Sketches and Sketchbooks of Famous Artists

Studies of Male Profiles by Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) Study of Male Profiles, drawing 446E recto. Dea/ R. Bardazzi/ Getty Images

It is a privilege to get to see inside someone else's sketchbook for it is almost like getting a chance to see the world through their eyes for a moment. Sometimes it gives you a glimpse into how paintings or sculptures that we have come to call "great" first got their start as nascent ideas represented merely by scribbles or marks on a page. Or conversely, sometimes drawings in sketchbooks are exquisitely detailed or beautifully rendered works, little masterpieces in and of themselves.

If, as is often said, the eyes are the window to the soul, then sketchbooks, as visual journals, are a window to the soul of the artist.  

The sketchbook is the place for an artist to record ideas, memories, and observations. Leonardo da Vinci's sketchbooks are the most well-known, with many books published on his extensive drawings, diagrams, and notes. But every artist keeps sketchbooks and it is fascinating to see that the drawings and paintings within the pages of their sketchbooks are easily recognizable as coming from the hand of the great artist whose finished works we have come to know.

Following are some links to websites and books where you can see examples of some well-known artists' sketches and sketchbooks. Some come from museums where the sketchbooks have been on display, some come from galleries, some come from the selections of other writers. They are a spellbinding look into the minds, hearts, and souls of the artists represented.


Famous Artists' Sketches

Leonardo da VinciThe Sketches of Leonardo, on Retinart; Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was an Italian Renaissance artist whose knowledge and expertise also included many other fields, such as architecture, math, music, invention, engineering, anatomy, to name but a few. He painted the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.

A Sketchbook by John Constable, at the Victoria and Albert Museum; John Constable (1776-1837) was an English Romantic painter, known primarily for his landscape paintings.

Joseph Mallord William Turner Sketchbooks, at the Tate Gallery; J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) was an English Romanticist landscape painter.  

Monet Sketchbooks, from the Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris, at the Clark Art InstituteClaude Monet (1840-1926) was one of the founders and leaders of the French Impressionist Movement. 

Vincent van Gogh Drawings; Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) was a Dutch post-Impressionist painter and one of the Netherlands' most famous artists. 

Henry Moore, Through a Sketchbook:  These drawings were done from memory of people sleeping on the platforms of the London underground during the 'blitz' of the 1940's; materials used were pen and ink, crayon and watercolor on cheap notebooks; the drawings were reproduced by collotype facsimile and published as The Shelter Sketchbook portfolio. Henry Moore (1898-1986) was a British artist known for his large-scale organic figural bronze sculptures.

Georgia O'Keeffe, from the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum;  Georgia Okeeffe (1887-1986) was one of the  most significant American artists of the twentieth century,  and most well-known for her abstract large-scale paintings of flowers.

The Sketchbooks of Richard Diebenkorn; Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) was an American painter who is well-known for, among other paintings, his Ocean Park Series. The Sketchbooks of Richard Diebenkorn is a remarkable collection of all twenty-nine of his sketchbooks, with each page digitized and accessible online. It is truly a gift.

David Hockney: Sketchbook-London: David Hockney (b. 1937) is an extremely versatile and influential contemporary English artist. 

David Hockney's Sketchbooks 

Matthew Marks Gallery, featuring the sketchbooks of Carl Andre, Louise Bourgeois, Gary Hume, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Serra, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol

Cy Twombly sketches, The Collection Online, `The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Cy Twombly (1928-2011) was an American painter, sculptor, and photographer.

Recommended Books

Seven Sketchbooks of Vincent Van Gogh (Buy from Amazon), 1989

Van Gogh Inspiration Sketchbook (Buy from Amazon), 2015

The Life of Vincent Van Gogh Through His Art 1873-1886 Sketches and Paintings Volume I (Buy from Amazon) (Kindle eBook)

Leonardo's Notebooks: Writing and Art of the Great Master (Buy from Amazon), 2013

David Hockney: A Yorkshire Sketchbook (Buy from Amazon), 2012

The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait (Buy from Amazon), 2005

Je Suis Le Cahier: The Sketchbooks of Picasso (Buy from Amazon), 1996

Henry Moore's Sheep Sketchbook (Buy from Amazon), 2008

Further Reading

21 Famous Creatives and Artists Notebooks and Sketchbooks

Inside the Sketchbook of Famous Artists