F. Sketchbooks / Ideation


I take my black pen and begin. I let my pen wander without stopping. I barely look at the page or what I’m putting on it because I am drawing to notice and record, not to make a beautiful picture. Drawing, paying close attention, leads to writing. Writing helps me think, notice more, even discover what I know. Together the pictures and words in my journal help me understand what I know about things and my practice as a teacher.

The above quote is by Karen Ernst—taken from her book A Teacher’s Sketch Journal: Observations on Learning and Teaching. She explains that her sketch journal allows her to discover ideas that can help in understanding or to solve problems, formulate questions, or take a new course of action. The sketch journal, because it is ongoing and links image to text/text to image, allows ideas to develop over a period of time. By revisiting the sketch journal the creator can engage in ongoing assessment; revisiting your observations lets your own search for meaning drive how you come to understand a theory or situation.

How you integrate text—your class notes, notes on readings, etc.—and image will be determined on a personal level. Be open to the possibilities. Consider drawing, painting, collecting, collage…as a way to help you understand or comment on ideas, theories and situations. Keep your sketch journal close by—bring it to class, to your service learning experience, to diner! Ernst suggests you keep the following “key words and phrases” in mind as you work in your sketch journal:

  • Observe
  • Slow down
  • Look
  • Think
  • Express
  • Feel confident
  • Find another way
  • Plan ahead
  • Read over
  • Be surprised
  • Read, write, draw, paint, collage…write, read

Consider the sketch journal as a process. A process that allows you to “take in the world”—to incorporate art and writing to think, discover knowledge, and improve what you do!

View the PowerPoint on Sketch-noting for Understanding. This will provide one approach for you to consider when documenting your ideas in written and visual form.

Learn more about SketchNoting: SketchNoting for Understanding

Sketchbooks can be a vital tool to encourage creative and critical thought and action across the whole school, and beyond the art curriculum. This page provides you with some resources and ideas to think about when planning for the use of sketchbooks in your curriculum. Reflective thinking, problem posing and problem solving are key components to an authentic and successful art experience.


Sketchbook Prompts and Ideas: 

Sketchbook Prompts and Ideas (word)    

Sketchbook Prompts and Ideas (pdf)

1. List ten things a color such as red reminds you of and paint/draw as many types of red as you can in your sketchbook.

2. Look at Van Gogh’s bedroom. What objects are paired? When you look at this painting do you get the impression that the artist was a happy person with many friends? Why? What kind of mood has he created?

3. Draw your greatest fear.

4. When do you get angry and why? Draw yourself in this situation. Draw a picture of yourself with an angry expression.

5. Draw/collect things that float.

6. Draw/collect things with wheels.

7. Draw/collect things that roll.

8. Draw things that close.

9. Draw things that come from eggs.

10. Be an ant—describe and draw what you would see. Be a cloud—describe and draw
what you would see.

11. If you had a candy bar named after you, what would it look like and what would it be called?

12. If you had been a pilgrim, what would you have looked like?

13. If you were a tree, what kind would you be? Draw a picture of yourself as this tree.

14. Express in a drawing or collage your happiest moment in the past year.

15. Express in a drawing something you are good at.

16. If I could be any color, I’d be____because……..

17. Draw a picture of something you’d like to become better at.

18. Using any type of line or shape, create a picture with only the three primary colors.
19. An alien spaceship has landed in the schoolyard. Draw a picture of it.

20. High in the HimalayanMountains lives an abominable snow-creature. Draw what the snow-creature look like.

21. You have made a startling discovery while skin diving! Draw/describe/collage what it is!

22. Have you ever been to the circus? Draw a picture of your favorite act, with yourself as the ringmaster!

23. Draw a picture of your Mother or Father at work.

24. Draw a picture of your shoe, overlapping three different views on the same page.

25. Draw a picture of your pet.

26. Fill a page with drawings of bugs, sea shells, or something you collect.

27. Draw a family member or a friend from memory.

28. Draw a picture of yourself as you think you might look in ten years.

29. Have you ever had a daydream instead of doing your work? Draw a picture of a daydream.

30. Draw a picture of your house and yard; then draw a big dinosaur in the yard!

31. What is the best story your grandparents tell about the old days? Draw a picture of it.

32. Draw a picture of your favorite part about school.

33. Draw a picture of a school you would like to attend. Consider how it would be different then the school you’re going to now.


Resources (…a fraction of what is available): Sketchbook Resources

Capacchione, L. (1989). The creative journal for children: A guide for parents, teachers, and counselors. Boston & London: Shambhala.

Chancer, J. & Rester-Zodrow, J. (1997). Moon journals: Writing, art, and inquiry through focused nature study. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Close, C. (1999). Evidence: The art of Candy Jernigan. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Ernst, K. (1997). A teacher’s sketch journal: Observations on Learning and Teaching. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Hubbard, S. & Ernst, K. (Ed.) (1996). New entries: Learning by writing and drawing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Kale, S. & Vihos, L. (2000). My museum journal: A writing and sketching book. Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum.

Robinson, G. (1996). Sketch-books: Explore and store. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.







IDEAS = Enduring / Essential Understanding

Artists combine and apply artistic and reasoning skills to imagine, create, realize and refine artworks in conventional and innovative ways

Ideas and Ideation: It’s More Then Brainstorming!

How can someone generate more and more creative ideas? Ideation is the generation of ideas. Students need to understand that success in art depends on one’s ability to generate ideas. Many ideas should be generated so that the student artist will have a wide choice of solutions. Ideation is one of the most important components of a lesson and it must be given attention while planning art experiences for students.   Generating Ideas (PowerPoint)     Inquiry and Making Art (PowerPoint)

Essential Questions

Why should someone make art?

                               Why do artists’ make art about their ideas?                                

How do artists’ get their ideas for the subject matter of their art?

Why are some ideas better than others?

Additional Ideation Strategies: Strategies of Enchantment     Generating Ideas


At some point, there is identification of a problem or goal. At some later point, investigation is made into possible solutions to the problem or ways to achieve the goal. Eventually, one solution or approach is chosen above the others for implementation. A teacher who implements creative problem solving may use the following strategy:

  1. Set a well-defined problem for the students.
  2. Have the students brainstorm possible solutions.
  3. The students pick the best solution.
  4. The students implement the solution.
  5. The students evaluate their solution.

Brainstorming is a great large group activity that demonstrates ideation possibilities to the entire class.


Forced Questioning

One way of enticing ideas out of the brain is to ask questions. We often ask students’ questions to stimulate their thinking. But we must do more; we must have them ask their own questions. While some questions may have complicated wording, simple questions can be effective. Consider: “who, what, where, why, how, or when” using a “question wheel” or “question dice”.

The question wheel has a pointer and the words, “who, what, where, why, when, how”, written in different segments; one of the question dice is a cube with a different one of Bloggie Pictures 173these six words on each face. By spinning the wheel or tossing the die, one of the words is selected. The student then develops one or two questions about their idea starting with those words. An elaboration of that technique calls for a second wheel or die, containing the words, “would, could, should, did, will, might.” By tossing both dice, the student might get the words, “Why did” or “Who could.” These word pairs could then be used to force questions/ideas out of the student. You might wish to use other dice as well; one die might contain words relating to evaluative criteria: meaning, time, “doability”, attractiveness; another die might contain only materials: ceramics, plastics, metallics, woods, watercolor, and so on.

Asking students questions can help them refine their thoughts and entertain new possibilities. Questions are one of the best resources an art teacher can use to help students generate ideas.


Attribute Listing

Ideas can offer themselves if we look at things in a different way. For example, what can a typical rubber eraser be used for? It can erase pencil marks. However, if we list the different attributes of the eraser, new and unexpected applications might present themselves. It can erase pencil marks. However, if we list the different attributes of the eraser, new and unexpected applications might present themselves. The eraser is abrasive, shock-absorbent, red, 1/4″ thick, etc. By thinking of it as an abrasive, some people have rubbed a pencil eraser over the electrical contact on computer cards to improve the electrical connection. If you need a small shock-absorbing bumper (on a cabinet door), consider the eraser. Many of them can be glued to a frame for added embellishment!

The technique of attribute listing (Hubel and Lussow, 1984) begins by making a list of the attributes of available materials, products or tools. The student then attempts to use any of these attributes in the problem’s solution.


Thinking Assignments

Role playing can be helpful in having students consider other viewpoints. A variation of role playing can be used to ask students to take on different, proscribed thinking tasks as they consider their ideas. One illustration of this is the description of six different thinking hats, by Edward deBono.

In deBono’s system, any individual could take on specific thinking tasks by literally or figuratively putting on one of the six colored hats. If they put on the white hat, then their job would be “white hat thinking,” which is characterized by scrutinizing the facts. Red hat thinking would deal with intuitions and emotions; black with judgment and caution; yellow with logical positivism (or finding the good in each option); green hat thinking would entertain and generate creative alternatives, and blue hat thinking would deal with issues of control, and with metacognition—thinking about the “big picture”.


IMG_0309Analogies & Metaphors

Analogies and metaphors can offer a poetic nuance to our thinking. By using them in a similar way to forced connections, we can sometimes gain greater insight into a situation or problem.

Consider the following: “My family seems like candle.” By elaborating on just how the family seems like a candle new aspects may appear. Is the family dwindling like a candle? Does it provide warmth? Is everything seen in light of the family? Is the flame delicate?

Other examples include: It’s raining cats and dogs; Love is in the air; The Internet is our conscience

In each, it is the later elaboration that may or may not lead to fruitful nuances.


Sketching and Sketch-storming

Don’t forget the obvious! When some people are asked to come up with a design, they write, others may sit quietly and think, some may converse, some may model, and some will draw. Sketching can be a powerful tool to generate and communicate ideas.

Often, sketching and drawing (even doodling) can help people refine ideas or generate new solutions. While sketching three-dimension objects is very helpful, it also requires some skill and time. In designing a better mousetrap, leave ample time for students to sketch possible solutions, rather than hurrying them through 15-second sketches. It can even be helpful for students to have actual objects to manipulate as they do their drawings. Avoid having students copy from pictures/images.


Constructing / Modeling / Tinkering

Physical objects can stimulate ideas. While there may be a drawing either before or after this stage, the visualization that occurs by this technique often sparks new ideas. Also, not all students are comfortable “sketching” on paper with pencil. Some prefer to “sketch” with found objects or modeling clay. Tinkering (play) has resulted in numerous inventions and innovations. It does not make sense to always require students to have a finished plan before they touch materials — instead, get some help from the materials in your quest to stimulate ideation.

Tinkering and modeling can also be used to test out ideas and facilitate adjustments to solutions. Models can be constructed with a variety of materials: wood, clay, Legos, fingers, etc. The goal is to generate a wide variety of solutions by helping students with three-dimensional visualization (and vice-versa).


Thought Book / Log / Diary

Consider the following words of a might-have-been artist: “Last night, in a dream, I had this great idea for a new painting, but while I remembered the idea when I first awoke, I can’t remember it now.” Ideas are of little use in creating if we forget them and fail to record them.

Consider three different strategies to regularly record ideas. One of these is a “thought Bloggie Pictures 069book.” It is can be a 3×5 card or extra small journal that is always in your pocket (and a pencil), although some prefer a small pad. On the thought book, write down any ideas that you don’t want to lose. An alternative device is a log. When students do group work, ask them to each keep an individual log. The log is to contain a record of the group’s work, a listing of their personal contributions, and their creative and evaluative thoughts. Every day, students can spend quality time with their ideas by jotting them down in their logs. This is a variation of the diary. A diary or log can be set up on a computer, pad or phone; in electronic form, a diary document can automatically be retrieved. This forces the user to record thoughts and happenings whenever time permits. Writing in a diary or log not only records your ideas, it can stimulate you to generate new ideas.


Stream of Consciousness

Sometimes, forcing yourself to write or to speak can generate ideas. Some authors have used the “stream of consciousness” approach to writing; they write constantly, recording as many thoughts as possible. The goal is to record and stimulate the movement of the mind among concepts. If it enters the mind, write it.



Stream of consciousness points out associations the mind makes. We can use association of concepts or terms to stimulate ideation. Sometimes, only a seed term is needed. The responders can then use each of their own responses as a stimulus for the next response, generating a long list of terms.

Another way to use association is to ask students to say or write the first thing that comes into their heads when they hear each of a list of terms. Try pairing students. Each individual is then given a list of terms, or generates their own list. They then ask their partners to make rapid associations with each of these terms. Sometimes, this stimulates new ideas.

Forced Connections

Association works because the mind makes a natural connection between two concepts. It may be the forcing together of two seemingly unrelated concepts. This “forced connections” technique can be used to generate “hybrid” ideas. The in-line skate known IMG_0377as the Rollerblade seems to be just such a hybrid idea that somebody developed by linking an ice skate and a roller skate, conceptually. The Swiss army knife is another example, but here the different parts are linked more physically than conceptually.

Here is an example to try with your students. Have each student write an individual list of five nouns. Select one noun from each of eight students, and write those eight nouns on the chalkboard. Ask each student to then develop an idea for a new product by making a new connection between two or more of the terms on the board. Consider the following list of eight nouns: “baseball, dog, father, chair, water, dress, flashlight, computer.” One new product idea is a chair for a child in the shape of a dog, but many more ideas are possible. Some masters of ideation pride themselves on their ability to force a connection between any two or three terms!


Morphological Charts

One way to use the forced connections technique is to make a morphological chart. This contains different properties of an item. For each property, a column of possibilities is presented. The designer then selects one particular from column A, one from column B, and so on. For example, let’s say students are designing a new chair, students could pick one attribute from each of several attribute categories (color, shape, comfort, materials, chair movement). One path through the categories in the chart would be the selection of a white plastic chair that does not rock, but swivels, is tall and of medium comfort. Other paths are possible; other lists are possible.


Concept / Mind Mapping

Using this strategy, the student begins by writing a critical concept on the center of a page. Lines would be drawn outward from that hub to represent the main concepts most strongly related to that initial hub concept. Each of those secondary concepts would then be used as a hub in the graphic identification of tertiary concepts. Sometimes, the secondary concepts are subsets of the hub, but sometimes they are not. The use of the terms ‘secondary’ and ‘tertiary’ is not meant to imply subordination.


Other Graphic Displays

A variety of other graphic display techniques may help students generate, organize, and structure their ideas. Storyboarding is a technique used in animation. Successive drawings show the scenes of a movie or commercial, as well as the critical action and dialog. By arranging these graphically, it can give a better sense of the flow of the project. PowerPoint and other presentation software also include a “slide sorter view,” or thumbnail view that is similar to a storyboard layout.

Venn diagrams may also prove useful in helping students sort out and organize their ideas. They can see which concepts are subsets, which ones share elements, and which do not share elements. While Venn diagrams may not directly ask the student to generate a new concept, they do ask them to consider the relationships among concepts, which might lead toward new problem solutions and/or ideas.

Flowcharting can be used to graphically illustrate a process. By putting different steps, or concepts, in boxes, a set of linkages with arrows may help with conceptualization. KWL charts are related. KWL charts ask student to list what they know, what they want to know and what they have learned about a topic.


Fooling Your Mind

Did you ever try to remember something (When was Colorado granted statehood?) only to find that you couldn’t? Sometimes, the best technique is to deliberately stop thinking about a problem. Some people call this “putting it on the back burner.” Walking around and creating frequent disruptions may stimulate creative ideas, just as it might stimulate memory. Some refer to this as “the discontinuity principle.” Fooling your mind with this “unconscious problem solving” also has the advantage of providing more time and a fresh look when you begin again. (Crossword puzzle connoisseurs often see answers on the second-go-around that they failed to see on the first time.)


Research (Experts, Experiments, Resources)

Probably the most overlooked source of ideas for art students to use in developing concepts and solve problems is research. While we may encourage our students to do some idea development, “Come up with ten thumbnail sketches!”—art teachers do not do enough, in general, to encourage students to find some of the already existing answers. If you really cared about a particular idea or approach to solving a problem, wouldn’t you attempt to learn all you could about the subject and how people might have investigated similar ideas in the past? Of course you would. This requires quite a bit of time on secondary research. This needs to be conveyed to students!


Questioning the Problem and its Assumptions

In “Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan,” it was noted that Captain James T. Kirk had been the only cadet at Star Fleet Academy to pass one particular test. (Sorry, I’m a sci-fi nerd.) The test was designed to see how an individual would react in a no-win situation. Our hero, however, won. He stated that he did not believe in a no-win situation, so he re-programmed the computer that was administering the test.

Have your students re-program their ideas or problems. Is the problem they think they are working on really a problem? Is their idea really the best possible approach to convey their intent? A farmer tried a number of different technological solutions in vain in an attempt to grow peaches. Finally, he said he came to the realization that peaches were not one of the crops that would grow on his land; his time was better spent in other activities—let someone else grow the peaches.

I use the “question the problem” technique with student teachers. During their seminar, student teachers often cite problems they are having with their students, usually regarding discipline. I ask them to fill in the blanks in the following sentence: “Maybe it’s not a (blank) problem, maybe it’s really a (blank) problem, instead.” A typical response by a student teacher is the following: “Maybe it’s not a discipline problem, maybe it’s a reading problem, instead.” A big part of ideation and problem solving is finding the appropriate concept to develop or problem to solve.


Using Words to Manipulate Ideas

Have a container of words that students can choose from that will further challenge their ideas, images, and/or approaches to creating: flatten, merge, cover, wrap, twist, remove, add motion, scale up or down, repeat, repurpose, fold, mirror, animate, reconfigure, telescope, rotate, attach, turn around or upside down, etc.



SCAMPER is an acronym for seven thinking techniques that help those who use them come up untypical solutions to problems. The thinking techniques are so common to human creative behavior that it might be more accurate to call SCAMPER a mnemonic for the collection of techniques rather than a technique of its own. A variation of SCAMPER includes an eighth technique and is therefore called SCAMPERR. (The invention of SCAMPER is attributed to Bob Eberle, author of books about creativity for children aimed at teachers.)

How to Use SCAMPER

At any point in a creative-thinking situation, alone or in a group, novel solutions emerge when those involved force themselves to think in an arbitrarily different way. For that reason, using any or all of the seven thinking approaches listed below will help those who use them produce surprising and sometimes very useful results.

Keep in mind the principal of force fitting. If you can’t think of anything in response to the SCAMPER prompt you’re using, then force a response, no matter how ridiculous it seems, and think of ways to make the non-logical response work.

S Substitute

Remove some part of the accepted situation, thing, or concept and replace it with something else.

C Combine

Join, affiliate, or force together two or more elements of your subject matter and consider ways that such a combination might move you toward a solution.

A Adapt

Change some part of your problem so that it works where it did not before.

M Modify

Consider many of the attribute of the thing you’re working on and change them, arbitrarily, if necessary. Attributes include: size, shape, other dimensions, texture, color, attitude, position, history, and so on.

P Purpose (Put to other use)

Modify the intention of the subject. Think about why it exists, what it is used for, what it’s supposed to do. Challenge all of these assumptions and suggest new and unusual purposes.

E Eliminate

Arbitrarily remove any or all elements of your subject, simplify, reduce to core functionality

R Reverse

Change the direction or orientation. Turn it upside-down, inside-out, or make it go backwards, against the direction it was intended to go or be used.

R Rearrange

Similar to Reverse, modify the order of operations or any other hierarchy involved.



Storytelling is a natural and vital part of being human, whether stories are expressed with images, words, or both. The stories and interests of our students provide natural opportunities for the creation of subject matter in art work. Provide opportunities for students to record, reflect on, and share their stories.

Encouraging Visual Storytelling

  • Listen thoughtfully to the stories your students share with you and the stories they share with each other.
  • Document the stories you hear in the classroom.
  • Categorize thematically the kinds of stories you hear in your classroom. (Do they relate to travel, family, sports, pets, etc.?)
  • Practice your dialogue skills to demonstrate genuine interest and regard for the art of storytelling.
  • Build a learning environment that cultivates respect for both visual and verbal storytelling.
  • Search for specific artists whose personal stories will be of interest to your students.
  • Create opportunities for self-reflection.
  • Design units of study that will provide opportunities for your students based upon their own personal experiences.



Create absurdities and new realities for the mundane using collage. Link “collage making” with other forms of brainstorming for create new ideas.


For the art educator to consider…


  • Did the idea originate with the student or with the teacher?
  • If the source was the student, did the idea evolve from his/her life experiences or previous artwork?
  • Who made most of the decisions about the work?   The person making the choices is the person learning.
  • Did the process supply most of the form or did the student?
  • Was the uniqueness of each students’s art expression encouraged?
  • Has novelty of materials become a defense from meaningful expression?

Producing the environment for novel and inventive solutions characterizes a well-composed problem. If the studio experience encourages flexibility, fluency, elaboration, and originality—it has met the four characteristics of creative thought.

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