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June - What are sketchbooks for?

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

I keep a sketchbook as an act of noticing. I practice yoga as a way of slowing in the incessant push to achieve and get things done. I find time with my sketchbook a similar mindset - it is time to explore, to slow, to notice and to record. Both activities are time I spend with myself - connecting inwards to my passion for art and making and connecting outwards to all that we are. A day spent drawing is an exploration of being human - coming face to face with expectations, failures, unexpected delights as well as the physical process of looking and seeing surface, shape, pattern and line.

Like yoga, drawing is a practice and a regular commitment reaps dividends. It enables us to slow and look and notice. In that, we make decisions about what we want to record and how we see the world. It is reflective time and totally absorbing.

Do you have to be good at it? I still get so much enjoyment from yoga without being able to do a perfect sun salutation. Like my yoga class, my drawing courses are more about process than outcomes. Besides which, being 'good' is subjective. I can Google 'famous artists sketchbook' and be impressed by the accomplishments of some of the great artists of history but then there are contemporary artists I follow on Instagram whose energy and mark-making make my heart leap in a way that a more traditional artist doesn't. I do not seek to capture reality in a photographic sense, I seek to be informed by it, to be inspired by it and to take those inspirations into my sketchbook.

What is a sketchbook for? I think ultimately it isn't for anything - and that is the point - that is the joy. Although some artists create sketchbooks as their finished works of art, most are places for the creative journey rather than the destination. A sketchbook is a private space to create, gather, make mistakes and discover seeds of ideas and processes that you can grow.

Sketchbooks are about process - a safe space. They need no frame, no Pinterest photo. They can be purely image based or image and text - notes to self about how to develop ideas and images. I like to collect and gather, to draw and to add collage - the layers start to build and paint meets line meets collage and sparks start to fly. Stories start to be told as I collage with a found shopping list or a piece of text - these add context and narrative.

Having been a commercial designer, I got used to letting my 'art' go - selling designs to make an income. At the time my designs were all handworked embroidered samples. They were little pieces of me sold into the world. When I became an artist, it is my framed pieces that go into the world. I have to let them go. But my sketchbooks stay, they are my creative companions - friends to be revisited, often years down the line. Through them, I came to know myself.

One of the highlights of lockdown has been Grayson Perry's Art Club (Channel 4) and I am sad that it has now ended. I felt it was a unifying experience for creatives in lockdown - a sense of a wider tribe living by creative values. Perry's perception of art isn't elitist - he attributes the word 'art' far and wide and engages us all in the process. One of his comments that I have taken away with me is that "your style is found in the mistakes that you make". When I look back at my sketchbooks I can see the strands of me, that come through tentatively at first and then find their voice. I can see where I have identified a passion or a technique and built upon it. I can see where the accidents happened but led to more trial and error - sometimes the errors were more interesting than the expected outcome. When I lose my way, my sketchbooks, like reading an old diary, bring me back to my path.

So, what are sketchbooks for? They're for so much! But if I had to sum it up, sketchbooks help us connect to our innate creativity and visualise our world.

I run a range of online courses that show you how to make your own mixed media sketchbooks, draw boldly and add colour, pattern and interest. Find out more about my courses here.

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