Below are the notes from a workshop held by OCA tutor Polly Harvey on sketchbooks, which was funded by OCASA earlier this year. The post is taken from Polly’s blog, and a pdf is available here: blog post sketchbooks
Keeping Sketchbooks, by Polly Harvey, 2017
‘My Sketchbook is a witness of what I am experiencing, scribbling things whenever they happen’Vincent Van Gogh
What is a sketchbook and what should it do?
- Show your development and progress-offers time to pause, record and reflect
- Show your voice and observations; clarify your vision and thoughts.
- Help develop your drawing skills, visual awareness and imagination
- Record objects, places events and everyday life
- Your sketchbook can be a visual diary, reference point or exploration of materials
- Allow space for immediate and spontaneous work
- Try something out, ask questions and evaluate its success; move onto new ideas and solutions
What should be included in a sketchbook?
- Collection of imagery and exploration of materials
- Drawing- quick drawing, loose drawing, longer observational drawing, drawing from memory, drawing from imagination
- Show what has interested and intrigued you-this might include photographs, textiles, magazine and newspaper articles, found objects
- Use it to investigate starting points for your work and resources for future reference • Written notes about texture, scale, colour, method, technique, form, tone, composition in relation to your own work and artists you are researching
- Experimentation with different materials, colour combinations, overlays, collage, printmaking, colour washes, found papers Using a different medium forces you to look at a subject in a different way
- Thumbnail sketches- these can help plan final imagery in terms of testing composition and colour schemes-make notes alongside them to record your thoughts.
- Observation, reflection and invention.
Sketchbooks should show your bad as well as your good visual progress- discuss your weaker work and try to find solutions for improvement.Students agreed many were unsure of how to structure a sketchbook in terms of making everything flow and how to show clear developments of an idea from start to finish. The following can be useful to help guide your ideas.
How to structure a sketchbook
Ideas and starting points: Mindmaps and written notes
Theme and artist research: Arrange and Stick in photographs of exhibitions, print outs of artists work and discuss process, content and materials used. Make notes about how they relate to your own work, compare and contrast. Add in your own artists studies which might emulate style/ content or way of working.
Direction and avenue of research: Spider diagrams, lists, initial drawing and thumbnail sketches. Draw out your plans and ideas visually – this might included studies or plans. Add some notes alongside and write up a more thorough passage in your learning log; Ask yourself questions as starting points:
- ! Where has your research led you?
- What will do you now and how will you do it?
Playing with process
Drawing: Some may be quick and loose to try out compositions or materials. Use a range of drawing materials to explore different avenues- these might include graphite, drawing fluid charcoal, pencil, pastels and ink. Mark making: explore feeling, shape, texture, shape and form. Use a range of materials, try out new methods and ways of working. Explore and expand you ideas; if you are used to drawing very small- get out of your comfort zone and draw big. Have fun combining materials and enjoy this process of play which will lead to new discoveries.
Other areas of exploration might include: printmaking, collage, photography and mixed media.
Experimentation with: colour, composition, form, tone, shape, content.
STOP and step back: Evaluation and critical reflection
It is important to step away from your work at this point and try to be critical. Use your learning log to evaluate your process so far.
- What should this include?
- Which pieces do I consider to be successful/ less successful and why?
- Which areas have I struggled with and how will I overcome these problems?
- What have I enjoyed and learnt ?
- How has my work so far contributed to my development?
- What will I do now?
Additional experimentation and producing variations
Try out final images in different ways in order to guide your evaluation. These might alter in scale, colour, composition etc. Consider presentation of your final pieces. Sew together loose pages using the guidance below and include loose larger pieces in a small folder or document/ archive box.
Final evaluation and conclusion
Use your sketchbook work to help you evaluate. Again, use questions above and below to help prompt you if you find this difficult:
- What have I learnt from this project?
- What else might I do to improve or extend this project if I had more time?
- How can I address and improve on any weaknesses?
- Has this inspired any new ideas or direction?
Binding your own sketchbooks
When it comes to handing in your sketchbooks, it can be useful to label sections which relate to specific projects, another option is to work on loose pages and sew these together at a later date in order to document your process in an ordered manner. A simple bookbinding technique which can be used to collect loose pages is Japanese stab binding. (Details are shown in the pdf version of this blog post
The difference between your sketchbook and your learning log
Your sketchbook should dominantly explore practical techniques with some written notes to help you remember key points. Your learning log is heavily focused on helping you discuss, reflect and evaluate your practice as it grows. It is a journal which can include your thoughts and feelings, something which can help you plan ideas, collect evidence, assess your progress and reflect upon what your experimentations and outcomes.
Sotbart, Jane (2011) Extraordinary Sketchbooks: Inspiring Examples From Artists, Designers, Students and Enthusiasts. A&C Black Publishers
Lupton, Ellen (2008) Indie Publishing: How to Design and Produce Your Own Book. (Design Brief series). Princeton Architectural Press