • Try drawing the same object over a few days. See how it changes
  • Look for inspiration out your window, or in the everyday things we take for granted.  Like your phone, a chair, or a passing piece of music
  • Most of all, have fun. We may be going through difficult times, but this is when the arts truly play such a critical role in our lives

Using these suggestions, consider the value of arts and culture during times of difficulty as your inspiration to begin this week’s journal entry.  To help you get started, here are a few questions to ponder:

  • How do the arts touch my life now?
  • What specific pieces of art have resonated with me, and why?
  • If I could say something to the world through a painting, what would it be? What would it look like?
  • How have my emotions changed since the pandemic started?

Below are examples from two different sketchbook journals.  Over the coming weeks we’ll explore others to expand the possibilities and concept of what it means to keep a journal of images and writing.


“SKETCHBOOK, emotion bottles final piece pt1” by reece buckley is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0 

“SketchBook Vol.2” by Olga Ush is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0