Art teachers are always telling you “Sketchbook, sketchbook, sketchbook”.  To some students, this might cause an eye rolling reaction.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but they’re right.

The sketchbook/process work is an important part of the portfolio review for the studio based programs. Be sure you have reviewed the admissions & portfolio requirements for the Faculty of Art and Faculty of Design programs here, for the Honors BA in Visual and Critical Studies here and Digital Futures here.

What is a sketchbook?

A sketchbook is a crucial part of the toolkit for any artist and designer, and it is a major component of the portfolio admissions process to most studio based programs at OCAD U.  Now, to clarify, I really don’t like the word sketchbook. While it sounds cheesy, let’s call it a “creative journal” – the place with your messy doodles, chicken scratches, ideas, experiments, failed attempts, tests, research, inspiration, notes, thoughts, concepts…. It can be a file folder of your math notes, if you always have your most creative thoughts in the margin.  Everyone’s creative journal is going to look different and contain different things, and that’s ok.  Your creative journal can be a traditional bound, sketchbook, it can be a notebook, it can be a file folder of your process work, it might have a digital component if you do a lot of new media work.


A glimpse inside Casey’s sketchbook. She mostly writes, doodles and makes collages. Her sketchbook is made out of an old book.

Why is a creative journal/sketchbook so important?

A creative journal can show us a couple of things, especially when you are being considered for admissions. But use your creative journal for you, it should be a tool to help you improve.

A strong, full sketchbook/creative journal, that has been filled recently shows us that you are going to be able to survive the demands of being creative all the time.  Believe it or not, it’s hard to be coming up with new ideas for creative work constantly in University. Showing us that you engage creatively with the world around you on a regular basis will let us know you are going to succeed at OCAD U. We want to accept students who will succeed.

A creative journal also gives us a glimpse into your creative brain and you ability for creative and critical thinking. Of course we want to see your skill and talent when we look at a portfolio – however – you can teach someone to use photoshop, you can even teach someone to draw, but it is very difficult to teach someone to be a creative thinker. Your creative journal will show us how your ideas develop into finished work, what your process is, where you ideas come from, what themes and topics you like to explore. We can’t teach someone to be a creative thinker – you need to show us that you already are a creative thinker.

A creative journal also has the ability to show us that you understand the program you are applying for, and that you are a good fit for the program. Include experiments/tests/research/ideas/thoughts about the area of study you are interested in. This should be an exercise for you.

A creative journal can be a great tool for someone who is looking at your portfolio. If they really like a finished artwork in your portfolio  it can be really interested for them to understand where that work came from – to see the sketch that inspired it, or the first attempt that failed miserably etc.

So what should be in your creative journal?

There are no hard and fast rules about what needs to be included, and nothing we look for specifically when considering you for admissions.  You can include writing, story board, thumbnail sketches, life drawing, doodles, cartoons, colour experiments, material tests of paint/fabric, inspiration images, research, notes, contact sheets from photography, screen grabs of your digital progress, designs etc…….That being said, as a creative individual it’s a good idea to practice and include a couple of things. Be sure that you do these things for you, not for us. Your creative journal can be a strong tool.

Draw form observation, show us you can take the 3D world around you and represent it in 2D. This might include still life, life drawing or doodles of the things around you.  It could include perspective drawing, architectural drawing or drawings of the space around you.

Include ideas, thoughts, notes, research, doodles, etc.. that relates to the program you are applying to. We want to see that you are a good fit for the program you are applying for, and that you understand the program.


a colour test page in Brooke’s sketchbook.


Some experimentations with outer space done with ballpoint pen in Brooke’s sketchbook.


Other tips for a strong creative journal

Make a concerted effort to carry your creative journal with you and write/draw in it everyday. It’s a good exercise  until you find a way to engage with it on your own.

Even if you do primarily digital/design work, it’s good practice to have a sketchbook. If you don’t have one, get one.

My creative journal is an old book I re-bound, and made into a sketchbook. It is full of mostly writing, the odd doodle and collage/scraps of paper. That’s how I creatively engage with the world around my on a daily basis. I’m not very good at drawing or sketching, but that’s ok.

Remember there is no right or wrong way to engage with or create your creative journal or sketchbook. It is a great tool to make you a stronger artist or designer, so find a way that works for you.