Sketch books revisited

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156th Blog post – Sketchbooks revisited

Back in early 2019 I wrote a blog about how I use my sketchbook and how you might consider using yours. Over two years have passed, and the basic message is the same, but I have updated it a bit, though I am re-using some of the artwork I included in the original post. [In the current climate – pun intended – I think some recycling is to be encouraged. Ed]

My practice and the work I produce have also changed. Most of my sketchbook work is rough and is simply a series of experiments and mark making or a reminder to myself that I can still produce realistic drawings when I feel like it. For others, I know that their sketch books are works of art in themselves.

I know that there are hundreds of thousands of artists out there, many far more talented and better known than me, but there are even more unknown artists who are just getting started or maybe taking up art for the first time. The Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns etc. have seen many more people pick up a pencil or paint brush.

To those people, I hope you will find what I have to say useful. I do need you to know that I don’t present myself as the fount of all knowledge here. I am just talking about how I use my sketchbook, which may help you with using yours.

Firstly, why? Why did I originally decide to share this with you? It came about because someone I was chatting to about my Instagram and Facebook posts was slightly confused as to the difference between the posts and the finished works I produce. I had wrongly assumed that people would understand that the daily posts I was making back then, were small parts of what would become a whole at some point in time.

The reason for this, I suspect, is that like most artists, I fill in pages and pages and pages of sketchbooks experimenting with different marks, colours, shapes, blends etc. and fill numerous books before I make a start on something bigger. My sketchbook is where I experiment, where I play, where I make mistakes and where, hopefully, ideas blossom. I regularly flick through these books searching for inspiration, looking to see what worked and what didn’t, picking apart bits to try scaling up to larger works.

Once I’m happy, and this can take months, I will then start on medium-sized paper or canvas and once happy with that I will use something bigger. Going back to the original posts and taking you through some of the steps you can see here the very first layer in my sketchbook:

In this first image from my sketchbook, I was using only two colours and moving them around the page with brushes, my fingers and by blowing air from an aerosol can at the puddles.

This turned into the image below. The organic initial layer made me think of water, plants and the fish I keep. So, I experimented with adding lines in a plant-like fashion to enhance the first layer. This I did repeatedly, filling up three large concertina sketch books before I was anything close to being happy.

I then experimented on a larger sheet of paper. I really wasn’t happy with that outcome so, initially, I put it to one side, coming back to it later, when I cut the pieces into random but organic shapes. I still have a bag full of these shapes, which I pull out from time to time.

After more experimenting in my sketchbook and the discovery of a long canvas which had paint splatters on it, I decided to really go to town and made the piece below:

This piece became the springboard for a series of coral/underwater seascape pieces I produced throughout the latter part of 2018. Whilst I am very happy with the outcome, I decided not to make more like this but to pare back the work to produce a very simple version. I produced a dozen or so small works using the cut-out pieces on 4-inch square canvases and covered in resin, which was probably also the start of the shapes I am currently playing with in my sketchbook.

However, the piece below did have the addition of a luminous layer, which is rather fun as it glows in the dark. It quickly found a new home with a lovely young lady.

Then, because I am such a lover of colour, I started playing and produced this piece:

Then I thought I would try to be a little more adventurous and produced this piece with additional plants and rocks, which I felt should be included.

All these large pieces have three or four layers of clear resin added and most of them glow in the dark. This piece is currently hanging in my hallway and is not for sale. The photograph really doesn’t do it justice, but I love it.

Continuing to work in my sketchbook, I went on to produce a series of works with pen and ink. I was still thinking about seas and plants but as we keep fish, I am also aware that air bubbles sit on the surfaces of objects in the water so I spent a lot of time drawing circles whilst imagining all the creatures which could potentially be hiding in the water.

Inevitably that work moved on but, still sticking with circles, I decided to play more with the size of these circles and with imperfect circles, too.

I am currently working through ideas around blocks of colour layered over each other, with the addition of the much-loved circles and then playing with colour combinations.

This particular experimental process has been going on for a while now. I have played with larger shapes on paper which I have cut up and used, where I think this is appropriate, for my handmade leather journals.

I then moved to making small versions inspired by my sketchbooks which I had framed, and some have sold. Covid-19 has made exhibiting difficult and my website has been tinkered with too many times. The person working on it currently appears to be my knight in shining armour.

In these latest small works, I have indulged my love of print making and used a lino cut on some of them as in the example below:

Every piece is still an experiment though clearly if I’m using the best quality products, the final intention is more considered than just making a few marks in a sketchbook.

For me the next stage will be to produce these in large format either on really good quality watercolour paper or on canvas. When I can create some working space in our new home and unpack my paints, brushes etc., I will embark on that new journey and I will of course share it on Instagram, Facebook and, if I feel the results are worthy, the shop area of my website.

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