Monday, 27 October 2014

What counts as a Sketchbook?

I often include pages or single drawings from my sketchbooks in my blog posts and they are an important part of my practice. I've been asked by a friend to give a talk next month to a local art group about sketchbooks and how I use them and this has concentrated my mind - that and the buying of an iPad, and the small amount of time spent playing with it recently.

All this has prompted me to consider how I define the word sketchbook and to think about how I use my variants and why.

In general, for me it's a storage method for all those ideas, experiments and workings around things (I love that especially) that happen as a piece of work evolves. I include notes to myself that record thoughts as I work or reflections on what I've done. Some of my sketchbooks contain casual drawings, textile samples (like this one here), photographs I've taken or collected, scraps of memorabilia, visual amusements, photos of work by other artists and things that idly catch my eye and get recorded. These may never be used further or they may pop up, often unbidden, to be used at sometime in the future.

Sketchbooks, of course, come in an enormous range of sizes and formats and I own many. I love them all. I own large ones that I use more like journals to record my progress towards work, tiny ones that fit easily in a pocket or a bag for carrying around for those casual on the spot drawings when I'm out and about, and various square shaped ones that seem particularly adaptable. One of these is a favourite one of medium size that seems to be a particularly good receptacle for more considered and planned drawings. This one feels to me like a silent and listening friend and is particularly precious to me right now. I have shown pictures from it on this blog many times before.

I enclose above a page from a recent large journal, showing some of my 'working around the subject' of the recent black and white pieces. It also shows work by Denise Jones that seemed relevant to me. I came across her work last year in the Pop Up gallery at a favourite haunt of mine, Brewery Arts in Cirencester. A quick look at her work on the website (that I'd not seen till now) shows a rather uncanny similarity to some of my recent thoughts ... 3D and more trees!

Of course, the storage of material may not be in book form at all. Some of this stuff may be too big, too bulky or oddly shaped to fit in a book and finds itself stored in a box or on a 'record shelf' in my work room with associated things. Earlier this year I made some 3 D pieces and I have kept the paper mock-ups of those. Another one is planned (but not yet made) and shown here.

There is something special about the book form though. It is beautifully tactile. It has a special sense of entity that holds the work together - a sort of cocoon protecting the work - and provides a record of all the time spent.

It also has a great advantage for me - I'm inherently untidy and things get lost. A book keeps everything together, is easily carried about and can be flicked through as I search for ideas or reflect on what I have been doing.

To this range of storage possibilities, in my mind I will now be adding my iPad. I plan to use it for quick sketches and drawings, particularly when I'm out and about. So far, with very little time available, I've tried out the little package called Paper that I mentioned in a previous post. It seems very limited in scope but I do like the way it organises and displays completed drawings - in a book-style format with 'pages' that can be turned over with a brush of the hand. As a way of storing drawings in an accessible way, it certainly seems to qualify as a sketch book.

Also, of course, now I've taken this tack, there is my long-used PC. It stores thousands of photographs I've taken - some just because I like what I see and want to give it permanence, others deliberately for a particular project. I have special files in my directory for all sorts of textile-related topics so that I can find what I want quickly and easily (at least that's the intention!)

This then has set me thinking still further. There is of course blogging - definitely a diary of what I think and do but is it an online sketchbook? It has become part of my process and  I can certainly look through my blog and review what I've done in the past.

It seems to contextualise my work and give it a presence, offering a way to receive feedback and reassurance. Perhaps, in fact, that is the special contribution of the blog post. It records thoughts and gives the work a presence in a way nothing else does.

There are lots of other thoughts on this topic buzzing around in my head just now ... I may post further later when I have more sketchbook work to show.


  1. Congrats on being asked to give a talk! I love what I see of your sketchbooks. I was never able to use one like you and most other artists do. Yours are very inspiring!

    1. Thank you very much, Connie. I love doing them. They give me the freedom to explore and do 'What if?' before I get down to the more serious business of creating a piece.

  2. You will be a wonderful speaker ! I have been filling a few sketchbooks but hadn't always ... and I love going back through them. I hadn't given much thought to all the other safe storage spots we all have for our ideas, photos, inspirations and snippets, besides the sketchbook ... our blogs certainly can be deemed sketchbooks, too. Good Luck on your talk !

  3. Thank you, Sharron. I hope so. I certainly have lots I want to say ...
    I've just been on your blog - always a pleasure - that tree is wonderful - so graphic. I think our work is in many ways so similar in its subject matter and all that black and white!


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