Congratulations, you’ve decided to be a sketcher, and you’ve just acquired all the necessary components to do so: a quality sketchbook, a pen, and some watercolours -- you’re all set!

Except now, every time you sit down to begin to draw, you’re paralyzed with a pen-stopping fear and have no clue how to push past this block.

You look around, and everything seems too complicated, too vast, too overwhelming. You look down and say, “Okay, I’ll start small,” and then cannot find anything small to draw.

Your mind officially shut down your sketching career before you even had a chance to start. For the next several months, you carry all these sketching components in your backpack, hoping something will inspire you along the way, but the inspiration never comes. Instead, your sketching components weigh you down as unnecessary baggage. 

Fear not! There is an easy way through this creative block if you’re ready to put your mind to it. It involves patience, humility, and the urge to move past your sketching fears -- which is totally worth it because sketching is genuinely one of the greatest hobbies in the world.

Once you break down the barriers built up by the “heebie-jeebies” that keep you from sketching, you’ll totally fall in love with sketching and all the ways it weaves into your life.

The scariest part of any new hobby is beginning but now is an excellent time to ask yourself, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Please don’t eat an elephant; let’s start sketching instead.

Here are some suggested baby steps you can take to start your sketching career. Supplement your baby steps with watching YouTube videos to discover artists you admire and techniques you’d like to understand. Remember, this is a fun and delightful hobby, so the sooner you get started, the more fun you will have!

ONE: Take a deep breath

It’s only paper, it’s only a sketchbook, and if you mess it up, so what. Be gentle and allow yourself some room to stumble as you learn a new hobby. Shake your hands out as if to shake out the anxiety.

TWO: Warm-up exercises

You wouldn’t run a marathon without adequately warming up and training your body, so let’s start to do the same for your sketching. You have to loosen up your mind and release the “heebie-jeebies” so that you’re free to be creative.

Use some scratch paper for exercises, and with your pen in your dominant hand, look at your free hand and draw it without looking at your paper. Draw your hand continuously for about two minutes, and remember, do not look at the paper. 

This exercise allows your eye to start trusting your hand. You may want to literally talk to your hand and proclaim that you’re excited to be doing this together. For example, look at your hand and say: “I appreciate the work you do and trust you to draw what I see.”

Doing so may make you a bit uncomfortable at first, but have fun with it and tell your drawing hand what a great job it’s doing! Perhaps it’s best not to do this in public, wink-wink. 

THREE: Start small and create a habit

Choose something you do daily, like perhaps a cup of coffee, and draw it every day. Give yourself a time limit and stick to it, such as 15 minutes. A 30-day challenge of a 15-minute sketch each day will create a lovely daily habit, and you’ll be surprised at the progress you make when you commit to drawing something every day.

Don’t forget to add some colour to your sketch as well; get to know your art tools, and you’ll spend a lifetime learning how to use them.

FOUR: Incrementally add more

Start to take risks in your drawing but give yourself a time limit. Allow 15 minutes to create your sketch and stick to it. When you have too much time to sketch, the heebie-jeebies will pressure you to be precise and tight.

Don’t give your mind time to think! Allow your hand to be drawing what your eyes are seeing -- and don’t forget to breathe!

You can develop longer sketches as you gain confidence, but the priority is to keep it manageable. As your confidence grows, your hand will want to draw more of what your eyes are seeing -- this is when you can start to take risks in subject matter, line widths, and watercolour. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, and don’t worry about drawing precisely.

FIVE: Find a community

It’s great to dedicate time to get your sketching legs under you when you begin, but at some point, you may want to meet up with other sketchers in your community -- almost every community has sketchers!

It’s a great way to meet fellow artists and an excellent opportunity to learn about art tools and tricks you may not have discovered on your own. You can join your local Urban Sketchers chapter if you have one or search for local sketch groups.

Most cities and towns have some type of art club that will encourage and support sketch outings. Or start your own sketch club if there are none in your area.

SIX: Share your work

In a sea of way too many photos, your hand-drawn art could very easily stand out in the crowd when you post it on your social media channels. In fact, that may be how you discovered you wanted to be a sketcher.

Your can and should share your art on all platforms. When sharing on Instagram, be sure to include popular hashtags, such as the medium you used, the location, the subject, and don’t forget your name!

Popular hashtags at the moment (stay alert because things are always changing): #etchr #etchrsketchbook #sketchonlocation #sketchbook #urbansketchers #havesketchbookwilltravel #travelsketcher #artistsoninstagram #makemoreart #sketchbookpainting

SEVEN: Take it to the streets

As you start to develop your drawing habit, you’ll gain confidence and begin to meet other artists as you sketch -- and you may perhaps be ready to sketch out on the streets and in public places.

Keep your art arsenal compact and mobile so that it does not inhibit your movement, and when you sit down to draw, the first thing to do is take a deep breath (see #1). Do some warm-up exercises (see #2) to get the “heebie-jeebies” out of the way, and then take a look around your environment.

What’s important to you? What’s your focus? Start here, take your time and have some fun. Sketching out in public places is a fantastic way to people watch and enjoy your time making art in public.

You’ll never know what you may see or who you’ll meet! You can’t draw everything, so choose the thing that’s most important to you. 

EIGHT: Never stop sketching

Never stop sketching! Being an artist is much like being an athlete; you must continue to use and flex your muscles if you want them to grow and develop.

The good news is that it’s a super fun habit that it’s hard to stop once you start doing it. Always keep a sketchbook with you, and at the very least a good pen. If you have to wait for anything; a bus, plane, train, concert or date, you’ll always have something with you to pass the time.

NINE: Stay curious

Curiosity equates to further creativity so let your mind wander and take in the sights and sounds of other people’s creative styles, not so much to copy but to be inspired.

TEN: Have fun

That is all.

Did this inspire you to start sketching?

Is it less intimidating now that we've broken it down? Is there anything else you'd like to see from us? Let us know in the comments below.

Meagan Burns is an artist and instructor living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, although she hails from Chicago, Illinois. Meagan started sketching in 2015; she now travels the world making art and teaching people how to put aside the “heebie-jeebies” so they can enjoy a fun travel sketching hobby.


  • susan brittain said:

    Very inspiring! Thank You! You have inspired me against a doubtful mind and to realise Rome wasn’t built in a day!

    July 27, 2023

  • De said:

    Great boost to get started! Thank you!

    July 25, 2023

  • Deni said:

    A lovely blog. Thank you. I’m of the heeby jeeby sketchy freezy clan. This blog is very helpful. I’m going to follow the advice to the letter. I go to the coffee shop daily. I can put in 15 mins daily there. I have a small watercolour paint set. I just haven’t had any tuition in wc. So I will jump in anyway. And finding a sketch group is a great idea!! Thank you again.

    August 11, 2021

  • Penny said:

    I am attracted to your style of work because drawing feels natural for me. I’m still a pretty raw beginner when it comes to putting the watercolour component in.

    August 09, 2021

  • Penny said:

    I am attracted to your style of work because drawing feels natural for me. I’m still a pretty raw beginner when it comes to putting the watercolour component in.

    August 09, 2021

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