Tools of the trade: Sketchbook

February 16, 2012 — 22 Comments

Today I want to kick off an ongoing series of posts entitled Tools of the Trade.

tools of the trade

I’m not talking about “tools” like that guy in freshman studio who would get his guitar out and play Dave Matthews Band songs to impress (or depress) chicks in your class…I’m talking about tangible items that help you carry out the day-to-day tasks of being an architect.

For the first installment of  TOTT (yes I just acronymed that) I thought I’d write about one of the tools that I have used continuously since before my days in architecture school.


Architecture schools typically have a sketchbook on their mandatory freshman supply list.  In my opinion it is one of the most important tools to help one document, problem solve, practice drawing and archive their career as an architect.


scott's sketchbooks.

How to pick a sketchbook:

There are hundreds of different types of sketchbooks to choose from and it can be intimidating to figure out which one is just right for you.  Realize that although it’s nice to have a series of similar sized sketchbooks that will sit neatly together on a shelf it’s not the end of the world if you switch it up from time to time.  If you’re buying your first sketchbook you will go through an adjustment phase where you’ll realize what size, shape and paper type works best for you. The sketchbook I use is a wirebound 9”x12” hard covered 100 page book.  This is my favorite type because this size gives you tons of space to draw on, it lays flat so you don’t have to mess with the crease and it is solid which allows you draw on a hard surface. The hardcover also protects your drawings from wear and tear.  I have some sketchbooks that have taken me a few years to fill up and since the information inside is important to me I want to make sure the paper is protected from getting damaged.

The drawback to this sketchbook is that it can be a bit cumbersome. A 9”x12” book doesn’t exactly fit in your back pocket but, if you’re going to class, a meeting or traveling you’re likely going to be carrying a bag that you can easily stow it in.

What to put in your sketchbook:

First thing…always write your name and contact info on the inside cover.  The last thing you want is to lose months of ideas and notes because you left it on a table at Starbucks or a seatback pocket on the airplane. Now, if you’re using your sketchbook to record illegal business transaction (or the sort) then I suggest you put somebody else’s name on the inside cover (you know, just in case).

After you have your contact info down just let the rest flow.  Don’t be afraid to draw anything and everything that you can think of.  I’ve noticed that there are a couple of reoccurring themes in my sketchbook…


Furniture projects (that I know I’ll build one day and earn millions of dollars on royalties from Knoll)


cantilever chair by scott taylor




Architecture competitions (I usually spend hours sketching out ideas and don’t end up submitting anything)


Media communications booth competition



Floor plans (plans of projects I’m working on, plans for hypothetical projects and remodel layouts for my own house)

.floor plans



Graphic design (logos and branding exercises for freelance work and competitions)

.Dallas AIA Associates Committee logo



Museum exhibitions (all of my friends hate going to museums with my because I have to draw everything)


Dallas Museum of Modern Art trip.

I find that the things I jot down in my sketchbook today are completely different from what I recorded 15 years ago when I was in school.  I used to carry my sketchbook to all my classes where I’d write down thoughts, sketch ideas and solve design problems associated with my studio projects.  Now, it seems,  I only use my sketchbook for personal work and at the office I tend to use trace paper and post-it notes to get my ideas down.

Why you should have a sketchbook:

As I mentioned above I feel it’s important to have records of all of your thoughts, ideas and designs that are centrally located and easily accessible.

I have a small library of sketchbooks that I have filled up over the years and I find myself going through them every now and then remembering exactly what I was doing when I drew on the page.  In some instances it’s a chronology of my day-to-day thought process….something that photographs or video can never convey.

If you’ve never used a sketchbook go pick one up.  If you used to use one and haven’t in a while, go dust it off and start drawing again…I think you’ll enjoy it.




Print Friendly

even better stuff from Life of an Architect

  • Pingback: Notebooks, Sketchpads and Evernote | Bargeheights Blog()

  • Pingback: Notebooks, Sketchpads and Evernote | Bargeheights()

  • Pingback: The Incomplete and Necessary Sketchbook | Vanessa Elizabeth()

  • Malaysian lady

    dear writer, right now I am waiting for an offer to continue my study and what I have in mind right now is to take architecture and design coarse. I just want to drop something as appreciation because for me, your blog has inspired me to continue my life long ambition. Thank you and sorry for my broken English 🙂

  • Akkydeklavay

    Scott Taylor.u r a nice guide to ur followers…..lov ur article

  • Amawetback

    ceasar is ugly’!

  • Amawetback


  • A great reminder and call to get back to my sketch book! Thank you!

  • Joana de Moura

    Really enjoy the post. As an art student, and architect, since High School that I use a sketchbook. But right now it’s a little dusty, maybe I draw something today just for fun 😀

  • architectrunnerguy

    Great article Scott. Nothing like sketching out a solution, at the job site or elsewhere. But I’ve gotten away from an actual “book”. I use a roll of white bumwad. I like the see through capability for overlays when exploring modifications to a previous sketch.

    I remember telling one builder this who’s guys do 100% of their work on a laptop. He looked at me like I was crazy. I came away thinking the organization probably didn’t know what a pen was!!


  • Sara

    Cachet 8 x 10. Spiral bound. 80 70lb sheets. I always use them in the portfolio orientation. Ive been using them since my second year of undergrad…so since 2005. I have a shelf full of them.

  • I’ve always loved my sketchbook, although I cheat and use the Dot Grid Book version. Since we have gone to CAD its my only chance to peruse my first love: drawing. I prefer the 8 1/2″ x 5 1/2″ format that avoids the cumbersome problems of the larger books.

  • Awesome sketches Scott! For me its been the other way round. I don’t draw as much before but ended up drawing a lot after I’ve started working (never believed in hand drawn sketches in school – thought it was dated). I now bring my sketchbook everywhere I go and make a habit of sketching on my travels. You can check it out on my site. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • Scott Taylor

      Your drawings are great…they really capture the space.  I’m sure every time you open up an old sketchbook you can remember what it was like being in those spaces.

      • Thanks Scott. I’ve actually trying to practice sketching like the way you did in your museum sketch. That is really awesome. Anyway, keep up the great work and post too on LoaA!

    • shtrum

      i second Scott’s compliments (and compliment his own drawings too; i remember his fantastic Christmas card from a previous post).  Reminds me of a trip to Europe several years ago.  i sat down against a pylon and began sketching the church where Da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper was installed.  Shortly afterwards a large group of Italian schoolkids on a field trip gathered around intently to watch.  But they blocked my view.  Realizing it, some of them began shoving the others back, and i wasn’t sure if a fight was breaking out.  The end result was a solid wall of bodies on both sides, with a thin slit of space between me and the church.  It’s one of my favorite memories of the trip.

  • Wow, thanks for the post. Just in time, I’ve been thinking to revive my sketchbooks. I even brought two of them to work today, with all my pens & pencils. I hope someday, someone’s going to discover my sketches and see some potential in them. For now, I have to really start using them.

  • Rick_Nelson

    Nice article, Scott – and I COMPLETELY know what you’re talking about with the ‘design competitions’ part of it…

    • Scott Taylor

      How come design competitions never request for you to just scan your sketchbook pages in as your submission?

      • Rick_Nelson

        I can only speak for myself, but my sketchbook(s) aren’t the mandated 24″x36″ size…
        I wonder if Bob will accept scans for the Playhouse competition…

  • Arighna Mitra

    I started maintaining a sketchbook since January, this year. And it sure is a pleasure to flip back the pages and look at all the stuff I’ve drawn and the notes I’ve written. I think everyone should have a sketchbook. I’m planning to get into Architecture school next year. Wish me luck! And greetings from India!


    • Scott Taylor

       Good luck in school…sound like you’re off to a good start (at least you have one item crossed off the supply list).