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Help! sketchbook monsters are eating the pages

Help! sketchbook monsters are eating the pages


One of our teachers has a great question

All my kids have expensive sketchbooks but they breeze through them page after page with dots and squiggles and half-finished work!


And yet I do not want to constrict…. especially in a sketchbook. Your ideas please


Washington, DC

That’s an issue for a lot of parents and teachers, Gillian. My own kids were prolific, and used whole forest-fulls of paper, yet we also did not want to constrict. Here’s what works for me and the teachers at Firstlight.

Different places for different artwork

Make it clear to your students that the 14 x 17″ sketch book is ONLY for lesson work. For all other sketching, use different papers. This is a good record of your lessons all in one place. Students understand this better if they write their lesson date and what they’re doing at the top of each page.

Now, for the other papers, nothing beats copy paper for artists choice. We have regular size and also the large 11 x 17″ ledger size. It is excellent for markers, especially if you get the heavier weight and really bright white versions. We get our regular size at Costco, and for the larger paper we go to Staples. We also buy the same sizes in cover stock for when you’re making heavy duty artwork.

If you rely on parents to donate to your school or purchase sketch pads, they should be happy to do this for you. It might be difficult for them to find the larger sizes, so you might have to go get that yourself, unless you have one of those special super-parents.

For older students I also like to encourage a treasure book: a small sketchbook that they can carry everywhere. Fill the pages with as many live sketches as possible. The idea that everything should be a treasure raises the bar for what you put in there.

You’re an artist. Make it count

Even then, we talk frequently about making each blank paper worth something. It may turn out to be a learner, but don’t give up after the first line. Keep after it and envision your finished work. An artists choice is a chance to create something special. We came up with the term, “artists choice” to help facilitate this. It implies that you’re creating artwork instead of playing. (We banished the term, “free draw”)

Tiny drawings floating in space


Or show this page from my sketchbook.

If a student tends to draw small, that can also use more paper. Young artists do not think about this unused space, and will center their work inside the frame of the sheet. Explain carefully: “Instead of drawing one tiny thing in the middle of the page and then moving on to a clean sheet, divide the paper into 4 sections, with a line across the middle sideways, and another one up and down. This creates kind of a window with 4 panels. Now you have 4 mini pages to work in!” You might also show some images of sketch books from the internet. Just make sure you select them before hand. Active searching with children present is NOT encouraged.

These are great tips to share with student parents too.

If you have other suggestions please share in the comments.

Unlimited paper is important, because the world needs happy artists!

About The Author

Dennas Davis

Dennas is the founder of Firstlight Arts Academy in Nashville, and also of The Art Instructor (formerly ArtSquish). He has been designing, painting, illustrating and teaching in various combinations since he learned how to hold a crayon. He is the illustrator of 24 children's books with over 5 million in print worldwide. See his paintings at

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