Part 1: Everyday sketchbooks

Research task 1:0 - Emma’s sketchbook

I found Emma’s sketchbook really inspiring and helpful as guidance for how I may possibly make use of my sketchbooks in future. The photo below shows a table I made to record my observations and how they might impact on my future practice.

Exercise 1.0: What sort of sketchbook should I use?

The word ‘should’ always causes me a problem because it suggests there is a ‘right’ way of doing things and I feel this is something that really hinders me in my use of sketchbooks and as an artist in general.  I am determined to use this unit to really try and break out of the shackles of should and step out of my comfort zone. So I am going to think about what sketchbooks I use now, and how my choices for which ones I might use in the future can help me become free!

Current use

I currently use cheap A5 sketchbooks for location sketching.  This is quite big for some of my bags though so I often find I am without a sketchbook when there is something I want to sketch.  My only other use has been for this course. For that I have used A4 hardbacked sketchbook which I’ve used mainly for development work like thumbnailing, character design and visuals.  I have not put my research or initial mind maps in it. I’ve put those in a learning log notebook. Despite the format being conducive to creating double page spreads, I never have. I’m not sure why, perhaps it scares me for some reason!  The paper in these sketchbooks is quite thick but doesn’t have much tooth so isn’t good for wet media.  

Alongside this main sketchbook I did start a supporting A5 one which I wanted to experiment and play about in, then use those techniques in my work for the exercises and assignments.  This kind of worked but I don’t feel I explored in a free enough way. Everything I did in there still seemed to be for a reason, as part of an exercise rather than ‘just because’.  

I lot of my coursework and assignment work is loose leaf.  

Questions about sketchbooks

  • I do have a fear of ‘ruining’ a sketchbook so I would never buy an expensive sketchbook.  I would end up only wanting to put ‘perfect’ drawings in it, perhaps that I had already practised before!  I know I need to embrace my mistakes and am hoping that is something I will get more comfortable with over the course of this unit.  

  • I think that the types of paper I like to use is determined by what I am using it for.  I do try to embrace different types of paper trying to find which works best for which media etc. Having a variety in a sketchbook would be perfect for me I think.  This can’t be predetermined however, otherwise I would feel like I had to match my choice of drawing and media to whatever piece of paper came next. This would shackle me with ‘should’ more. 

  • My default button seems to be to work small but I love the freedom of working on a bigger scale.  I like to produce final artwork at A3 or larger so perhaps having an A3 sketchbook would be an option for me.  Alternatively if I make my own sketchbook of an A4 size I could work at a larger scale and add it to the sketchbook folded.  

  • I haven’t been a fan of spiral bound sketchbooks or notebooks because I find the binding becomes misshapen after a while but I can see that the spiral allows for adding extra pieces of work into a sketchbook.  This would be useful.  

  • I am not yet comfortable with anyone seeing what I am drawing when I’m sketching outside which is why I just use a small  A5 sketchbook. I buy cheap ones so I can fold them over without worrying that I’m ruining it.

Going forward

I want to continue to carry an A5 sketchbook for location work, but think it would be good to get some A6 ones too so I can always have one in my bag.  Perhaps I can make these. I want to start documenting everything in one place, from research and initial idea generation through to visuals because I think it is important to see the process as a whole rather than a bit here, a bit there.  I also want to include more analysis in my sketchbook, rather than just documenting it in my learning log or on my blog. All of this means I need different types of paper in my sketchbook and after watching the ‘Emma’s Sketchbook’ video I am really inspired to make myself a sketchbook like hers because it allows you to add whatever you like into it.  

Exercise 1.1 What is your relationship with your sketchbook?

As touched upon in the previous exercise, my relationship with my sketchbook is all bound up either ‘should’ or ‘it’s not good enough’.  How good should my drawing be? What should go in it? What should it look like? I don’t ever rip out pages though, I just feel that they ruin the sketchbook and I can’t wait to start a new one.  I was always wondering whether my coursework sketchbook looks like it should and questioning whether I am doing it right.  I find myself comparing my sketchbook work with others I see on social media.  Compare and despair. But I also struggle living up to my own expectations. “That’s not how I pictured it in my head.” I don’t think I am a natural sketchbook keeper. But then what does one of those look like?

The photos below are of some of my coursework sketchbooks, I have tried to include photos that show a range of uses.

The photos below are from various other sketchbooks, mostly depicting people studies and location sketches.

Through this unit, I would like to develop my use of sketchbooks to include more experimental work, to be freer and to explore areas of illustration that I think need improving.  In addition to looking at the sketchbooks of other artists and illustrators as research and inspiration, I am really keen to find my own way of using them. One that works for me.  I have used my research into Emma’s and the other artist’s sketchbooks to help inform a vision for my future sketchbooks. The photo below shows this vision.

I found Emma’s handmade sketchbook really inspiring.  It allows for the addition of extra pages to be stuck in at a later date which is something I often find myself needing.  It also means I can use any type of paper which I find appealing. I used what Emma showed us in her video and some images and articles on Pinterest to help me make my own sketchbook.  I chose A4 size because I wanted to make sure it was manageable for my first attempt and I felt that I can put A3 work in folded. The photo below shows my process with annotations. This can also be found in my sketchbook.  

I did make a few mistakes and learnt from this during the process and will continue to learn from them when I make my next one.  

1st - folded inaccurately

2nd - scored on the wrong side

3rd - measured on the wrong side

4th - not enough pressure scoring

5th - initial spine too flimsy

I covered the sketchbook with everyday images from magazines.


Exercise 1.2: Making mistakes - working fast and cutting up

I chose unconventional mark making tools to challenge myself and potentially spark new ideas and processes.  I also decided to use different media and papers too.

I set a timer so I didn’t get distracted by adding too much detail and kept my marks quite gestural focusing on the overall shape rather than worrying about correct perspective. I chose small compositions with just a few items because I wanted to work large. Trying to fit in more elements would have made me focus on detail too much and be less gestural. Before creating these drawings I felt anxious and all the usual what ifs came to mind. Then I realised it is the ‘what ifs’ I’m looking for, the mistakes that I can learn from and the happy accidents. Once I started drawing I found it liberating. Making gestural marks is a really free way of drawing and I think it yielded interesting results. It was so nice not to be making such careful marks all the time. The photos below show my drawings with the tools I used.

I particularly like the first image done in acrylic ink because I like the awkward perspective. It was done on glossy photo paper and I think the finish is really effective. I also think the drawing of the boxes and sketchbooks (bottom left) works well, especially the spiral created with the fork and the scrappy lines made with the silicone tool.

I then made each drawing into a booklet, one for each design. This is shown below on a page from my sketchbook.

Once they were made into books, the drawings suddenly turned into other things. I looked at them in different ways and added to the drawings with whatever came to mind. For the plant pot I added colour and light and shade. It think it looks really effective cropped in this way. The city rooftops also look good as a cropped composition. I particularly like the birds head because I think the effect of Neocolour wax pastel over the black ink and the rough mark making looks really effective.

I really loved this activity because I felt no pressure for anything to be right; it was just playing, improvising. It is a great exercise for encouraging me to look at things in different ways and is one I will come back to when considering composition.

Exercise 1.3: How personal do you want your sketchbook to be? To hide or not to hide?

My sketchbooks are not secret, perhaps because I don’t use them as a diary or a place to record my innermost thoughts. Mostly I’m not happy with what goes in them but I don’t keep them away from other people on purpose. If they want to look, I’ll show them and just explain what is not good about my drawings! The exception to this is when I’m drawing on location where I will try to cover what I am doing with my body. This impacts negatively on my drawing because it means I am too aware of people being around, and not present enough in my artwork.

To hide the mini booklets I made in the previous exercise I started with some research into book structures that hide elements on Pinterest as suggested in the course handbook. Then I made the following drawings and prototypes.

These are the final structures with the books hidden in them. They are fastened at the top in the sketchbook now to make them really hidden.