There’s something almost magical about sketchbooks.
Most of the time mine live on a shelf in the corner of the studio. When I have an exhibition though, they’re dusted off and displayed alongside the framed paintings, prints and canvases on the walls. I’ve noticed people are often fascinated by them – sometimes more so than they are with the work on the walls! Visitors can spend ages poring over the pages, and often return several times to do more book-browsing. I’ve often been asked if they are for sale – they’re not – simply because I have absolutely no idea how to put a value on them – and because, for me, they are irreplaceable.
Artists’ sketchbooks take many forms, from a small pocket field book for simple pencil sketches, to an elaborate, hard back, mixed media journal. They also serve different purposes for each artist.
At Chelsea College, where I studied textile design, we had a sketchbook for each project. These sketchbooks contained all our ideas from initial thoughts to colour notes, design, layout and display for the finished work. They were colourful, inspiring, creative books, bulging with scraps of paper and fabric and technique try-outs; magazine clippings. I always loved seeing other artists books at the end of the project – so can understand the fascination with them.
These days own sketchbooks contain mostly line drawings, done on my various travels or when out and about on location in Greece. Occasionally, if in a place without much immediate inspiration I’ll draw from old photos on my iPad.
I tend to draw with a waterproof artists pen or a cartridge or fountain pen with waterproof ink. Sometimes, I’ll map out the composition lightly in pencil first, but mostly I like to draw directly on the page with black ink. Usually I’ll then colour the drawings with watercolour – I carry a small set with me everywhere – and a water brush. Sometimes the colour goes down on the page first, and I’ll draw on top of the dry paint.
If my internal critic is being a pain, I may well spend a whole session drawing with my non-dominant hand – its a useful technique to keep the critic quiet, and can produce some really lovely drawings. My other favourite critic-beater is to draw without looking at the paper – drawing ‘blind’ – covering the line of sight to the paper, which can create some really interesting drawings.
What started out as a way to keep a record of my summer holidays, and to record my surroundings, to practice drawing skills and function as a visual diary have now become a really crucial part of my whole art practice. A while ago I set a personal challenge of doing a drawing a day and filled books of all shapes and sizes with a huge assortment of drawings every day for a year and a half! I’ve since relaxed and tend to draw less frequently at the moment but I have become very fond of re-purposing some of my sketches – using a selection of transfer print techniques and re-sizing and re-drawing, my sketches now gain a new lease of life in mixed media paintings and layered collage pieces.