creative play | sketchbook tour

by | Feb 3, 2021 | Art, Artistic Endeavors, Creative Play, Oil Painting, sketches | 43 comments

I’ve shared in the past that I have a hang-up when it comes to sketchbooks.  Several hang-ups, actually.  I always want to be the person who is filling up stacks of sketchbooks, making notes, sketches, and drawings, capturing thoughts and ideas, practicing.  I’ve gotten much better about it over the past couple of years and I actually filled a notebook with a journal and did several paintings and sketches when I went to Europe in the fall of 2019.  I’ve been more consistent with getting my sketchbooks out to draw quick thumbnails before starting a painting, to make notes when I’m reading books or taking an art class, or to doodle.

mixed media sketchbook | miss mustard seed

Here are some of sketchbook hang-ups…

  1. I feel like there is a bit of magic that happens with certain paintings that is difficult to repeat.  Some paintings just end up being very special.  What if one of those paintings ends up stuck in a sketchbook?  In other words, what if I create something really good and can’t replicate it on a canvas?
  2. On the flip side, what if I create something really bad and ugly and now there is a record of it?  I realize this is silly when I can just rip out the page OR who really cares if a book that’s meant for practice has some less-than-awesome works??  The whole point of practicing is to get better and see a progression and I already appreciate my journey when I look at the sketches and paintings I did even a year ago.  If I didn’t have a record of those, I don’t know if I’d be as aware of my growth.  Even so, I have always been the kind of person to go so far as to rewrite a shopping list if it’s too messy for my liking.
  3. I feel a little self-conscious when I create.  That might surprise some of you since I create all the time and share it online, but art is a little different than decorating and refinishing furniture.  It’s more personal and, therefore, vulnerable.  I feel a little hesitant to create a record of my practice, ideas, and creative play to later be read by someone at an estate sale.  Morbid, I know.  A little silly and way too self-important?  Yes.  But when you’ve combed antique stores, auctions, and estate sales regularly, you learn that everything ends up at one of those places eventually!

sketchbook tour | oil paint | blue and green | miss mustard seed

One of my goals during my time off over Thanksgiving and Christmas was to spend time creating and playing in my sketchbooks.  I wanted to break through some of my hang-ups and create for the process of creating, work with new materials and mediums, get outside of my box and play creatively, and not even think about whether what I’m making is sellable, social-media-worthy, or bloggable.

And I did.  It got to the point where I was working on 4-6 sketchbooks at a time, bouncing between them as paint and glue dried.  I felt like I didn’t have enough free pages, so I kept pulling out another sketchbook to add to the chaos happening on my work surface.

sketchbook tour | oil paint | blue and green | miss mustard seed

I played with oils, acrylics, pastels, watercolor, charcoal, graphite, pen & ink, mixed media, and even did some stitching.  I was cutting, pasting, painting, working, and reworking.

sketchbook tour | oil paint | blue and green | miss mustard seed

sketchbook tour | oil paint | blue and green | miss mustard seed

sketchbook tour | oil paint | blue and green | miss mustard seed

When I was running out of room, I even decided to make an old book, with beautiful green borders and heavy pages, into a sketchbook by applying gesso to the pages.  I was brimming with ideas and felt the collaboration with the papers, materials, supplies, and tools I was using.

sketchbook tour | oil paint | blue and green | miss mustard seed

I glued a French postcard to the front of it, applied clear gesso, and added a little painting.  Sorry, George Barr McCutcheon!

sketchbook tour | oil paint | blue and green | miss mustard seed

These pages were just too pretty and perfect for painting…

sketchbook tour | oil paint | blue and green | miss mustard seed

sketchbook tour | oil paint | blue and green | miss mustard seed

I also learned that I love watercolor so much more when I mixed it with a little bit of white acrylic gouache…

sketchbook tour | watercolor paint | blue and green | miss mustard seed

These paintings look a lot more like my oils but have the benefit of drying quickly…

sketchbook tour | watercolor landscape | blue and green | miss mustard seed

And I have continued past the holidays, taking a little time most days to do a quick painting or sketch.  I’m not in my sketchbooks daily, but that is the goal.

Most recently, I did a Van Gogh study in my own color palette, which was fun.  It’s such a departure from my style, but I love how it turned out!

sketchbook tour | oil paint | van gogh landscape study | blue and green | miss mustard seed

And, of course, everything looks better on that pretty deckled-edged paper.

sketchbook tour | deckled edge sketchbook | oil paint | blue and green | miss mustard seed

I’ve had a fun time collecting bits of old paper to eventually use…

sketchbook tour | antique french letter | miss mustard seed

Although some of the letters just might be too pretty to use in a sketchbook.  I might have to frame a few.

sketchbook tour | van gogh landscape study | blue and green | miss mustard seed

In addition to playing creatively in my sketchbooks, I have been taking more time each day to work on paintings to sell.  I’m hoping to have another sale in March.

mini landscape oil paintings | Miss mustard seed

Have you given yourself the gift of creative playtime lately?  It’s so easy to put it off in favor of more practical pursuits, but it’s so good for the soul.  If at all possible, take that time to nurture your creative heart, doing whatever lifts your spirit.  As you’re organizing your supplies and materials specifically, set some things aside that spark your creativity and make something.

The laundry can wait just a little longer…


PS – I thought I shared the classes I took that inspired me to dive into my sketchbooks more, but that section must’ve been deleted when I was editing the post.  The first picture was a project for a class with Pam Carriker (The Working Art Journal) and I was inspired to do the charcoal portrait as a study for a class with Renee Mueller (Graceful Muse), both on Jeanne Oliver’s website.  Renee’s class called Conversations, offered on her own website, was also so inspiring for working with old papers.


  1. Kris

    Such a good reminder to take time to create and enjoy the process. For whatever it’s worth, whoever would stumble across your sketchbooks in an estate sale would feel like they hit the jackpot. 🙂

  2. Pam

    Marian, your color palette speaks right to my soul. Beautiful.

  3. Addie

    I always thought sketch books were just for darting down and playing with ideas ideas…..BUT yours are truly works of art!!! WOW!!! Are you going to sell them? They would be great displayed on a coffee table.
    Does your creative mind ever stop? Amazing!!!!
    AND next your are going to be making your own wax paper???? Girl, go to the store and buy it so you have more time to paint!!!
    They are beautiful and it is amazing how fast you conquer each new idea you get.

  4. Irene Kelly

    My form of creativity is either sewing or paper crafting. With my sewing I have made zippered Saks and give away with my random act of kindness project. I fill them with hand sanitizers from Bath Body Works or candy from our local chocate store. And I make greeting cards to send to friends just because. So far everybody has loved them all which makes me feel fulfilled and grateful that I am able to bring a little cheer to someone’s life. In these very stressful times we are living in it is always so nice to give or receive a little unexpected surprise not just at holiday time. I love wrapping and packaging them all in different papers and fancy ribbon. My goal for this year is to do these at least few times a week.

  5. Jo

    Yes! I am a lover and collector of paper with interesting graphics and personality. Your journals are absolutely beautiful! A dear art professor friend created work in her journal and so many people loved looking through the pages, she had hardcover bound copies made for friends. Not only is it filled with beautiful art, but her notes share her experience while she was creating, which is priceless!!!

  6. Donna T

    I am an artist and have too many framed paintings from shows that were unsold. They decorate my house and I’m OK with that. Your blog helps you have a buying audience. My area is glutted with competing artists. I do plein air in the summer and work in watercolor in sketchbooks. I want to play and not be judged. I go for the feeling of the subject. I can look at the sketch and remember the day clearly. These bring me joy whenever I page through them. Some in our group go for a gallery worthy painting at plein air outings and can’t understand the concept of a sketchbook. It seems a waste to them. I find making more paintings a waste. I do make gallery paintings for a show but the sketch book has a place in my artistic life.

  7. Amy

    Oh, those books are just beautiful! Isn’t it amazing (and too bad) that we can always see what think is “not good enough” when others just see the beauty in our work? I, too, have rewritten my shopping list on more than one occasion! I am working on not being TOO obsessed with how things look. We are all a work in progress.

  8. romberglm70

    Your old book made into a sketchbook is awesome! Thank you for sharing your variety of sketchbooks…it’s inspiring to me!

  9. Kate Fitzgerald

    I am just speechless with what you do. It is so inspiring to me. Why don’t I just DO IT, like you do? I’ve the time and resources….You’re “play” is beautiful and I for one would think I got the greatest score of the century if I happened upon one of your sketch books in the future!!

  10. monique odman

    So many pages of creative touches, all to keep and cherish, and as someone says here, in stead of framing the pictures and covering walls at some point the books are a great idea. It is rare that my artists friend use this way of drawing, painting, and glue bits of things that inspire.
    My heart skipped a beat when I arrived at the old post card or is it an envelope, the hand writing is so elegant as it often was in those days. It could be from 1906, hard to read. It is sent by Miss Julie Dumesnil to Madame Veuve (meaning widow) Dumesnil. It could be Julie’ s mother or another female widowed family member. Decize , we know well because we looked at a house to buy in that City on the Loire river. I still miss no getting the house. But we did get another in the same French Department called NIèvre as seen on the address. It is no longer department number 56, but it is 58 now. Nièvre is in Burgundy region. Another thing is the very unusual stamp placed on the bottom left in stead of the upper right.
    Anyway, I hope that you find my little story of interest. I wonder WHERE and WHEN you found this item?

    • Marian Parsons

      Oh, thank you! I bought a couple of bundles of antique French letters off of Etsy. I wish I could ready them! Thank you for the information. 🙂 I’ll show more of them in the future.

  11. MaryLisa

    Looks amazing. The colors transforming from blues to greens are so lovely…

  12. Barbara King

    What beauty you’re creating. I’m currently feeling like a sloth, in that I have whole glorious craftroom in our home that we built. I have it full of sewing supplies, crafting supplies, painting supplies, scrapbook and card-making supplies, and have to get “moved” to create. This morning I found a pillow cover I’d made but need to add the pillow to it. The cover opening is too small, so I was looking for my seam ripper to make it larger, and ended up cleaning out and rearranging a number of drawers and shelves, but I never found my seam ripper lol!

  13. Sandra at Thistle Cove Farm

    It’s not silly, self important or morbid. It’s life and we’re terminal from the first breath. To recognize that is to live a life unafraid.
    In my family, the women have outlived the men and spent many a lonely, wicked cold evening making quilts, bedspreads, crocheting, etc. Now, as a reluctant widow I find myself doing much the same. I know I’m the keeper of what God has placed in my stewardship and I know most may not appreciate what’s left behind. But there will be a few, maybe in or out of the family, who will. Just like me, they will appreciate old stuff, the journals, the blog books, quilts, shawls, etc.
    Whatever we do, do as unto God to bring Him glory. If that’s all we do, I believe it’s enough for, indeed, apart from our lives, isn’t it the greatest gift?

  14. Lorrie

    What a beautiful post. I retired from teaching last week and want to take more time to play. Watercolours are what I’ve dabbled in, and I love the idea of mixing them with a bit of white gouache. Your colour palette is gorgeous.

  15. Alison T Keeports

    Love, love, love each and every painting. You are so talented and humble. I will need to come back and look on my big screen!

  16. msborgs

    I love love love your Van Gogh style painting but I’m a huge fan and I love your color palette. It so speaks to me…my favorite colors! Sadly, I could not get your website to work to buy any of your latest paintings last Friday. I would love to buy your Van Gogh one if you would sell!
    I love your blog and your creativity!

  17. Claire

    This may be my favorite post of yours ever! Not so much because of what you said but because of all the ideas and pictures of those luscious scrapbooks!! Oh my are they ever beautiful! I don’t write in diaries for the reason you stated, that I don’t want someone to read them later and think poorly of me. I sew and you have given me an idea for a scrapbook about my work. Thank you!

  18. Jan Newton

    Have you ever thought about using you art for note cards? I love to keep beautiful blank note cards around. Then I can write about whatever the occasion demands.

  19. Terry

    First off these sketch books are so beautiful! Incredible works of art all. You do not need to worry about hang up #2. However your sketchbook hang ups spoke to me so directly. When I started journaling I didn’t worry about “hang up #1” but #2 for sure and #3 absolutely. At 69 years old I have cleared out enough relative’s houses to know what you leave behind can shape how others remember you. That likely can even extend to people you don’t know (estate/antique sales). Just saying, it took me a while to get over that and just speak my mind while journaling but staying mindful. Not everything I think needs to be in writing..

  20. Amy Bell

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful art and sketchbooks. You’re so talented! I love the idea of claiming an old book to use for art! Inspirational!

  21. Nan

    First, thank you for sharing all your beautiful art! So inspirational! You mentioned in your Instagram notes something about classes you liked. Can you tell us about those?
    Thank you very much!!!

    • Marian Parsons

      Sorry, Nan! I thought I had included those, but I think that paragraph got deleted when I was moving photos around. I’ve added a PS that shares the instructors and links to the classes.

  22. Wendy

    So funny – I too have a love of “journaling” (buying journals that is) and the same hang ups about using them. So I just keep collecting things, imagining, and looking at beautiful ideas – your’s!

    • Marian Parsons

      Yes!! I have a lot of empty journals, but I am working on filling them now. I realized I don’t want to leave a legacy of blank pages.

  23. Paulla

    “These paintings look a lot more like my oils but have the benefit of crying quickly…”

    Since I know very few “art” terms, it took me a while to understand that the paintings weren’t “crying”, but “drying” quickly!

    Often your work makes me tear up with joy.

    • Marian Parsons

      Oh my gosh, that is hysterical! My proof-reading mom hasn’t caught that one, yet. Yes, it’s DRYING quickly. Although sometimes art does bring tears! 🙂

  24. Christina Edwards

    Maybe if you saved a few pages for what you learned while painting in your journals, your books might become future educational tools for beginning artists. I loved the comment that you wrote about adding a little gouache to your water colors……for example. Just a thought.

  25. Catherine

    Very Nice! Lovely colors

  26. SueA

    Love your post! “The benefit of crying quickly” was especially poignant. LOL!
    But really, they are beautiful.
    I have my very old journals from when I was a hippie artist in the 70’s and I cringe cringe cringe to read them now. I plan on burning them before I die.

    • Stephanie


      please, Please, PLEASE do not burn your old journals! I’m a firm believer that someone out there would love to read them, ESPECIALLY as a way of documenting that period in time.

      Maybe it’s my ego that’s writing these words, because I myself have kept a journal since I was 12 (and I’ll be 59 in four months!), and hope that someone, some day, will be interested in reading them. However, NOT my children, and NOT my grandchildren–should I ever be lucky enough to get any! I think I should be dead and gone for about two generations before they’re released to the public. I had a pretty wild (read FUN) past!

      • SueA

        thank you Stephanie, you make a good point.
        Yes the journals are from my wild hippie days in northern CA in the early 70s. I wouldn’t know where to find a time vault that would secure them for those many years but I do understand your reasoning. I would love to read my bootlegging grandma’s diary from her “Bootma” days. I think our wild days would pale in comparison.

  27. Leslie Fehling

    Thank you so much for this inspiring post, Marian. I’m a watercolor artist and sketchbook journaler who has made a career out of sketching, sharing my work, and teaching across the US and in Europe. It still amazes me that by following my heart and doing what I love (sketching rather than creating framed art), I’ve been paid to travel the world. And I’ve found the most amazing group of friends along the way, kindred spirits who understand the joy and fulfillment that comes from pausing long enough to really see the everyday beauty in our lives and record it in our sketchbooks. Your beautiful sketchbooks have taken sketchbook art to a whole new level – thanks so much for sharing your art and your heart!

    • Marian Parsons

      Leslie, Your sketches are wonderful! I’m now following you on Instagram and can’t wait to see more.

  28. beverlee Lyons

    when someone, someday, if anyone in your family will ever let these go……..they will exclaim like you do….oh, what a treasure……………………….i want to know all about Marion and they will discover that you are more than just paint. That makes me happy knowing that some lady somewhere will be happy they found your bits and pieces.
    Thank you for this. I needed the reminder to play.

  29. Babs

    I am going to go through my bookcase to see if I can find the perfect book to turn into a sketch book. What a lovely idea. I am learning how to paint in watercolors and can’t wait to try adding white guache…that should get me excited about painting in oils again without the smell! Love your color selections. So soothing.

  30. Lee Ann

    Marian, I would frame ANY of your sketches! They are all gorgeous. Also, your green and blue palette is so soothing. I love these posts that feature all those colors. Thank you.

  31. JeanFB

    This post definitely struck a chord with me – I also have rewritten grocery lists that were just too messy, LOL! But this post – the entire thing – is just sooo beautiful!! I’m so glad you shared these images, and recounted what your “inside voice” says to you that limits you – I have had the exact same thoughts, every one of them! Your work is gorgeous, and I very very much appreciate these types of posts where you share your art and your thoughts, it’s so inspiring.💙💚💙💚

  32. Stephanie

    Marian, this green notebook is lovely, and I like how you upcycled an old book! I wanted to mention that once it’s done (eg: filled up!) I think you could have copies printed and then sell them! YES, I think it’s that good!

  33. Angela

    I noted the comment someone made about the color palette. I absolute love these colors and how you have displayed them. These colors are in my master bedroom bedding and curtains, and I want to incorporate them into a piece of art for the master bath. I am hesitant to use a watercolor in the bathroom; I guess I need to use an oil painting. This gives me so much inspiration as I look for something perfect. I need to watch your notices for your sales. Commissions? I am in love with these colors…

  34. Karen B.

    Your art is so amazing and love each painting you paint. There is a sailboat you painted recently and I love it. I believe it sold instantly, no surprise.

  35. DeeR

    Marian, I believe this is the most inspiring blog for me yet! I have been keeping artist journals from the first moment I started painting back in June of 2016. It holds post cards from museums , little sketches, ideas and paint swatch samples from new paints I purchased. There is a whole world to creating an artist journal. Thank You! Dee

  36. Hillory

    Hi there! I’m new here, so I’m not certain, but so you sell your art pieces ever?? I am so moved by the color palettes in this post!! If so, when and where?



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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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