Don’t forget to doodle & other sketchbook secrets


Probably the best advice I’ve received about getting past creative blocks is (1) don’t underestimate doodling (2) always  keep a sketchbook.

Doodling is such a freeing activity, and most of the time when you’re really stressed out over an idea or concentrating too hard, it feels like a lot of work. And the minute something feels like work, it gets less interesting and the results are, usually, disappointing. I guess that’s why everybody always talks about the importance of keeping your artwork fresh.

For a person who got very self-critical when things didn’t turn out as I planned, doodling was a welcome break. I’ve found it hugely beneficial to doodle  because it’s a completely subconscious process. Since I don’t have a plan to start off with, it lands up being an exciting journey. Most of my best ideas have come from just a line or a dot on the page, which then develops into something completely unexpected.  In those moments you really understand how magical the creative process can be.

A great example is this dog(like?) creature I arbitrarily sketched. It started with one red line. I have a tendency to start most of my  drawings with geometric patterns. I love balance and symmetry, and  add and subtract details like I’m part of a great, big construction project.  Anyway it grew from one line to many lines in different directions and then just became this odd shape. And then as soon as I brought a pen to it and dotted an eye (I have no idea what compelled me to do it), it transformed into an actual creature. Bizarre. Seriously.




The point about keeping sketchbooks is crucial for any creator. I’m a terribly disorganized person and keep my papers all over the place. Even on my computer I have files in all sorts of folders and am inevitably frustrated when I go hunting for something and can’t find it. The sketchbook seriously solves all these problems. I’ve diligently kept one for over a year, and it’s been a revelation to me how useful it is.

It is critical to make your sketchbook a judgement-free space. Unlike that piece of beautiful paper you’ve got laid out and are already torturing yourself over that one mistake you’ll make, which will make you throw it away eventually. I have filled two books just doodling ideas — words, pictures, scraps. All of them are essentially stories in the making. Whatever I feel, I put down. And the value lies in being able to go back to it, sometimes months later, to look at and ponder over. At that point it becomes much clearer what a great idea one thing was, and a dreadful one, the other.
Also, there are times when you look over things and realize that some thoughts recur. In my case, the idea of writing a story with chappals (flip flops/sandals) has been on my mind for several months. When I looked through my book the other day I noticed two separate images made at different times, but with the same idea.


Clearly, I was feeling nostalgic about wearing chappals, while I was sock-ed up through the winter :) Talking about subconscious, I didn’t even realize the eventual visual representation of my love for chappals — the heart shape! Or did I? I will never know. The human mind boggles.



The combination of both doodling and keeping a sketchbook I think are the most valuable tools anyone can have in the creative process. As a fairly nascent illustrator I’ve found it very helpful, especially when struggling to get ideas or figure out a style.

Somewhere between those pages you will eventually find your innate, unique voice.



  1. I couldn’t have put it better! As a graphic designer, I’ve learned the valuable lesson of keeping a sketchbook on me at all times because inspiration strikes you when you are least expecting it! I also like to look through my old sketchbooks to see how my idea has evolved from conception to fruition.

    • Gayathri

      Yes, completely invaluable! I still manage to be extraordinarily disorganized even with mine though. I write and doodle in at least 5 and I’m constantly trying to figure out what is where when I go hunting. 😛

      • I hear you! I’m equally disorganized with my computer files and it is only I’m running out of space that I panic and get my act together. Too dangerous for a designer!

        Oh, I forgot to mention that my eye keeps getting drawn towards your doglike creature. Would have never imagined a dot could make such a big difference! Hope you end up using it somewhere, it is very unique!

        • Gayathri

          Birds of a feather…. :)

          Hehe, well for now it’s relegated to the piles of doodles I have stashed away. But I shall go back to it to see if I can do something with it at some point!

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