five lessons I learned from filling a sketchbook | video sketchbook tour

by | Jul 21, 2021 | Art, Artistic Endeavors, sketches, Watercolors | 20 comments

I know you’re not all my “art people.”  Some are my art people, some are my home people, some are my furniture people, and some are my everything & anything people.  But, the art posts are not just for my art people.  There is so, so much I’ve learned from art that can translate to so many other areas of life!  So, today, I want to give you a tour of my second completed sketchbook (yep, I’ve filled a second one already) and share what I’ve learned from filling two sketchbooks so far this year.

lessons I learned from filling a sketchbook | sketchbook tour | miss mustard seed

the old Roman gate in Barga, Italy | pencil & watercolor

sketchbook lesson no. 1 | practice makes better

I’ve been learning this through my whole art journey – practice makes better even in drawing and painting.  It’s easy to recognize that practice is important when it comes to sports and instruments, but we often mistakenly think that artists and designers pop out of the womb with their abilities.  While some are gifted, I’ve learned as I’ve read about countless artists and creatives that their success and mastery came from lots and lots of practice, not from natural ability.  Obsessive practice in some cases.

Making a commitment to do something daily – cook, draw, paint, write, read, sew, tell jokes, will make you better at that thing.  That’s good news.  You don’t need to wish and want to be a better xyz.  You can be!  It doesn’t mean you’ll gain mastery or global recognition, but you will get better.

lessons I learned from filling a sketchbook | sketchbook tour | miss mustard seed

Kitchin sketchbook study

sketchbook lesson no. 2 | growth happens in the small, daily choices

Growth doesn’t happen just from doing something one time.  It happens from putting in a little bit of time every day.  It’s that daily choice that will make the difference.  Even after filling just two sketchbooks, I can feel my confidence growing in drawing from life, sketching quickly on the spot, and drawing more accurately from a photo.  I’m also seeing my style develop more.

I’m practicing this with German as well.  If you can remember, I started taking online German classes at the beginning of 2020, and, well, you know how that year fell apart.  But, I’ve picked it back up again, listening to German lessons, practicing vocabulary, grammar, and conversations for about 15 minutes of my walk each morning.  After just a couple of weeks, I can feel the German I know starting to wake up again in my brain.

lessons I learned from filling a sketchbook | sketchbook tour | miss mustard seed

sketches in the car on the way to Isle of Palms

Julia Cameron quote | The Artist's Way | Miss Mustard Seed

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

sketchbook lesson no. 3 | we need space to try

If I’m going to take the time to put something on paper, I want it to be good.  But, I’m really working on letting go of that.  I need to give myself a space to try something new, different, intimidating, or hard.  Maybe it’ll be good, but, if I’m drawing something for the first time, chances are it won’t be great.  It’s all a part of learning and growing, though, and we all need spaces in our lives where we can try while giving ourselves allowances for mistakes.

lessons I learned from filling a sketchbook | sketchbook tour | miss mustard seed

bicycle in Florence, Italy | pen & ink

sketchbook lesson no. 4 | work doesn’t always have to be profitable or practical

I am so guilty of rolling every creative hobby into my business!  It’s great that I have the freedom to do that, but it’s also a problem when I start to self-impose a standard that everything has to be sellable and sharable.  Work doesn’t always have to be profitable or practical and it doesn’t even have to have a point.  Sometimes we need to do the creative work for the sake of it.  Just because it’s fun; because we want to; because it makes us happy.

I am feeling more and more drawn to my sketchbook as a time that’s just for me.  Maybe it’ll turn into something profitable, but I’m not getting out my art supplies with that in mind and it’s felt really good.

lessons I learned from filling a sketchbook | sketchbook tour | miss mustard seed

concrete planter on our porch | study from Rendering in Pen & Ink | pen & ink

sketchbook lesson no. 5 | it feels great to do something you’ve always imagined yourself doing

I think this is the biggie.  I have always imagined myself filling up sketchbooks.  When I traveled to the Great Wall of China a few years ago, the thing I wanted to do most was to sketch the wall and surrounding area while I was standing on it.  When I traveled to Europe, I imagined sitting on a bench in a park or at a cafe or in a museum, sketching.  I am happy to say that I did take time to sketch when I traveled, but I wasn’t already in the practice of sketching, so it felt foreign and intimidating.  I know it would feel much more natural even now.

I am slowly becoming someone who sketches.  It’s no longer who I imagine myself to be, but who I am.  That’s a pretty powerful shift.

lessons I learned from filling a sketchbook | sketchbook tour | miss mustard seed

A study from Rendering in Pencil | graphite

Here are a few more pages from the sketchbook…

lessons I learned from filling a sketchbook | sketchbook tour | miss mustard seed

chair from our basement family room | graphite

lessons I learned from filling a sketchbook | sketchbook tour | miss mustard seed

1920s fountain pen from Paris | watercolor & pencil

Monet study from The Impressionists of Argenteuil | watercolor & pencil

lessons I learned from filling a sketchbook | sketchbook tour | miss mustard seed

Here is a video tour of my first two filled sketchbooks if you’d like to see all of the pages…

Here is the link to Rendering in Pen & Ink, the book I mention in the video.

This second sketchbook is the Arteza sketchbook.  I love the cover and look of this particular brand.  The paper is very nice for pen & ink, graphite, and light washes.  It will buckle if it gets too wet, though.  It’s also one of the least expensive (nice) sketchbooks I’ve tried and it comes in a three-pack, so it’s an economical choice.

I mostly draw with my antique fountain pen, but I also really like this Lami fountain pen that isn’t expensive and it has a nice, thin nib point.  I’ll share more details about the supplies I use in a future post/video.

Until then, do you have any questions to ask about my sketchbooks?  Any words of wisdom or success stories to share about daily disciplines?

PS – I’m already over halfway through filling up my third sketchbook!  Here’s a little preview of a watercolor study I did a couple of days ago…

sketchbook tour | john sell cotman watercolor study | miss mustard seed


  1. Mary

    Marian, this post smacked me between the eyes. I have spent most of the time since my husband died wanting to do many things. The things I learned how to do everyday, I have been successful with, losing weight, becoming more flexible yet the things I really want to do, I have just kept attempting than pushing to the side. I am taking your “sketchbook” advice and carving out 1 hour blocks in my day to practice so I can become!

    • Renee

      You are so multi talented…. Your art work is so beautiful, your home is also a work of art. I love how you continue to “stretch and grow” your talents. You are truly blessed.

  2. Denise

    Could you share what you actually mean and do when you say you “ are studying” a specific artist? What does it look like? Thank you for your inspiration.

    • Marian Parsons

      I have been collecting books on many artists as well as groups of artists in styles I like (impressionists, tonalists, etc.) I’ll pull out a book on an artist and read about them, their techniques, and study their works. I feel like I’m learning from them even if they aren’t alive anymore. 🙂 I don’t have to learn every detail of their life, but just what inspires me and what I can use to become a better artist. It’s been so helpful!

  3. Linda Ebright

    Absolutely the inspiration I needed today!! I’ve been meaning to begin doing “art” just for fun since retiring, but alas have not. I worked in design field my entire career in illustration and later designing craft patterns. But I haven’t know where/how to begin. I’ve ordered the sketch pads. Can you tell me why you often sketch in pen as opposed to pencil? Do you do light pencil renderings to begin your ink sketches? I think I’m afraid of making a mistake to sketch in ink!!!

    • Marian Parsons

      I thought I would hate drawing in pen, but I like it much better than pencil. First of all, it forces me to be more intentional with my lines and then less fussy if I mess up. I just keep scribbling until I like the results. I tend to be looser with a pen. I also add value through lines instead of using different shades of pencil which I find to be easier. I do like graphite, too, but I’m enjoying pen and ink a lot lately.

  4. Laura

    I am not an artist but you are way too critical of yourself! I think your water colors and pen and inks are fabulous!!! I would even frame some of them that you have in your sketchbooks.
    You make me want to try drawing!!!

  5. Valerie

    Some people feel that you need talent to create art but Michaelangelo said it wasn’t as much talent but patience he excelled at.

  6. Donna Harris

    You are such an encourager! Thank you for taking the time to put your thoughts on paper and to share! I’m headed to get my sketchbook, journal and brush pens to work on lettering!

  7. Alyson

    I started learning watercolour right before the pandemic and decided to also work on my drawing as a way to improve my eye. I had forgotten how much I loved drawing as a kid (almost as much as reading) but was disappointed that I no longer had the ‘skill’. I too had half finished sketchbooks because I wanted everything in there to be nice, and I wasn’t there yet. After watching your vids on this I picked them back up again and looked through and realised I had started to improve right around the time I put them aside. I’ll finish them now – forget nice. Practise makes better! Thanks for the inspo! X

  8. DeeAnn Cross

    Thanks for sharing your sketchbook journey and the valuable things you’ve learned. I laughed out loud when you mentioned you were sketching during church. I have wanted to do this but have held back, since my husband is the pastor! Do you sketch in pencil first before you add your ink lines?

  9. Kim Jabbour

    Dear Miss Mustard Seed, I feel your joy & enthusiasm!
    I started my first sketchbook in 1980 & I’m a few pages away from finishing it!!! Too long of a story… many stepping stones along the way to where I am now as an artist. It started out as a sketchbook…then pause, 3 kids later…back to sketching, then I used it for a 1 month daily art challenge. (I began to create things I never knew possible)…which led to doing my own 365 daily painting challenge in 2018 (I would highly recommend, but probably wouldn’t do it again! 😂)…which led me to plein air painting! I am now using the last few pages to do thumbnail sketches for my paintings! This would never have happened had I not bought this little black sketchbook! I also bought a tiny sketchbook this summer to do visual journal. Not a lot of masterpieces, but each page is filled with joy & satisfaction! A day without sketching/painting, just isn’t complete! It is part of my daily life! I am blessed! You are welcome to follow my art journey on Instagram @KimJabbour

  10. Jenn Anderson

    These are helpful lessons for everyone…even non-drawing and painting people ! =). I would love to be able to draw and paint, but there isn’t time in my life for the practice required right now. But there are other ways to apply the same principles. Great post!

  11. Cathy R

    You really have improved! I did a 100 days project beginning on 1/31/21 and though I had to interrupt my progress for family matters in Ohio I did finish the project albeit a few days late. I chose to do a watercolor, or drawing on a 4×6 size. It was a wonderful challenge for me and I got stuck—a lot! I’m headed to my favorite art store so I’ll pick up some sketch books and perhaps the Lamy pen like yours. Mine has a thicker point. Oh, which class did you take from Domestika? I’m I taking an Etchr class and follow CreationsCeecee on YouTube.

  12. Michelle Gajda

    Oh my…your Lesson #4 really resonated with me and I love how you put my feelings so concisely into words…what I’m doing does not have to be publishable, profitable or practical…….I can just be creative for me. Love that!

  13. Cassie

    This post was just what I needed. Your work is beautiful and your words inspirational! I have been purchasing supplies for some time and just haven’t let go of the fear to try painting yet. It sounds silly to say, but that’s exactly what it is and I’m not sure why. After reading one of the comments, I purchased the book “Atomic Habits” and am anxious to start reading that for the extra push I need. I have been following you for many years (since your furniture flipping days) and have loved seeing your interests & style evolve! Thank you for sharing your time and talents with us!

  14. Rita

    I used to love drawing in school. Over the years I have tried all kinds of crafts. Recently I have wanted to get back to sketching because of you and your encouragement. My fear has always been that it won’t be good, but I like that you yourself has said it’s ok. So books and pens bought. Now to get at it. I picked up some books at the library to do my own studies.

  15. Susie

    I am wondering if you would do a video demonstrating various pens and pencils, etc – (I feel stupid but I thought graphite was paper, like carbon paper kinda) – and talk about the pros and cons of each perhaps, what your favorites are, and why, what are easier to use for beginners and what need more experience to use…just for starters. I’m kind of stuck with regular pencil and a micron pen and don’t know how to branch out very well – just learning about water colors and have a long way to go. Keep hearing about gouache, but don’t know how to use that either. Now I’m going to have to hunt again for that pen and ink instruction book you said you would link “below” the video. I didn’t find it 🙁

  16. Lisa P

    All so inspiring! Thank you!

  17. Alida Strydom

    I really enjoyed the video on you sketchbook :: it gave me so much inspiration as I only embarked on my journey with sketchbooks and watercolours.


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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