Last week I mentioned the importance of keeping your sketchbooks.

Throwing away a sketchbook is throwing away gold

I wish I had kept mine from childhood and college, but unfortunately I threw them away. I saw how “bad” the work was and thought “I’m much better now.” …And I was better! Hopefully you’ll always look back on a sketchbook and think “I am better now,” but there’s no excuse to throw out your old work… ever! Old sketchbooks are more valuable than you may realize.

Old sketchbooks are an heirloom

There are very few professions or hobbies where it’s possible to SEE your progress. You can go back and see your struggles on the page- that year where you were figuring out how to draw faces, or when you tried mastering expressions, or when you were experimenting with a style. If you don’t find it valuable, someone in your family probably will. I don’t know many people whoaren’t fascinated by things their grandparents leave behind, and I can’t imagine something as personal as a sketchbook not being valued by your future generations.

Old Sketchbooks are a reference

More importantly than the sentimental value, old sketchbooks are a reference tool. If you get to the point where you have more than 5 old sketchbooks, it can be difficult to remember and reference the contents.

You need a reference system in your sketchbooks.

It takes intentionality and some time, but your future self will thank you.

A reference system will help you mine for unrealized ideas

You need to be able to revisit old ideas and build on what you’ve learned. Your sketchbooks are FULL of not fully-formed, unrealized ideas. Sometimes we get ideas that aren’t quite fully formed, but when the idea is revisited when we’re older, wiser, and more skilled it can become a reality. I don’t need to look at old sketches to remember skills I learned, but I do find value in looking at old sketches for ideas.

Ways to start a simple reference (or index) in your old sketchbooks:

  • The simplest reference: write the start and finish date. I log the month and year.
  • Add another layer of information: write the general contents in the front page. I write out the client/event names since I usually do more than one sketchnote per client/event.
  • Come up with your own reference system. Your system is for you. Make sure whatever you do is simple and easy for you to understand.
  • Number pages
  • Use sticky notes or flags
  • Log every page’s contents (tedious, but thorough)
  • Use colors
  • Use tabs. I met someone who drew a small tab along the edge of the page in a certain location. Then, in the front page, the meaning of each location was noted in an index. He could find what he needed much faster by flipping through pages and looking for the right tab.


  • Never throw away an old sketchbook
  • Pass down your old sketchbooks
  • Look through old sketchbooks for ideas
  • Create an index in your old sketchbooks for faster, easier reference in the future.

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