Art Sketchbook Ideas: Creative Examples to Inspire High School Students

This article provides tips and guidance to help you produce an outstanding high school sketchbook. It contains an online collection of sketchbook pages from different qualifications from around the world, including IGCSE / GCSE Art, A Level Art, VCE Studio Arts, NCEA Level 3 Scholarship and IB Visual Art. Many of the sketchbook pages shown below are from projects that achieved full marks. These examples illustrate a wide range of possible approaches to sketchbook content, annotation, and page layout. We hope to inspire those studying within any visual art discipline, including drawing, painting, mixed media, graphic design, sculpture, three-dimensional design, architecture, printmaking, photography, textiles, and fashion.

This text is adapted from our upcoming book: High School Sketchbooks: 100+ Outstanding Examples © Student Art Guide 2018, soon available in eBook and hardcopy format. This book has large, clear images of sketchbook pages, making annotation and fine details legible, in a way that isn’t possible on this website. The book includes some of the images below and many more. Image copyright belongs to the student and/or artists, as specified. To share this article, please link to www.studentartguide.com/articles/art-sketchbook-ideas or use the social media buttons on this page. Copying, uploading or distributing this material in any other way is not permitted.

Contents

What is a high school art sketchbook?

A sketchbook is a creative document that contains both written and visual material. It may include teacher-guided sketchbook assignments or self-directed investigation. A sketchbook provides a place to think through the making process: researching, brainstorming, experimenting, testing, analyzing and refining compositions. It offers a place to document the journey towards a final solution, providing a depth and backstory to the accompanying work. The sketchbook is an important part of many visual art courses.

Sketchbook format

For convenience, most students select a sketchbook that is A4 (210 x 297 millimeters / 8.27 × 11.7 inches) or A3 (297 x 420 millimeters / 11.7 x 16.5 inches) in size. An A4 sketchbook fits within schoolbags and is less likely to be lost or damaged during transit. An A3 sketchbook fits more work per page and provides space for larger individual artworks. If a sketchbook is to contain all of the preparatory material submitted (without larger accompanying sheets of developmental work), an A2 sketchbook may be appropriate. Often this decision is set by a qualification, teacher or school. Non-conventional sizes and electronic submissions may also be possible.

Regardless of the format, work primarily in portrait or landscape orientation, rather than alternating from page-to-page (consistent orientation makes it easier for an examiner to flip through the pages and view the work). If electronic submission is required, horizontal pages are preferable, as these display better upon a computer screen.

Four possible sketchbook formats are summarized below. These are just a few of the options available (these may not be appropriate for all examination boards).

Pre-bound sketchbooks

It is essential that pre-bound sketchbooks used by art students contain quality artist paper, suitable for both wet and dry mediums (ideally 110gsm or greater). Different paper types may be glued to pages as required. A minimal appearance is optimal: choose a sketchbook with a plain cover, absent of distracting logos and ornamentation. Consider whether a spiral spine is desired, allowing removal of pages without difficulty. The primary disadvantage of a pre-bound sketchbook is that it is difficult to use wet mediums upon several pages in one session (working concurrently across pages saves time, aids the development of ideas and facilitates connections between pieces). Nonetheless, pre-bound sketchbooks are the most common format of sketchbook used.

Two examples of pre-bound sketchbooks are illustrated below. These brands have been thoroughly tested in a classroom situation, by experienced teachers.

NOTE: The links to Amazon and Dick Blick below are affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking these, a percentage of the sale price goes towards supporting the Student Art Guide. This is a way for you to help support this site, without any extra cost to you. Dick Blick is an international art supplier used by many schools around the world.

Sketchbook examples
The left-hand mage is a NAS Workbook available from National Art Supplies in Auckland, New Zealand. This sketchbook has 50 pages of 140gsm wet-strength cartridge, suitable for both wet and dry media. The NAS Workbook is white, plain and minimalist in appearance, with no distracting logos. The heavy, cardboard cover is durable and resilient – able to withstand being dragged around by students – and can be drawn or painted upon if desired. It is spiral bound, allowing pages to be removed easily. The NAS Workbook is available in A4 portrait, A3 landscape and A2 landscape sizes. This product is used year after year by many high schools in New Zealand. The low cost means that this sketchbook is suitable for use with stationery kits and class sets. The example illustrated is an A3 art sketchbook (landscape in format) and was part of an International GCSE Art and Design coursework project. A photograph of the final artwork has been laminated and glued to the sketchbook cover to create a simple title page. This project was completed by Manisha Mistry, ACG Strathallan College. Manisha’s A* IGCSE Art project is featured upon the Student Art Guide. The right-hand image shows an A4 Moleskine sketchbook. Moleskine folio sketchbooks are top-of-the-line artist sketchbooks, with 160gsm acid free pages, suitable for painting or drawing. The thickness of the paper means that wet mediums rarely bleed. Moleskine sketchbooks are well-made and beautiful, with a plain black cover. They are a durable, premium line of sketchbooks and can be purchased from art suppliers such as Dick Blick or Amazon – available as both an A4 sketchbook and A3 sketchbook. If you are a senior high school students who is considering pursuing Art and Design at university or college level, you may feel able to justify the expense. There are many other inexpensive options available.
Loose sheets of paper presented within a plastic clear-file

This method can be less daunting than using a pre-bound sketchbook, as there is no fear of ‘ruining’ a page. Creating a sketchbook from loose sheets allows easy integration of different paper types, encouraging a broad range of media. You can easily work on different pages at once, without waiting for work to dry. On the other hand, loose sheets may become damaged and misplaced. Displaying work within transparent sleeves also hinders the viewability of surface quality and texture. Finally, if work is posted away for assessment, the clear-file adds unnecessary bulk and shipping weight. If choosing this method of presentation, you may wish to use an inexpensive clear-file for the duration of the course, shifting to a clean, non-reflective presentation display book (or manually binding pages as described below) immediately before assessment.

high school art sketchbook assignments

Loose sheets of paper bound into booklet before submission
A4 Spiral bound sketchbook
Minimalist cover ideas: the student name, school, ID number and other information is printed on white paper, along with a photograph of the accompanying final piece. The cover is protected using a clear plastic sheet and bound to the A4 sketchbook. This is part of an A Level Coursework project by Nikau Hindin, ACG Parnell College. A4 is a common A Level Art sketchbook size.

Many schools own a manual binding machine, which punches a series of holes along one side of a document, inserting a spiral to secure pages together. Other binding methods are also possible if these allow the sketchbook to lie open flat at the spine. Adding a clear plastic sheet protects the cover (this may contain typed candidate details or identification labels).

Individual pages may be stored in a plastic clear-file for the duration of the course or individual drawers within the classroom, keeping the pages in good condition, before binding. As with the previous presentation method, you can integrate different paper types and work upon multiple pages at once.

This method is more time consuming than others and is prone to user error (such as holes punched along the wrong side of the pages). Nonetheless, it is an inexpensive way to create a high quality, personalized document.

Digital Sketchbooks / ePortfolios

A digital ‘sketchbook’ typically takes the form of an online portfolio website, created using a free or paid website design tool. Students organize images, videos, and typed annotation upon website pages, using hyperlinks, menus, and categories to make connections between work. Digital sketchbooks do not have size restrictions and have the advantage of displaying audio and moving image. These are growing in popularity, particularly for students who specialize in film, photography or digital media.

The creation of a digital sketchbook relies on access to high-speed internet and an appropriate digital device (when the internet is not available, hand-generated work may be scanned and uploaded later). The website platform itself needs to be selected, signed up for, and set up (this is much easier than you might imagine). Our article about how to create an art website discusses some of the options.

As a precaution, digital files should be stored locally, upon your computer, within organized and labeled folders, with additional backup copies kept upon a memory stick or cloud server (an automatic backup service, such as Dropbox, is highly recommended). It is wise to print copies of digital content, submitting these in hardcopy format for classroom assessments. Articles published in your online sketchbook may be printed and bound to accompany the final presentation. There are also benefits to keeping a traditional sketchbook to support an online sketchbook, such as to verify the authenticity of online work; allow spontaneous transfer of ideas by hand drawing and writing; and strengthen and consolidate practical art-making techniques.

It is worth remembering that long hours online, combined with the distraction of social media and other internet activities (such as online gaming), has been shown to affect mood and sleep, compromising productivity and quality of work overall. We highly recommend that you consider installing an app and website blocker on both mobile and desktop devices, so that online activities do not interfere with well-being, productivity, and sleep.

Although digital sketchbooks do not feature within this article, the recommendations below apply to digital as well as traditional sketchbooks.

What should a sketchbook contain? (Sketchbook Checklist)

First-hand engagement with the subject matter

You should include evidence of a clear personal connection to the theme/s explored, such as original photographs; observational drawings; documented visits to design sites, historic places or museums; and explanations of the personal context surrounding the work. A project based solely upon secondary sources (such as images from the internet, books or magazines) may lead to a lack of personal engagement, plagiarism issues, and superficial, surface-deep work (relying upon second-hand imagery is one of the Top 10 Mistakes made by art students).

Exploration of composition, visual elements, and design principles

An important role of the sketchbook is to aid the planning and refining of larger artworks. This might involve: composition studies, thumbnail sketches or layout drawings (exploring format, scale, enlargement, cropping, proportion, viewpoint, perspective, texture, surface, color, line, shape, form, space and so on); design ideas; photographs of conceptual models or mock-ups; storyboards; photographic contact sheets; analysis of accompanying portfolio work; and many other forms of visual thinking.

Original drawings, paintings, prints, photographs, or designs

Fill the sketchbook with your own visual material – particularly that which is exploratory, incomplete and experimental (as opposed to finished illustrations). Images should support the theme of the project and should not depict a random collection of unrelated subject matter.

A wide range of mediums and materials

The sketchbook should contain a range of mediums and materials, as appropriate for the project and area of specialty. Photograph three-dimensional exploration for inclusion. A broad list of possibilities appears below (this list is not prescriptive or restrictive):

Drawing and painting surfaces: colored and textured paper of varying weights, such as tissue paper, watercolor paper, newsprint, and cartridge; transparent sheets, plastic overlays or tracing paper; discarded wallpaper, patterned paper and printed pages; matt and gloss photographic paper and other specialized printing paper; cardboard; painted and prepared grounds; masking tape; collaged surfaces; dried textures created with acrylic pastes; canvas sheets, hessian and other fabrics; other appropriated materials.

Drawing and painting mediums: graphite pencil; colored pencil; ballpoint pen; ink pen; calligraphy pen; marker pen; chalk; charcoal; pastel; crayon; drawing ink; printing ink; natural and manmade dye, such as from commercial pigments, walnut skins, coffee stains and food dye; gouache; watercolor; acrylic paint; oil paint; spray paint; house paint; shellac/varnish; fixative; wax; painting mediums, such as thinners, gel/gloss, glazes, drying retarders, textural pastes/modelling compounds.

Threads and textiles: natural fibers, such as cotton, wool, silk, flax and raffia; synthetic threads, such as nylon, acrylic and polyester; textiles of different weights, weaves, patterns, prints and colors; upcycled fabric, including those from non-traditional sources, such repurposed woven plastic bags; elastic; sewing threads; embroidery threads; string; rope; beads; foam; furs and leather.

Sculptural materials: clay; cane; wire; wood; stone; plaster; plastic; fiberglass; metal; water/ice; other organic and manmade found materials.

Tools and technology: brushes; sponges; scissors; paint rollers; palette knives; craft knives; engravers; chisels, woodworking tools; metal working tools; traditional and digital cameras; video cameras; darkroom equipment; photocopiers; scanners; paper trimmers; needles, sewing machines; overlockers; looms; printing presses; computer-aided design (CAD) software, such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and SketchUp Pro; computer-aided manufacture (CAM), such as 2D and 3D printers, laser cutters / CNC paper cutters.

A wide range of art-making techniques, processes, and practices

The techniques, processes, and practices explored within a sketchbook should be appropriate for the project and area of specialty. Both traditional and contemporary approaches are encouraged. These should be informed by the study of relevant artists and first-hand practical experimentation. Complex processes may be recorded and documented within the sketchbook, for example, diagrams outlining construction processes; annotated computer screenshots; or photographs of sculptural work in progress (this can help to prove the authenticity of your work). Avoid indiscriminate documentation of every technique at every stage of production, as this becomes a space-filling device that pushes out more relevant content.

The Student Art Guide contains a range of ideas for students in various disciplines:

Artist research

The sketchbook is an excellent place to document the study of artist work. Critical analysis may include whole or partial copies of artwork from exhibitions, websites, books, and magazines, as well as original exploration inspired by an artist. Reproductions must have a clear purpose. Accompany these with critical commentary and practical experimentation, where appropriate. Do not use the sketchbook as a dumping ground for pamphlets, fliers, brochures or other printed material from secondary sources.

Annotation

Some examination boards do not require annotation; however, this is a great way to clarify ideas and intentions. Annotation tips are provided below.

How to annotate a sketchbook

Generate personal responses

Aim to record personal reflections, evaluations, judgments, and responses (rather than regurgitating facts or the views of others), providing insight into your thinking and decision-making processes. Art examiners do not want to read lists of facts or chronological sequences of events. They do not want long-winded descriptions of technical processes, extensive artist biographies, or the inclusion of broad periods of art history. Cut-and-pasting or transcribing information from other sources is not acceptable (small portions may be quoted and referenced, as appropriate).

Communicate with clarity

A sketchbook should not contain endless pages of writing; this wastes the examiner’s time, as well as your own. Communicate in a succinct and clear manner. Thoughts may be recorded in any legible format: mind maps, scrawled questions, bulleted summaries or complete sentences and paragraphs. In most cases, a variety of approaches is appropriate. Whichever format you choose, avoid ‘txt’ speak and spelling errors; these indicate sloppiness and suggest that the work belongs to lower caliber student.

Demonstrate subject-specific knowledge

Aim to communicate informed and knowledgeable responses, using a range of art-related vocabulary and terminology. This learning may be the result of formal classroom lessons, individual research or personal art-making experience.

Critically analyze artwork

Art analysis is an integral component of most high school art programs. Aim to analyze work by a range of historical and contemporary artists, from a range of different cultures. Artist work should be relevant to your project and offer valuable learning opportunities, whether in approach to subject-matter, composition, technique or medium. You should also analyze your own artwork within the sketchbook, measuring success against original intentions and assessment objectives specified within the mark scheme. This allows you to gain helpful insights that inform and influence subsequent work. For more advice and a list of questions to help with analyzing artwork, please read How to analyze an artwork: a step-by-step guide.

Communicate intentions

It is usually helpful to begin a sketchbook by discussing intentions, starting points and design briefs, including any requirements and restrictions set for the project.

Avoid the obvious

Self-explanatory statements, such as “I drew this using pencil” or “this is a shoe” are unnecessary; they communicate no new information to the examiner.

Reference all images, text, and ideas from others

Any content created by others should be formally credited and acknowledged, even when this has been appropriated or reinterpreted, rather than directly copied. It is helpful to cite artists directly underneath the appropriate image (artist name, artwork title, medium, date and image source), along with brief details about any gallery, museum and artist visits.  You may also benefit from labeling original photographs, so that is clear to an examiner which work is your own.

Sketchbook presentation tips

Keep it simple

A high school sketchbook should be reminiscent of what an artist or designer might create. It does not need to be over-worked, ‘perfect’ or polished. Write legibly and small (so that spelling or grammatical errors are not glaring) and in graphite pencil or black, white or grey pen. Avoid intrusive lettering; elaborate front covers; decorative borders; fold-out tabs (these add an interactive element to the pages, but risk examiners missing the work); over-the-top backgrounds; or any unnecessary framing or mounting. Do not spend weeks dreaming up inventive layouts or desperately Googling phrases such as ‘A Level Art sketchbook background ideas.’ Presentation decisions should be limited to the sketchbook format (size, shape, and orientation), as described above. Decide upon the sketchbook format (the teacher, school or syllabus may set this) and then focus on what matters: producing quality art and design work.

Your sketchbook can be a straightforward, ordered presentation of your work, research, and insights: Let your images do the impressing. Overly designed pages can often take too long and be a distraction to the viewer. – Chris Francis, Senior Leader Teacher of Art & Photography, St. Peter’s Catholic School, Bournemouth, UK

Use a consistent style of presentation

Some students favor hard-edged, cleaner presentation methods; others prefer a messier, gestural style. Neither is better than the other: both can be executed well. Inconsistency, however (jumping from one presentation style to the next) may result in a submission that is distracting and incohesive.

Vary page layouts to create visual interest

By the time you have finished your sketchbook, some pages should have lots of illustrations; some a single artwork; others somewhere in between. Position items without fear of white space, considering the interaction between image and text.

Order work so that it shows the development of ideas

Although a sketchbook is usually an informal, free-flowing document, it is important to remember that an examiner will pick it up and ‘read’ it in a short length of time. Rather than a pile of disconnected visual exploration, structure the sketchbook in a way that reflects the overall development of your project. This occurs naturally as the year unfolds for most students, however, this issue may arise if you attempt to cobble a sketchbook together immediately before the due date.

More does not mean better

Bulking up a sketchbook (or series of sketchbooks) with poor work is not recommended. Weak work sets off alarm bells for an examiner, alerting them to be on the lookout for weaknesses elsewhere. This does not mean that anything ‘less than perfect’ should be discarded (mistakes provide valuable learning opportunities and cues for how subsequent learning occurred), but you must discriminate. If an image is glaringly worse than your others, consider improving it or distracting from this with the addition of higher quality surrounding work (seek teacher guidance before removal of any artwork; improving existing work is often faster than starting afresh).

How can you lead the viewer’s eye to the strongest work or ideas, yet still include the important developmental stages? – Chris Francis, Senior Leader Teacher of Art & Photography, St. Peter’s Catholic School, Bournemouth, UK

Craft the sketchbook with care

The sketchbook offers an opportunity to remind the examiner that you are a hard-working, dedicated student, who cares about the subject. This doesn’t mean you must cram your sketchbook with intense, labored work (sometimes an expressive, two-minute charcoal drawing is all that is needed) but that the sketchbook speaks of your effort, commitment, and passion.

Examples of great art sketchbooks: Our Online Collection

The following sketchbook pages are almost all by high school art students (and one or two university students) from around the world. These exemplars cover a wide range of presentation techniques and layout styles. It is worth remembering that these represent only a fraction of what is possible. These pages are shared so that current students may learn from those who have previously excelled.

Some of these sketchbook pages (and many more) are part of our upcoming book: High School Art Sketchbooks: 100+ Outstanding Examples. This book has high-resolution images, so that fine details and annotation are clear, making it an excellent resource for students and schools. All images within this publication (and within our online collection below) achieved outstanding grades, with many awarded full marks (100%).

Our online collection is continually updated. Please bookmark this page so that you can return to it when needed. If you would like submit your own sketchbook page for inclusion, please contact us.

The collection has been organized into the following categories:

Painting / Fine Art sketchbooks

These examples have been collected specifically for students who specialize in Drawing, Painting and Related Media or Fine Art courses.

Still life - GCSE sketchbook pages
These International GCSE Art sketchbook pages were created by Nikau Hindin, while at ACG Parnell College, Auckland, New Zealand. This page includes first-hand observational drawings of a still life arrangement and a handmade flax (harakeke) flower, made by the student. You may wish to view Nikau’s full A* IGCSE Coursework project (98%) or her AS Coursework project (awarded full marks).
Best A Level sketchbooks
This A* sketchbook was completed by Emilya Swan, while studying A Level Fine Art at Godalming College, Surrey, England. The left-hand page includes a copy of work by Leonard Baskin; the right-hand page contains experimentation with a wide range of media, including pencil on tracing paper and old book pages, Quink ink and bleach, spirit markers, ink and pen, fineliner and oil pastel.
Kate Powell sketchbook pages
These sketchbook pages were produced by Kate Powell, while studying at North Halifax Grammar School, West Yorkshire, England. Kate gained A* in OCR GCSE Art as a Year 9 student (two years younger than is expected) and A* for A Level Art in Year 12 (one year younger than expected). She achieved full marks (100%) for A Level Photography, in Year 13. You may wish to read about how Kate launched her art career while at high school and view more of her A Level Art project.
GCSE Art and Design Edexcel
This sketchbook page was completed by Annie Loh, while studying Edexcel GCSE Art and Design at Sha Tin College, Hong Kong. This page references the work of artist Stephen Conroy. Annie gained 100% (A*) for this qualification.
Paper drawings - AS Level sketchbook
These graphite paper drawings were part of a sketchbook exercise completed by Jenny Ha, while studying AS Level Graphic Design (A*) at ACG Parnell College, Auckland, New Zealand.
Bernard Meadows artist study
This A Level Art sketchbook page contains drawings of visual analysis of a sculpture by Bernard Meadows. This project was completed by William Govoni, Bedford School, England. More of William’s artwork can be viewed in our guide to preparing an art portfolio for college or university.
Jim Dine artist study - GCSE
These two International GCSE Art sketchbook pages by Rhea Maheshwari, ACG Parnell College, Auckland, New Zealand, analyzing the work of Jim Dine. Rhea achieved an A* grade.
Process Portfolio IB Visual Arts
This is part of a Process Portfolio by Enrico Giori, completed as a part of IB Visual Arts at St. Louis School of Milan. Enrico was awarded Level 7, obtaining full marks in all three components of the course. You may wish to view more of his IB Visual Art project or his CIE IGCSE Art exam or IGCSE Coursework project (A* Grade).
A Level sketchbook - mixed media
This Edexcel AS Level Textile Design sketchbook page is by Halima Akhtar, completed while studying within the Woldingham School Art Department, UK. Halima achieved 95% for her AS Exam and 100% for her AS Coursework (A*). She also gained 100% for A Level Fine Art. This sketchbook page references the work of Naum Gabo and contains drawings in pencil and fineliner pen, photographs of a paper sculpture and a polyprint carving. You may wish to view more from Halima’s outstanding AS/A2 textiles projects.
Figure drawing sketchbook
These A* A Level Art sketchbook pages were created by Nettle Grellier who gained St. Edward’s School, Oxford, England. Nettle currently runs workshops for art students while travelling around Europe in her studio on wheels Boonrig.
Artist study, A Level Art
These sketchbook pages are from an 100% AQA A Level Fine Art project by Claire Lynn, Carmel Sixth Form Catholic College, Merseyside, England. These pages analyze the artwork of several artists, including Owen Smith, Jenny Saville and Shawn Barber. You may wish to view more of Claire’s A2 painting project, which explores distortion of form.
A Level Art sketchbook layout
A sketchbook page by Louis Trew from Bideford College, Devon, England. Louis achieved the best equal result in 2011 for his exceptional A Level Art submission (AQA). In this sketchbook page (exploring the work of graphic illustrator Russ Mills) every splash of paint, every pen line and every torn piece of background material is placed with care. Even in a page that contains multiple elements, the composition of the page as a whole is important. Louis demonstrates superb technical skill, with the ability to place, balance and integrate items in a harmonious layout.
Sketchbook ideas - mixed media
An A Level Art sketchbook page by Ruth Beeley, St George’s School, Hertfordshire, England. Using ‘modrock’ (a plaster of paris bandage) and glue to create raised areas, with other mixed mediums such as wire, ink and Biro pen, Ruth adds detailed drawings over a chaotic ground. The piece is not a finished, resolved image: rather, it is a competent exploration of ideas. You may wish to view more of Ruth’s 100% A Level Art Coursework project.
VCE Studio Arts sketchbook examples
Sketchbook pages completed as part of a VCE Studio Arts folio by Australian high school student Heesu Kim. Heesu writes about the project: “I want to create a narrative-like line of work that illustrates the process of birth and innocence to slow corruption and finally death of soul. For me, the ‘death of soul’ is when our minds are shaped to fit the norms of society and cut to think only in the values that it presents. This process both starts and finishes at high school. Ultimately the conclusion is thousands of machine-like individuals, fresh and ready to become slaves to the system. I talk to my friends and see peers that conclude their whole lives and future based on how high their ATAR score is, who adopt dreams that their parents decide for them, dreams that make more money, instead of following their real passion. I’m aware of it but accept it myself as there is no other choice but to. So subtle and complete is the control over us that we embrace it, actively acknowledge to it, and at the same time still suffer emotionally under it.”
GCSE sketchbook Edexcel
This Edexcel GCSE Art exam sketchbook page was completed by Samantha Li, while studying at West Island School, Pokfulam, Hong Kong. Samantha was awarded full marks for her examination, gaining 100% (A*) overall. You may wish to view more of Samantha’s GCSE Art exam and coursework project.
A* Sketchbook project exploring junk food
Mixed media sketchbook pages by Nikau Hindin, ACG Parnell College, Auckland, New Zealand – stencils and acrylic paint, combined with fast food packages. You may wish to view the remainder of Nikau’s 98% A Level Art Coursework project.
Francis Bacon artist study
This Francis Bacon study was completed by Stefan Iyapah, while studying A Level Art at Beal High School, Redbridge, England. In his own words, Stefan “broke out of a timid and controlled way of working and became heavily influenced by the emotion-filled paintings of Francis Bacon which encouraged me to use color experimentally and loosely”.
Shells and weaving: IGCSE sketchbook
These two A* sketchbook pages were completed by Rhea Maheshwari, as part of her IGCSE Art Coursework project at ACG Parnell College, Auckland, New Zealand. This section of work was derived from observational drawings of a still life arrangement of shells in flax (harakeke) bags. The sketchbook page on the left features composition studies created from digital manipulations of her own scanned drawings.
Masking tape aesthetic
These sketchbook pages were completed by Luke Dash, while studying A Level Art at Hitchin Boys’ School, Hertfordshire, England. The pages include observational drawings using graphite, charcoal, pen and ink. The masking tape provides a great aesthetic effect, as well as a functional purpose: adhering different paper types to the sketchbook and providing a clear surface for annotation.
A Level Art sketchbook: mouths
This A Level Art sketchbook page was completed by John Hui, while attending St John’s College, Portsmouth, England. The page includes detailed investigation of eyeballs, mouth infections and diseases, working from a combination of first and second-hand images.
Coastal environment and shells: A Level Sketchbook
These rich, textural mixed media pages are part of an A Level Art project by Ellie Green, while studying at Graveney School, London, England (awarded A*). The work shows clear first-hand sources and a personal response to local environment. The pages include drawings and collage using a range of mixed media, with the repetition of blue and brown colors visually linking different parts of the page together.
Sketchbook exploring movement
This A Level Art sketchbook page contains pen drawings from life at a string ensemble practice in a music hall, exploring ways of capturing the movement of the violin. This project was completed by William Govoni, while studying at Bedford School, England.
NCEA Scholarship printmaking workbook
This NCEA Level 3 Scholarship Printmaking workbook exemplar by a high school student in New Zealand. It provides a great example how second-hand imagery can be seamlessly integrated with your own photographs, written documentation and analysis. This student looks at architectural abstraction and references the work of Gordon Matta-Clark and Young Ae Kim. More information about this project can be viewed at NZQA.
IGCSE sketchbook - fish, weaving, seaweed
These sketchbook pages were completed by Manisha Mistry, as part of her A* IGCSE Art Coursework project, ACG Strathallan, Auckland, New Zealand. You may wish to view more of Manisha’s 98% IGCSE Art project, which explored natural forms, such as shells, seaweed and fish.
GCSE Art sketchbook
This sketchbook page is from an A* AQA GCSE Art and Design exam project by Charlotte Cook, at South Hunsley School, England. You may wish to view more of Charlotte’s GCSE Art project or her 100% A Level Art (moving image) project.
Sketchbook portraits
These sketchbook pages are by Elliswg, a high school student studying at a Sixth Form college in Derby, UK. Exploring portraiture, the sketchbook pages contain a thorough and competent investigation of emotion and facial expression, sketched using a range of drawing mediums.
A Level Art sketchbook ideas
An A Level Art sketchbook page by Lucy Luu. At its essence, a sketchbook page should provide insight into a student’s ideas and intentions, as well as revealing the influence of other artists. This A Level Art sketchbook page is beautiful in its simplicity: devoid of all superfluous decoration, it shows a dedicated and committed student learning a technique from artist Jonathan Yeo and then carefully applying this to original artwork.
Claude Monet artist study
This A* sketchbook page was completed by Hania Cho, while studying A Level Painting at ACG Strathallan College, Auckland, New Zealand. This page examines the work of Claude Monet. You may also wish to view Hania’s A* IGCSE Coursework project.
Sketchbook layout ideas
An A Level Art sketchbook page contains beautiful mixed media exploration by Lisa Jiang.
plants and hands: sketchbook
These sketchbook pages were created by two different students. The image on the left was created as part of a Higher Level Investigation Workbook (IWB) by Naomi Ng, completed as part of the IB Visual Arts Diploma Programme at Sha Tin College, Hong Kong. You may wish to view more of Naomi’s IB Visual Arts project, which was awarded Level 7. This right-hand AS Art sketchbook page by Charlotte Taylor shows the visual investigation of hands: drawing from a range of angles and in a range of different mediums. Charlotte has worked over scraps of lined note paper (some with maths equations left on them) with meticulous, detailed pen drawings, developing familiarity with the human form.
Chrissy Angliker artist study
This rich and vibrant A Level Art sketchbook page by Sally Al Nasser is a reminder that the high school sketchbook is a prime opportunity to demonstrate your love of Art to the examiner. Here, the lavish, gestural, brush strokes contrast with careful annotation, resulting in a composition that oozes passion. Every speck of the page has been considered and worked over, using colors that integrate and link with the Chrissy Angliker artworks analyzed. The whole page becomes an opportunity to absorb information from an artist; imbued with technique, emotion and style.
A Level Art sketchbook help
Above all, a sketchbook should be a place for developing and refining ideas. This A Level Art sketchbook page by David Wasserman from Monks Dyke Tennyson College, Lincolnshire, UK, integrates artist work with student photographs and observational drawings.
Art sketchbook layout - Robyn Yeang
This A Level Art sketchbook page by Robyn Yeang from Queen’s College London, UK, commands the attention of the examiner, without superfluous decoration, enlarged headings or busy page layouts.
International GCSE shell drawings
This is part of a 98% A* IGCSE Art and Design Coursework project by Sarah Loh, completed while studying at ACG Strathallan College, Auckland, New Zealand. In this sketchbook page, Sarah has produced observational drawings of shells, line drawings and printmaking experiments. You may wish to view Sarah’s AS Coursework project (93%).
A Level Sketchbook - archtecture
The sketchbook is a place for essential experimentation and research: creative exploration of technique, surface and materials. These beautiful A Level Art sketchbook pages by Evie Sudlow have purpose and intention: exciting exploration and development.
GCSE art sketchbook shells
A sketchbook is the place where initial observations are recorded: there is no need for compositions to be complete or pieces finally resolved. Here we have drawings of shells using graphite and white paint on a ground of watered down acrylic. This is an A* IGCSE Art and Design (CIE) sketchbook page by Rebecca Betts, ACG Strathallan College, Auckland, New Zealand.
Observational drawings A Level Art
An AS Level Art sketchbook page by Jack Broad. Here, accurate, first-hand drawings in a range of mediums are surrounded by brief annotation. This page is a reminder of what really matters in the initial stages of a project: competent observational drawing and visual exploration of subject-matter.

Photography sketchbooks

Many high school Photography students are unsure how to present printed photographic images in a creative and visually appealing way. This collection is intended to motivate and inspire students who study high school qualifications such as NCEA Level 3 Photography (Scholarship), A Level Photography and IB Art.

Photography sketchbook ideas
These four sketchbook pages by design student Joshua Brooks combine several excellent presentation strategies. Images have been positioned in an ordered, well-balanced formation, with small, non-distracting annotation. Hand-drawn compositions have been included – an excellent way for competent drawers to think through ideas and provide visual variety to their photography sketchbook pages. Some images have been printed with clues about the digital manipulation that has taken place (see top right); this can allow students to look back and understand how various effects were achieved, as well as communicate this to the examiner.
Mixed media photography sketchbook
These two A Level Photography sketchbook pages are by Melissa Kelsey, completed while studying at ACG Strathallan College, Auckland, New Zealand. Melissa gained 100% and Top in New Zealand for her A Level submission (you may be interested in reading our article about her 100% AS Photography Coursework). These pages were created using a range of mixed mediums, including photo paper, gesso, shellac, brown and black paper, magazine paper and cardboard.
A Level photography examples
Four beautifully composed A Level Photography sketchbook pages by Ellie Powell.
Year 13 Photography Sketchbook
Mr Sam Kiff, an Art teacher from Thomas Tallis School, London, UK, has generously uploaded the sketchbooks of his A Level Photography students, providing valuable learning opportunities for others. The sketchbook page shown above is by Year 13 student Natalie M. Her full project can be viewed here.
High school photography sketchbook
An A Level Photography sketchbook from Fortismere Secondary School Art Department. Fortismere Art Department is one of our recommended blogs and websites for high school art students and teachers.
Scholarship NCEA Photography workbook
This is an NCEA Level 3 Photography Scholarship workbook, sourced from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, exploring “the transient nature of human existence through ideas of decay, loneliness, abandonment and fragility”.
Creative mixed media sketchbook
A creative mixed media sketchbook page by Emeline Beroud.
IB Art workbook examples
An International Baccalaureate workbook page by Ariadne Strofylla from Moraitis School, Athens, Greece.
A Level Sketchbook photography
A sketchbook page by Mark Hoynes, completed while studying at St Boniface’s Catholic College, Plymouth, United Kingdom (image sourced from their Art Department’s Flickr profile).
A Level Photography project
An A Level Photography project by Stella Braasch.
A Level Photography sketchbook example
An A Level Photography sketchbook by Emily Betts. The left-hand page shows documentation of a double negative technique; the right-hand page includes research and planning for final photography piece.

Graphic Design sketchbooks

Many high school Graphic Design students are unsure what to include within their sketchbook or how to present their assignments in an innovative and appealing way. This collection of student sketchbooks has been shared to motivate and inspire those who study qualifications such as IGCSE / GCSE Art and Design, A Level Graphics and NCEA Level 3 Design (Scholarship). It is for those who are working in areas such as illustration, publication design (pamphlets, brochures, websites, magazine and book design, CD / DVD covers), corporate identity, advertising and marketing (logo and branding, promotional merchandise, posters, internet and television advertising), packaging design and/or symbol design.

An excellent discussion of a sketchbook by Henrietta Ross, provided by Tony Pritchard, leader of Postgraduate Design for Visual Communication courses at the London College of Communication:

This video walks viewers through examples of completed sketchbooks, giving invaluable insight into the design process. It stresses the importance of research, which helps to build an understanding of the subject matter and can inspire new and original thinking. The artist’s typographic exploration involves the deconstruction and reconstruction of letters and the observation of shapes and forms. Each page is composed beautifully with a balance of creative pieces and annotation of work.

Graphic Design experimentation
This sketchbook by Harriet James-Weed is part of an A Level Art project entitled ‘Menace of the Everyday Object’. Harriet writes: “I moved a toothbrush along the photocopier to obtain a disjointed x-ray image which reminds me of a flickering old black and white TV from horror films. The second page experiments with graphics using different type faces and fonts to portray my concept of encouraging the brushing of teeth for children, using the slogan: a brush a day keeps the needles away.”
NCEA Design scholarship workbook
Ths is a NCEA Design Scholarship workbook page sourced from NZQA, completed by a Year 13 student in New Zealand. Experimentation with typography, imagery, symbols and shapes allows this student to generate a creative sketchbook page that clearly communicates their thought processes and development of ideas.
Using Collage: AS Graphic Design
These sketchbook pages were completed as part of an AS Graphic Design sketchbook, by Jenny Ha, ACG Parnell College, Auckland, New Zealand.  These pages document the design process for a child safety campaign. The black pen drawings play with the classic shapes and forms of a sans serif font, creating a simple and easily recognizable logo. On the right-hand page, Jenny depicts a fragmented and broken child using torn paper and color blocking.
Design Sketchbook experimentation ideas
These sketchbook pages were produced by Susanna Foppoli, while studying a Post Graduate degree at the London College of Communication. Susanna Foppoli’s vibrant sketchbook is a space to explore, play and experiment with different ideas, media and techniques. The typographic exploration (manipulating, tearing, cutting, scanning) rework classic typefaces to produce exciting outcomes.
Camille Rose Garcia study
This is an artist research page by Jack Stevenson, completed as part of a Foundation Diploma course at West Thames College, London, England. This page is part of a character design project and analyzes work by the artist Camille Rose Garcia. Careful annotation and assessment of the work helps Jack develop his own drawings, which are influenced by the style of Camille’s work.
Graphic illustration design sketchbooks
These sketchbook page is by AS Graphic Design student Bhavisha Ramji, ACG Parnell College, Auckland, New Zealand. The images show final logo developments in an Animal Care project, developed from first-hand observation of a household dog (Bhavisha’s own pet).
Graphic design sketchbook ideas
A sketchbook by product designer Chris Armstrong, a graduate of Art Center College of Design: line drawing using pencil and ink. The illusion of space is achieved through varied line-weight and white pencil. The large ink splatter bleeds onto the next page, creating movement and bringing life to the drawings.
Logo design process
Logo development by Lucas Quijada, completed as part of a Masters Thesis exploring ‘dual functionality within packaging’, while studying at London Metropolitan University. Lucas begins with complex concepts, hand-drawn with a ballpoint pen, continuously refining his ideas until he is left with elegant, polished logos. Lucas holds a Master’s Degree in Graphic Design and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Industrial Design.
NCEA Design folio
This is an NCEA Level 3 Design Scholarship exemplar, completed by a Year 13 student in New Zealand, sourced from NZQA. This sketchbook page contains exploration and research into relevant artist models, informing original works that utilize bold colors and individually crafted typefaces. Graphic processes, such as manipulation of opacity, have also been explored to achieve bold areas of light, shape, and pattern. The vibrancy of the work is balanced with quiet annotation – both typed and hand-written analysis and evaluation.
Manipulating text
A graphic design sketchbook by Max Kerly, completed while studying Art and Design at Kingston Art CollegeIn this typographic investigation, Max manipulates classic typefaces to create images of skulls and bones. Each letter has been carefully cut out, positioned and collaged, with varying font sizes creating areas of space and tone.
Typography research
An A Level Graphic Design sketchbook project by Jess Young. Typographic research and experimentation helps familiarize students with typeface ‘personalities’ and meaning, encouraging students to understand what is appropriate for their design. Here Jess explores the effects of multiple typefaces and experiments with stencil work, helping her develop an original, hand-drawn font. Logo graphics have been hand-drawn and scanned, rather than computer-generated, allowing her to quickly experiment with detailed patterns, colors and shapes.
A Level Graphics research pages
A Level Graphic Design research pages by Callum Copley, who went on to study Media Design at the London College of Communication. The first two pages analyze the designs of David Carson and KresselsKrammer; the bottom sketchbook page contains stitching and collaged materials alongside topographical map drawings.
Graphics sketchbook layout
These A Level Graphics sketchbook by Stefan Abrahams contain evidence of experimentation with a wide range of techniques – folded up paper, cut-outs, drawing and photography. Pages are flawlessly composed: an inviting record of design research, development and exploration.

Textile and Fashion Design sketchbooks

This collection of textile and fashion design sketchbooks is intended to motivate student who are designing fashion garments, personal accessories, wearable art costumes, fabrics, woven textiles, experimental weaving, embroidery, printed textiles (such as block printing, silk-screen printing) and items produced using any other method of decorating or manipulating fabric and thread, such as batik, dye and spray painting.

Fashion design sketchbook examples
These mixed media A Level Textiles sketchbook pages by Anya Jane Magee explore a wide range of tactile surfaces and structures. The properties of threads and fabric are investigated thoroughly, using a range of mediums and techniques, resulting in rich, exciting pages. Small, tidy annotation surrounds the pieces, providing thorough analysis without causing distraction from the work itself.
Fashion design sketchbook ideas
This Edexcel sketchbook pages are by Halima Akhtar, completed while studying within the Woldingham School Art Department, UK. Halima achieved 95% for her AS Textiles Exam and 100% for her AS Textiles Coursework (A*). She also gained 100% for A Level Fine Art. These pages contain layered, mixed media abstractions that command attention and suggest ideas for a textile surface. The work of relevant designers integrates seamlessly with personal investigation and informs and extends the development of ideas. You may wish to view more from Halima’s outstanding AS/A2 textiles projects.
Fashion design course sketchbook
A sketchbook page by Lucy Feng, completed as part of a short fashion design course. The use of conceptual models and mocks-ups can be an excellent starting point for students. Here, draped and folded fabric has been photographed and then used to inspire the development of more detailed and resolved designs. A minimal color scheme allows emphasis on the layering of fabric, forms and shapes of the garment. Lucy’s gained 95% for A2 Art and 100% for GCSE Art. You may like to view her A Level Art portraiture project.
Fashion design sketchbook by Amber Hards
Sketchbook pages by knitwear designer Amber Hards, a graduate of the Fashion and Textile Design course at the University of the West of England. These sketchbook pages contain a clear link between real world sources of inspiration (such as the jellyfish) and conceptual designs. The pages include a superb range of techniques.
Figure drawing fashion design
Drawings from Katty Hoelck‘s thesis collection, produced while studying Fashion at Parsons School of Design. This fashion collection was inspired by wild fires and explores the theme of possession and loss. The work includes experimentation with sustainable Air Dye technology and has fabric printed on both sides. The use of color and mottled surface pattern creates a visual links with burnt skies and grey ash; strengthened by the figure drawings that emulate this style.
Fashion design study - conceptual model
A sketchbook produced by A Level Fashion Design student Elle Salt, while studying at Esher College:  Photographs of a conceptual model (the cardboard dress on the left) has been drawn over, developed and extended. The work of relevant artists and designers has been analysed and dissected, helping to inspire patterns and a bold aesthetic.
Fashion pattern design
An AS Fashion Design Coursework project by Ellie CarlessThe left-hand images show analysis of existing clothing items, demonstrating an understanding of construction methods, such as seams and fastenings. This knowledge is essential if students hope to prepare their designs for actual production. The right-hand side shows pattern adaptation and technical flats, using confident, precise, analytical drawings.

Fashion design research pages
A Level Art Textiles research pages by Virginia Durigon-RichardsonThese sketchbook pages are the clear result of effort, passion and enthusiasm. Although ‘decoration’ is usually unnecessary within a textile or fashion design sketchbook, in this case, the background patterning demonstrates a complete understanding of the aesthetic; a strong personal response to the colors, shapes, textures, lines and forms.
Textiles techniques - heatpress
An A Level Textiles sketchbook page, sourced hereThis page shows experimentation with several textile techniques, such as using a heat press, machine embroidery and boning. This allows a student to demonstrate an understanding of properties of materials and techniques and to investigate forms that are relevant to their project. Each of these textile samples are derived from textures observed first-hand. In this case, the absence of color focuses attention solely upon the surface qualities of the materials.
Insect fashion design project
These A Level textiles sketchbook pages by Hollie Wakeford-Smith include observational drawings, dresses and fabric experiments (including distressed materials) that are inspired by insects. Designs are developed from original first-hand experience, with clear links between initial observational work and subsequent explorations with fabrics and garment forms.
Butterfly fashion design project
Sketchbook pages by Fashion College student Olivia Hands. These sketchbook pages have a formal, organised, uncluttered presentation style, with a minimal use of color. Items are positioned carefully, allowing each piece of the design process to be understood. The project contains a thorough investigation of detail and pattern, with first-hand observation of moths and butterflies informing subsequent designs.
Fashion design school sketchbook example
These sketchbook pages are by an up-and-coming young designer Ania Leike, completed in her last year of a fashion design degree at Istituto Marangoni, who has had work worn by Lady Gaga. The inviting, textural, mixed-media pages are filled with multiple layers of mediums. Dramatic human faces have been glued into the work and then collaged, cut and drawn over.

 

Sculpture, Architecture and 3D Design sketchbooks

This collection of sketchbook pages that have been produced covers topics such as abstract sculpture, figurative sculpture, installation, architectural design and product design. It is hoped that these examples will motivate and inspire those who are working on their own sculpture or 3D Design sketchbook as part of a high school Art or Design project.

A Level sculpture sketchbook
An A Level Art project by Bette-Belle Blanchard. This sketchbook page shows the development of curving, organic sculptural forms, inspired by Henry Moore. The simple technique of wax resist (crayon drawings with washes of dye), results in an eye-catching page: quick and confident recording of ideas on paper.
Sculpture sketchbook examples
An A Level Sculpture project by Robert James Hawkins from Tiffin Boys’ School, Surrey, England. Photographic evidence of first-hand research, quick confident gestural drawings showing a response to this environment, and scrawled annotation developing ideas for a sculpture titled ‘Stone Egg’ (first sketchbook page). The second sketchbook page shows the development of ideas for a sculpture inspired by deconstructed brass instruments.
International GCSE Design and Technology
An International GCSE Design and Technology project by Rhea Maheshwari (age 15) from ACG Parnell College, Auckland, New Zealand. This architectural project that achieved an A* grade. The top page shows linear conceptual drawings upon a ground of torn Kraft paper, black cartridge paper and grey acrylic. Of particular interest are the photographic works of abstract architectural sculptures Rhea has made (bottom right) which feed ideas back into the drawings beside them. The second page contains black and white photographs of paper sculptures drawn over and then digitally added to the site landscape. The final page shows further development of her design. Here, drawings have been torn and spray-glued on to one sheet of paper, before being covered with an acrylic wash.
High school sculpture projects
These A Level sketchbook pages by Olivia Paine show clever and highly original investigations of the organic forms, colors, patterns and textures of a peeled mandarin. This high school sculpture project is a beautiful mix of first-hand sources, artist influence, inventive media exploration, textural discovery and annotation.
3D Design sketchbooks
This vibrant A Level Art Sketchbook page by Aqsa Iftikhar shows the development of ideas for a ceramics piece, with intricate pen drawings rendered using a range of mediums.
A Level Sculpture sketchbook
These rich and gutsy A Level Art sketchbook pages by Lottie Hanson-Lowe from Bryanston School, Dorset, England, show confident exploration of color, texture, surface and sculptural form, drawing inspiration from artist models.
High school sculpture ideas
An A Level Art project by Geneva Wilson, with beautiful integration of photographs, drawings and annotation. With an earthy color scheme used throughout, this high school sculpture project explores beauty in the ordinary and mundane, focusing upon progressive changes in nature: growth, development, decay and decomposition.
A Level Design and Technology project
This is part of an AS Level Design and Technology Coursework ‘treehouse’ project by Georgia Shattky from ACG Parnell College, Auckland, New Zealand. Photographic evidence of inspiration from first-hand sources (seedpods, cabbage tree) are accompanied by the conceptual models of paper sculptures, followed by enlarged details, views from alternate angles and drawings of the form as a whole, in a range of different mediums. Three-dimensional investigations feed two-dimensional drawings, which in turn inspire further investigations in 3D form. The middle right image also shows a sculptural form digitally superimposed into a real-world environment; an exciting strategy for architectural and 3D Design students to explore
Sculpture sketches
This sketchbook page is from an International Baccalaureate sculpture project by Ariadne Strofylla from Moraitis School, Athens, Greece. This page shows images of clay figurines accompanied by expressive sketches, experimentation with clay, and references to sculptor Auguste Rodin. Note the care taken to cut around the photographs on the left and the crisp clear photographs shown on the right.
CIE Design and Technology
This CIE AS Level Design and Technology sketchbook pages by Nikau Hindin from ACG Parnell College, Auckland, New Zealand, show conceptual ideas for a community block of toilets. Buildings have been inspired by sculptural investigations (these have been photographed, cropped and arranged to mimic a folded piece of toilet paper). The architectural drawings are completed using a range of mediums.

Did you achieve the best high school art results in your year, school, country or qualification? We would love to feature more sketchbook pages within this article. Please contact us!

NOTE: Recommendations made within this publication may not be appropriate for every course or every sketchbook assignment. Examination boards have their own assessment criteria and expectations for the ‘sketchbook’, ‘art journal’, ‘visual diary’ or ‘investigation workbook’. This publication should be used in conjunction with approval and advice from a classroom teacher.

Amiria has been an Art & Design teacher and a Curriculum Co-ordinator for seven years, responsible for the course design and assessment of student work in two high-achieving Auckland schools. She has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architecture (First Class Honours) and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. Amiria is a CIE Accredited Art & Design Coursework Assessor.