Put me in an art shop with a little spare cash and I'll find my way to the sketchbooks. I love the feel of fresh new paper encased in a shiny black hard cover, pristine and ready for me to explore and use for any creative experiments. I can't keep my hands off them, they're just like sweets and of course I have quite a few - one or two are even full up!
I even had one made for myself by a local bookbinder who filled it with a mix of papers I'd chosen, and bound it together with spacers so I could add loose work to it, and he put my name in gold letters on the front. How wonderful was that? It's A3 sized and I'm trying to fill it with portraits but it's taking a long time.
If you're new to using a sketchbook or are a little unsure of how to start, you could easily be put off and feel pressurized to produce something wonderful in it. Don't be, it's yours, go mad - no one need ever know! But if your aim is to produce a beautiful book, then there are lots of examples of completed sketchbooks out there - look on YouTube or google for example where you'll find loads including lots of GCSE and A level students sketchbooks. I tried making a visual diary once with Linda and Laura Kemshall, aiming to make each page a record of life over a 3 month period. Although it was enormous fun to do and lovely to have something as a record of those 3 months, it isn't how I usually use a sketchbook, they're a lot more random that that! You can see a video of its contents here.
How do sketchbooks help me?
As an ideas depository and a way of remembering all the things, silly or otherwise, that come to me at random throughout a day. Maybe I'll have been to a gallery and seen something that's resonated with me, or picked up some overheard words on the radio or seen on a piece of graffiti. I grab a sketchbook, find a clean page and jot things down or draw a little picture. This clears my mind and allows me to progress my ideas knowing that it's all been safely recorded. After all, no one can remember everything!
2 pages from a sketchbook showing recorded ideas for future work.
Sometimes my sketchbook is just a no-pressure vent for any creative juices. A place to try out a new pen or give a new technique a run through.
String pulling using Quink.
Do you ever sit in front of the TV, or perhaps get up one morning, and just feel the need to be creative but you're not sure how or what to do? Your sketchbook is the ideal place to just play, perhaps you could brainstorm about how your feeling, do a quick little drawing of what's in front of you, or mix some paint colours on a gelli press to see what happens. Below is a page using the gelli press and stencils.
You might want to make a finished, considered piece of work, and use your sketchbook simply to work through ideas of placement and colour for example. If however, you dream of doing a wonderful painting, or in my case an art quilt, but flounder because you run out of steam after the initial thoughts, take heart and record them anyway as ideas about what to include in the piece will invariably change over time, and at least you'll have a head start when you revisit.
This idea was for a pencil sketch on gold leaf, which had bits of an underpainted colour showing through. It wasn't successful of itself but the idea is there, it's remembered, it's mine, and I can come back to it with a fresh outlook later on. Priceless.
A sketchbook is also a good place to store little bits and bobs that you collect through life eg tickets to exhibitions, wine labels, stamps, or in the case below a postcard. Can you just make it out in the middle right? It's an image of the roof of the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford. All I've done is stuck it into my sketchbook at used pen and watercolours to extend the image out over my page. There's no reasoning behind this one, it was one of those "I wonder what would happen if....." moments.
You can cut away or tear the pages too so there's less to fill, and you create a layered feeling. Here is a drawing of a seedhead and a torn page on top with a little watercolour flower.
If you have a ring bound sketchbook, you'll find it easier to do printing as you can bend the cover right back out of the way. I like the hard bound ones, and it's still possible to print directly into them but I confess it's trickier. Here's a monoprint of Mr Portillo - a family member managed to snap a selfie with him.
Still feel you can't draw? Why not trace and work into it with colours or use black and white to show tones?
Here's a page with a monoprint of a heron, traced from a book, which was then worked into with paint.
A sketchbook allows you to work through ideas, to play, to have a go, to record, to collect, to paint, to draw, to print, to mess up, to have fun. Use it whenever you can!