If you’re wondering how a sketchbook could help someone with anxiety, other mental health issues, or even serve as a therapy companion, let’s break it down a bit. A sketchbook is a place for creative experimentation, and you don’t have to show it to anyone else– not even your art therapist! A 2018 article published with King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT) defines the sketchbook as “a catchall term that covers other common designations – such as journal or notebook – that indicate a class of objects sharing similar properties and serving similar purposes. That is, they are book format, portable, personal and analogue artefacts used to record experiences, to document reflections and to develop creative thinking” (Power, 2018).
Just making art alone can be incredibly beneficial, and even therapeutic. Studies have shown that art-making alone leads to mental well-being through encouraging play, inspiration and learning. You are welcome to use the sketchbook as a place of open exploration, but some find that intentionally exploring some themes and emotions that they are processing right now is helpful too. I like to use a combination of both of those types of sketchbooking. I find that when I don’t have a specific idea of what I am going to make, I learn something new about myself every time, and that has it’s own value in helping me gain self-awareness and form my own identity. You could use any sketchbook, or you could create a mental-health sketchbook and keep this type of work separate from any other sketchbooking you do, if you prefer.
Essentially, he asks that we just experience ourselves through the means of a sketchbook, and that we find some joy or connection to our work.
The 2018 article entitled Re-Imagining the Sketchbook as a Medium of Encounter further clarified the purpose of the sketchbook as a place of “encounters”. That is, with the self, with the present moment, and with the artist/person’s own sense of creativity. The types of encounters that one experiences with a sketchbook can be categorized, according to the article, as reflexive, reflective, and intersubjective. These types of encounters encourage “distinctive ways of engaging self and world that, researchers argue, nurture creativity, namely, curiosity, reflection, play, experimentation, atteniveness and reflexivity” ((Bohm 2012; Claxton 2006; Csikszentmihalyi 1996) as cited by Power, 2018). The reflexive encounters are moments of “noticing the everyday world” through the sketchbook, such as drawing a subject as it moves across a field. This means that “sketchbook notations are always descriptions and interpretations”. It’s what you see, but it’s also the way that you interpreted it in that specific moment.
The reflective encounters with the sketchbook are just what they sound like, moments of reflection and response to yourself. One participant described this as such, “I make a note or do a drawing or even just doodle to make something happen, to give myself something to think about, to force myself to respond” (Participant, as cited by Power, 2018). Reflection helps the sketchbooker develop self-awareness and an awareness of their present situation, process events and experiences, and explore what next step to take.
In intersubjective encounters, the sketchbook is used to facilitate conversation about the creative process. This part sounds like art therapy to me! Part of this is also the intentional changing of the sketchbook process by setting rules for yourself to follow and change your sketchbooking habits. Try writing about your drawing process, writing when you want to draw and vice versa, or only using your sketchbook during certain times of the day. Or just about whatever else you can think of! This process can be a place of self-discovery and growth that, in my opinion, is an amazing thing to pair with the therapeutic process.
Does anyone else want to grab their sketchbook right now? If you’re looking for inspiration, I suggest checking out The Sketchbook Project where you can explore a huge selection of uploaded sketchbooks! Start exploring!