Art theory Collage Drawing Food sketch Sketchbook Pages

Don’t Replace, Reface: Dealing with a “Bad” Sketchbook Page

Fresh : Luck, collaged pages
Fresh : Luck, collaged spread in 6x9 Fabriano Venezia sketchbook

Are you tempted to tear out the page in your sketchbook when a sketch goes bad? I used to do that.

When we were sharing sketchbooks Tuesday night, I pointed proudly to three pages that had terrible drawings on them of an object that simply wasn’t draw-able (or nameable–more about that in a minute). I said, “Look! I wasted three pages and they’re really ugly and I’m OK with letting them just be there.” Cathy the graphic designer, said, “Well, you know, you could just paste stuff over them.”

Is It Luck?
Is It Luck? Ink & gouache lottery tickets and business card (click to enlarge)

So when I visited my local donut shop in a moment of weakness (apple fritter: my drug of choice) I collected some random stuff they had on the counter: a postcard advertising a Tibet Day, some California lottery slips, the proprietor’s card, and the bag my fritter came in. I thought the picture they chose for the card— an Italian-looking chef—was funny since the store is owned and run by an Asian family. I cut stuff up and pasted it down (the bag was already sticky!), wrote and drew on them, colored with crayons, and painted on some gouache. You see a bit of the bad drawing/writing about it coming through the bag/blue paint.

Fresh Daily, collaged page
Fresh Daily, collaged page: post card pieces on bakery bag pasted over bad sketch, and crayons and paint

When I wrote “Is it luck?” I was referring both to the lottery tickets and getting a good drawing. Is it luck when a drawing turns out well? Sometimes it feels like a sketch or painting can’t fail—it seems to paint or draw itself—a total gift. Other times it’s just the opposite and I have the feeling from the very start that the project will be a big FAIL. I try to recognize those negative thoughts and make them stop when I do, but sometimes they just won’t go away.

Oh… and the undrawable thing I was trying to draw? It’s something I found in a “Free” box on a neighborhood walk. A cute little wooden sorting device with numbered slots for 31 days on a sliding thingee, with three little  drawers that could hold paperclips or other small stuff. It looks like a funky version of  this only in oak color and without the clock.

Sorter, sort of
Sorter, sort of

I thought I might be able to use it for drying paintings on panels, but the slots were too narrow. It was way too boring and complicated to draw so after three tries I put it in the garage to take to the thrift shop with some other donations. I thought about returning it to the neighbor’s “Free” box but that seemed like cheating.

So when the sketch turns into a big mess, now I know what to do: don’t rip it out, don’t just leave it there glaring in its butt ugliness; just do what those TV commercials for kitchen cabinets advertise: “Don’t replace, reface!” And when the subject isn’t fun and/or interesting to draw, stop. Life is too short to waste what is meant to be fun time not having fun!

15 replies on “Don’t Replace, Reface: Dealing with a “Bad” Sketchbook Page”

I may finally have the courage to use the sketchbook I made for myself two years ago – there isn’t a line in it so far because I haven’t wanted to ruin it! Thanks again – lately you are my main inspiration.


Hi Casey, I signed up for an expensive weekend-long bookbinding class so I hope that doesn’t happen to me with the book I make. I don’t think it will as I’ve learned to just go for it and fill those pages. But I just learned that the paper they give us to use in the book may not work with watercolor. The teacher is sending me a sample. If it doesn’t work I don’t think I’ll take the class. Otherwise I’ll have two blank books full of nice but unusable paper. I might just try Martha’s system for repurposing an old book instead. Jana


Nice to know I’m not alone on that donut thing! And those fritters are the “hard stuff” compared to the gateway donuts like the simple cinamon crumb. I do my best to stay away from them but every now and then…. Jana


Hi Jana:
What fun pages. We are working on collage possibilities in Kate’s class this lesson, so I mentioned your blog in our class. Perfect solution to bummer pages.

I loved the little pen and inks of the macaroon box with it’s peeking macaroon too, minimal and appealing.


Kate, of course I’d be honored to be linked to your class! It was definitely one of those lightbulb moments when Cathy suggested pasting stuff over the bad drawing. You Cathys sure are inspirations! Jana


Wonderful post title! Spiff up your cabinets or your sketchbook and no one knows what was there before.

The Buddha eyes right in the middle of the words above them and the sweet food below are just the thing. You made interesting choices of collected “stuff”.


Thanks Barbara. I just collected what was available at the shop and brought it home. I didn’t really give the whole thing much thought, just played with it. Jana


a new sketchbook is always intimidating. making my first mistake is usually a welcome milestone! but my drawings are so intricate i can’t afford one. so i end up writing comments pointing out the mistake and going on to the next page.


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