Bad Drawings Make Great Backgrounds: When a Sketchbook Page Goes Wrong

When I travel, I always take a sketchbook to keep a record of the trip (and, honestly, to entertain myself, because there are only so many old churches one can tour in a day).  Here’s a video tour of my latest sketchbook, and you can always see more on Instagram.

But what happens when a page in a sketchbook goes horribly wrong? Now, I’ve filled lots of sketchbooks with practice and lessons, and every single page in those books could be described as “wrong”–although I’d call it “learning.” Those pages aren’t meant for anyone else to see, much less judge.

But sometimes, we artists do get focused on the results, and we want to be able to show our pretty travel sketchbooks to our friends when we get home. So what happens if, on one page, you try to draw a boat and it ends up looking like a turtle–drawn by a five year-old? What do you do when you make a mess?

One option is to just leave it. I do. If anybody’s flipping through my sketchbooks and they pause on a page of weird, awful, wrong drawings, I’ll either say nothing and let them keep flipping, or I’ll say, “That’s what we call a practice page.”

Some artists will glue two unfortunate pages together. I don’t like to do that, because you might not have two unfortunate pages next to each other, and besides, I hate to waste paper. Also, it makes for a weird, bulky, don’t-look-at-this page in the middle of the book, which seems somehow shameful (to me, anyway), and I don’t want shame in my sketchbooks.

Another option is to cover it up with collage. I travel with a glue stick for this very reason. Ticket stubs, bits of tourist maps, newspaper headlines, even a silly drawing or note on a Post-It…you can find some bits and pieces and glue them down. Like this:



Or–if the drawing’s light enough–why not just write on top of it? I did this dull little watercolor that just made me sad to look at, but then I wrote on top of it and the whole thing seemed much more interesting to me. Bad drawings make great backgrounds.