The Difference Between a Sketchbook and a Journal.


Most artists will keep either a sketchbook or a journal, and some, like me, keep both.

So what is the difference?

A journal usually includes a bit of writing.


A journal has some type of introspection or a record in writing of thoughts, as well as other forms of creativity such as sketching, collaging.

Travel journals - records memories that might be otherwise forgotten.

For example, when I travel, I like to sketch with a micron pen and then add watercolours with my Sakura Koi 24 piece field sketch set.  I try as much as possible to minimize the art supplies I bring on my travels. Sometimes I will bring glue and scissors in case I want to do a bit of collage such as adding ticket stubs, or other such memorabilia. (Picasso page above)

I have sketched while watching people come and go in the lobby of the Parque Central, in Havana Cuba.  Hotel lobbies are busy places and people rarely pay much attention to me. I sketched a girl who was totally engrossed in her cell phone. She sat in front of me for at least 20 minutes, totally oblivious that I was sketching her.

I found out that I enjoyed sketching the old cars and I have several of them in my sketchbook. In Spain, I sketched people at the sports bar on a rainy day when we were jet lagged. While we vacationed in Maui, it was the colourful, juicy dragonfruit and "shave ice" the Hawaiian signature refreshment to cool off on a hot day that caught my attention.

If the sketches have thoughts associated with them, they would belong in a my case, everything eventually gets mixed up.

However, the journal can be deeply personal and help achieve some insight into a particular frame of mind, or problem.

A journal then, becomes a visual diary playing a part in self-expression and/or self-care.



A sketchbook is less introspective than a journal.

The sketchbook’s role, simply put, is to experiment with various mediums and test creative ideas.


The sketchbook might have thumbnail illustrations that explore values, space, and subject matter as inspiration for larger projects. I have sketchbooks for different classes I have followed, as well as to test palette colour schemes to name but a few.

All types of sketchbooks...

One of my favourite sketchbooks is a discarded large, old school library encyclopaedia. I glued several pages together to make them more absorbent and then gessoed the surface where I wanted to paint.

Then, I experimented with layers of acrylic drips, stencils, and collage for Remembrance Day posts.


Journal Page for Remembrance Day 2018

journal entry for Remembrance Day

A Journal and Sketchbook have common features.

No matter whether you work in a journal or a sketchbook, both are liberating in that they are not necessarily meant to be made public.  Many artists create gorgeous journals and sketchbooks. Mine never turn out that way so I only share a page at a time.

Of course, some sketches end up in travel journals and sketchbooks and journals are not always super organized!  Mostly, it's a question of minimizing the art supplies I really want to cart with me on my trips.

While writing this post, I realized that I had never shared the art work I completed in Maui in 2019. Food is so easy to doesn't move!

Below are a selection of artists whose journals and sketchbooks I admire.  

Christie Markins, and Layne Chun have appeared as guests on my website.

Illustrations are not always easy to categorize as a journal or sketchbook entry, but they are lovely nonetheless…and in art, there is freedom to experiment and combine sketchbooks and journals.

For journaling ideas, visit these Instagram galleries.

Inspiring sketchbook artists you may want to follow:

Which type of artist are you?  Do you prefer journals or sketchbooks? Or maybe both?




11 Responses

  • Great post! I use the words “journal” and “sketchbook” interchangeably. Possibly I do this because I slip between words and pictures so easily. Especially when I have done word/drawing work in books during travels. You’re right; recording by hand in a book makes a trip so much more memorable than just photos

    • Just sitting and really observing people or a building or whatever we are trying to capture on paper helps us remember so much more of the sights and sounds of a particular place or moment. This is especially true these days as photos tend to stay in files on the computer and without any context, they are just photos, aren’t they??

      • So true!! During one visit to the Oregon Coast I sat for quite some time to sketch and paint a candelabra tree, one of the oldest trees in the area. People, by the dozens, walked right up snapped photos then left without staying longer than it took to click the shutter on their phone camera. They didn’t notice me. But a few people, the ones probably over 55 and a few of the ones under 10 did stop and look and look at the tree, and to walk all the way around the tree before they left. Sometimes the older ones took photos too but they chose carefully their view of the tree. And almost every one of these “slow lookers” as I called them in my mind also noticed me sketching. Sometimes even talking with me about my sketches. That experience heightened my awareness of awareness itself.
        Anyway, I’d bet the people who snapped a quick photo of the tree and left immediately couldn’t tell you what their photo was of when they saw the pic later….but the slow lookers probably could!

        • I have seen this as well. Shoot and dash. I can’t always sketch on site but I have been known to take a photo and then add notes using my Ipad. A bit awkward and time consuming, but at least, all info I need is there to remind me of the reason for the photograph.

  • Wonderful drawings, Louise ? nice to have on hand when inspired and/or taking notes for reference. Wishing you a splendid day, my friend ?

    • Thanks Vivienne. I know you sketch the places you have visited as well. They are such a great way to remember the sights but also the sounds, the smells…such art work really sharpens the memory in more ways than one.

  • Gosh Louise, reading your thoughts today made me realise how much more you put into being an artist than I have ever done, occasionally when we have travelled I have done sketches of something I wanted to remember rather than take a photo, but I have until this week never really considered a sketchbook. I do have volumes of written journals from places we have visited and I am sure that if I had have included sketches rather than photos when I could, they would create more interest.

    • It’s not always easy to find time for sketching especially when others in the travel party are not artists. I am able to do on the spot sketching in hotel lobbies or on the beach, or in lounges, usually while I wait for us to be checked out of the hotel or on a rainy do nothing day. Otherwise, sketches are done in the evenings from photos. I use the journal to keep the memories of the day next to the sketches. I think such work sharpens the memory of the day or the event much more than just a photo.

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