Bob and Alice are just getting to know each other, and go to get coffee. While Alice excuses her self to use the washroom, Bob notices a sketchbook sticking out of her bag. Curious, he carefully tries to get a look inside. He catches a glimpse of drawings of what appear to be Alice's pet dog, her friends, her typewriter - and several of him. Alice returns and sees him peeking at the sketchbook. Bob apologises, but Alice doesn't mind, and they begin to bond over the drawings.
This is often done to show a hidden side of a character, or the sketchbook or one of the sketches may be a Chekhov's Gun. The main contents of the sketchbook, or the drawings/paintings if they are on loose sheets of paper, could have significance to the plot, but more often than not it's to try and add a hidden dimension and to have one character attempt to understand another better.
The Significant Sketchbook can also be significant in any other number of ways - it could be a MacGuffin (like the Grail diary was in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). It could reveal a hidden detail that the hero didn't earlier know about the central quest or adventure, when inspected by another character who spots what the hero always missed. In some more visual storytelling mediums such as film, TV and comic books, the sketchbook could serve as a notebook in which a character may record clues or observations, but pictures always look nicer than just lines of words. Generally, this is with a sketchbook or with pictures and drawings in a notebook, but occasionally happens with lines of code or cryptic words mixed in with the drawings.
If the sketches are all about a single person, it could become a case of Stalker with a Crush, and the drawings could be the audience's first clue. If a Creepy Child is in possession of such a sketchbook, it could become a Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book.
- In Detective Conan, on the Hatamoto Family arc, one member of the family draws sketches of his recently married cousin. He's the murderer, as he hated his grandfather for refusing to allow him to marry her and her fiance for taking her away, and killed the former and tried to frame the latter.
- Love Hina has the main character Keitaro own a sketchbook in which he draws pictures of beautiful girls, including his harem. One of the girls, upon deciding she likes him, sketches a portrait of Keitaro in his book as a gift for him.
- Sai's sketchbook from Naruto. Sakura tries to ask him about it to get to know him, but it only kind of works.
- In Private Actress, Fuyuka Sakuragi was a talented artist before dying in messy circumstances. Shiho checks on her sketchbook to see if there are clues about it. She finds many, many pictures of the local Alpha Bitch Kana, who happens to be Fuyuka's killer.
- And of course Sketchbook, about the everyday lives and simple joys of the members of a school art club who sketch in their...sketch...books.
- In Not Your Usual Veela Mate Lucius Malfoy happened across Draco's sketchbook, which contained a rather explicit drawing of Draco and Harry together.
- In Tarzan, Jane brings a sketchbook to her father's expedition to sketch the wildlife. When she tries to get one of the drawings from a baby baboon and gets chased by a whole troop of them, she gets rescued by Tarzan, which is how they first meet.
- In Your Name Taki, while Mitsyha, observes her home town of Itomori, and sketches it. He uses those sketches later in his search for the town, and a former resident recognizes it from them.
- At the end of American Psycho, Patrick Bateman's secretary finds his planner, which is filled with horrifying sketches of women being tortured, maimed and dismembered.
- DEBS. Amy is an aspiring artist. One scene shows her drawing a picture of her girlfriend Lucy while in class, which shows she's still attracted to her even though their relationship is forbidden. When she sees another student looking at the picture she gets embarrassed and closes the book.
- Eagle Eye has Jerry Shaw make sketches of his pet dog, and he puts them up on his wall as the dog lies under the table nonchalantly.
- In Fanboys, Eric has abandoned his dream of becoming a comic book artist to work for his dad as a used car salesman. However, he still often sketches and draws intricate comic-book-style art - and that's our clue that working at his Dad's establishment is not what he really wants.
- Seymour in Ghost World discovers Enid's sketchbook at one point, and feels crushed when he sees a portrait of himself portrayed as depressing and alone.
- The Lovely Bones- The sketchbook gives away Susie's murderer when her sister sees it.
- The Maiden Heist has three museum guard main characters who are all obsessed with their respective favourite art pieces, and manifest this in different ways. Charles (Morgan Freeman), sketches and paints reproductions and studies of the Dutch Golden-age Baroque Vermeer-seque painting "Young Woman With Cats", and his apartment wall his covered with such work.
- In Paul, Graeme does several sketches on the road, including one of Paul flipping the bird. He ends up illustrating Clive's book about Paul, and had earlier illustrated a comic book written by Clive.
- The movie Spiral features an introverted artist who obsesses over a woman and draws her over and over again.
- In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), after the turtles flee from New York and hide out on April's old family farm, April draws sketches of the different turtles throughout their stay. When they return to New York she gives one of them to Danny, and when the Shredder finds the picture he realizes that the turtles have returned.
- The well-known movie sketchbook and the one in the picture belongs to Jack Dawson. In Titanic, Rose first sees Jack as he is sketching on the deck, and he shows her some of the drawings. Later, there is the famous scene where she requests that Jack sketch her in the nude (her, not Jack).
- In the Liam Neeson-starring thriller Unknown, Martin Harris seeks shelter in Gina the taxi driver's house. He sees a sketchbook and begins to look at it, but she snaps at him and snatches the sketchbook back.
- In The Way Back, artist Tomasz trades erotic sketches with thugs for food in the Gulag. During the long trek, he never stops drawing, and does several sketches of Irena (the orphaned Polish girl they pick up along the way) as she sleeps. Towards the tail-end of the journey, the surviving team members go over his drawings and reminisce. Tomasz dies, and is buried with his pencil hanging from the cross that marks his grave.
- In The Demon's Covenant, Mae goes through her boyfriend's sketchbook, and finds that it contains nothing but sketches of her brother.
- In the Degrassi episode I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, Ellie sees some art that Jimmy's been working on and notices pictures of the shooting. Ellie compliments Jimmy's drawings at lunch, saying she has discovered a different and disturbing side of him. Jimmy reveals that he took up drawing recently to pass the time. In class, Jimmy gets an email from Ellie talking about a Horror Comics of the 1950's convention. After they go he tells her that he draws what he imagines when he closes his eyes, as he can say everything that he needs to say with a pen and paper.
- Doctor Who:
- "City of Death": An artist in a French café spontaneously sketches the Doctor's beautiful Time Lady companion, Romana. The final sketch shows her with a clock for a head, which the Doctor comments is a good likeness.
- "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood": The Doctor temporarily becomes human and dreams of his adventures as a Time Lord, drawing/recording them in a journal.
- In a season 2 episode of Elementary, Sherlock figures out that Moriarty has secretly been sending out codes to her former lieutenant by hiding them in a series of portrait sketches. This later proves to be a crucial clue in solving the mystery of the episode.
- In Kamen Rider Kabuto, Hiyori spends much of the early episodes doodling in one. Her drawings foreshadow later plot developments.
- Daisy flips through Tim's sketchbook in Spaced, growing increasingly disturbed as she finds every page filled with violent revenge fantasies about his ex-girlfriend... and finds the last page is a charming sketch of Tim, Daisy and their dog Colin with word "Happiness" written underneath. Aww!
- The defendant of case 4 of Ace Attorney Apollo Justice is a shut-in and a Shrinking Violet. She uses her sketchbook to indicate moods (instead of actually changing her facial expression) or subjects.
- In the Adventure Game version of Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, a mute character communicates by writing in a small notebook. Near the end of the game you have the option to ask him what he'll do when the notebook runs out. He doesn't know.
- The 1980s video game The Eidolon has a sketchbook for a manual, showing illustrations of the various creatures and traps encountered by the last person to use the eidolon.
- In Fire Emblem Awakening, the Avatar's supports with Libra involve them discussing his artistic talent and the contents of his sketchbook.
- Chidori's sketchbook, although never explicitly shown inside, is a gauge of her personality in Persona 3. When she's first introduced, she's drawing an abstract picture, and claims that nobody else would be able to understand it. After her death, Junpei looks inside her sketchbook, and finds that it is filled with drawings of him.
- Homestuck: Invoked by Caliborn, with his own straw-misogynist god-awful webcomic.
- In MegaTokyo, Piro accidentally leaves his sketchbook behind in a comic-store, and a girl finds it and tries to return it to him, apparently falling for him in the process - it's mostly filled with manga-style drawings, and she admires the emotional way he draws his female characters. (She gets mostly forgotten by the story when things pick up between Piro and his future girlfriend, though.)
- The story remembers her again later... she now stars in her own sideplot with her own magical girl antics.
- Played for Laughs on Daria—Daria is tasked with bringing her crush, Trent, his notebook of song lyrics for a gig. She takes a look inside:
"My heart is like an open wound/That reads the tea leaves of its doom." What. "Soothe me with redemption's love/Like a heat-proof kitchen glove." God, I hope this is a first draft.