Making a sketchbook and playing with colour

Earlier this year, I discovered Access Art which is a site intended for art teachers and students run by artists Paula Briggs and Sheila Ceccarelli ; it is packed full of resources and worth the subscription for full access.  They also run short online courses and I recently participated in a course to develop sketchbook skills.  My aim in taking the course was to have a sketchbook that was to realise the wider scope of a sketchbook practice.  I already have several for drawing and recording process but I was looking forward to stepping over boundaries that keep me from spontaneous expression using colour.  I think that the course has helped in this regard: I have never put as much on paper as I have in the past six weeks or so! And some of it I actually like and want to show…

The course began with making a sketchbook… this is an important first step because it already takes you beyond the confines of the white page… we were encouraged to make our own from all kinds of paper that we might not necessarily associate with drawing… we were also encouraged to include flaps, pockets, things that reveal and conceal…   Here is a selection of pages which I made for my sketchbook.  This involved selection, design, cutting, pasting, spontaneity…and not too much thought, which is liberating in itself…


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The cover was made with a piece of corrugated cardboard, which I painted in Ecoline fluid watercolours in different designs. 

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 The front cover was a bit garish for me and I covered it in muslin to tone it down a bit which also created a pleasant fabric feel to the sketchbook, to which I added a ribbon for colour and a feeling of privacy.  It definitely has a home-made feel but I like its cheerful appearance and have grown quite attached to it! The pages are fixed inside using a thick elastic band, which allows for pages to be added or removed, if you wish.  The process couldn’t be lower risk!



In the ensuing three weeks, we focused on collage, drawing and “giving our sketchbooks legs” (taking them out into the world).  We uploaded images and reflected on the processes and received feedback from Sheila and Paula, as well as giving and receiving feedback to / from other participants.  Overall, for me personally, the course enabled exploration of colour and design and facilitated risk-taking.  It also showed that, unless a sketchbook is being used to record process and development of a specific project, it need not be used in a linear / chronological fashion.  Having pages that you have made yourself, which are not the standard white pages, encourages ideas and connections that white pages would be unlikely to produce…  They enable you to play, explore and experiment.  Therefore, I have drawn, written, collaged and mapped on different pages, according to impulse, which are spread through the sketchbook.  There are pages waiting for connections to be made and when it is filled up, I can add more pages or make a new one… This idea is definitely a keeper! 

Here are some pages…

A simple collage on the theme of leaves…

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A collage extending across a double spread and out of the sketchbook on to a flap…  I used textured paper that was made using structure gel, gesso, acrylic paint, a comb, garden twine and sand…  The page on the right is a composed of the two palettes that I used (the flat bases of small paper plates!).  The floral “frame” is a design by William Morris from an exhibition flyer. 




A drawing made in the house where I was staying a few weeks ago.  I was waiting for the rain to stop and noticed these onions on the kitchen wall.  I had an onion net to hand and it seemed made for the page…

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A pocket waiting for contents…  I had been for a bike ride and come across a field of tall plants which seemed familiar but I couldn’t place them.  As I rode along, I came across the first sunflower…  The two larger flowers are both centrally placed on the page, but never mind… The contrast works well enough.  Fineliner, Ecoline and wash plus conte crayons were used. 



A folded sketchbook; eight quick modified contour drawings from small objects in the immediate vicinity….  However, I got distracted and embellished a few of them…  I like the candlestick in particular because it is drawn using a gel pen that responded differently according to the surface.  The pale peach-coloured surface is torn from a paper napkin and very absorbent; the ink bled into the paper, creating a thicker line and an interesting effect, throwing this part of the candlestick towards the viewer and distorting the image. 


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We were given another drawing task: take one of the objects and draw them again using a variety of different media… explore and experiment…  The tomatoes below are drawn in charcoal, artist’s lead, bright blue Inktense pencil and wash, and Ecoline fluid watercolour, applied wet-in-wet.  The paper has an interesting surface texture, almost like a fabric, which shows up most obviously in the charcoal drawing – un-tomatoey texture – almost reptilian or a mosaic – but this is experimental!

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More tomatoes… the red ones top left are a modified contour drawing with Ecoline watercolour and Chinese white gouache highlight.  The orange ones below were drawn with conte crayons.  My favourites are the blue tomatoes on the right, which were drawn with a short bundle of stiff string which I snipped off a nearby dried flower arrangement and dipped in ink… The second attempt is possibly a bit too dark so I added a few wisps of orange for contrast, to lighten them up… I have kept the string brush: it produces form of interesting character from wispy, unpredictable lines … 

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I have been exploring the outlines of trees and these were waiting to be drawn…. I like the contrast of fine line and colour wash, of scale, and also the slightly abstract design.  The pink strip of paper creates shadows which add an unexpected dimension. There is rather a lot of negative space but I like the feeling of having room to breathe.




I took a walk in a rose garden to draw the statues, which appealed to me for their odd dimensions: none is really lifelike – it isn’t only the drawings!  These were drawn using modified contour drawing, which I enjoy because it releases me of the responsibility to do anything more than observe and record.  When the results are not strictly accurate, they are usually still interesting and can be more appealing because of their imperfections.  These were drawn in a clockwise direction from top left as I came across them.  I chose the paper because it is composed of three different papers; those left and right are good drawing surfaces and take a wash well. The central strip, from a phone directory, seems to unify the images and the deeper pink strip provides some contrast to the wishy-washy pink and white: unusual choices for me.  




A spontaneous colour response to the rose garden.  The point was to let go of the outcome and enjoy using colour. 

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A map drawn after a walk up and over a very steep forested hill. I am naturally drawn to maps and decided early on in the walk to draw one later as a record of an enjoyable walk on a glorious summer’s day. A country walk – in particular – is made up of a continuous string of sense impressions, which we often take for granted (“oh, another pink flower”) or even overlook.  I decided to walk in a conscious way gathering these impressions through photographs and memory and drew the map as soon as I arrived home.  I drew the path on the map first as I recalled how it had actually felt to walk it (the shorter steep bit, the longer winding way down, frequent changes in direction) and then compared it to the map – it is actually reasonably accurate!  The path down crossed a view across the valley below five times as it descended …..  I was surprised by how many separate things I had sensed and recorded in two hours or so..,. there was more that could have been added…



I tend to work a lot in monochrome, and need to loosen up with regard to colour.  This course was a start…as well as being great fun. Other things that I will take further include exploring surfaces for drawing. I enjoyed combining papers with different textures and different ways of interacting with a medium. I enjoy working with materials with which there is an element of unpredictability, perhaps because it introduces an element of randomness into the process and relieves me of some responsibility for the outcome!


The next course run by Access Art on Developing Sketchbook Skills takes place in January 2013 and it runs over four weeks, as before.  I believe that it is the same content as the one I took in June / July.  Anyone can participate as long as they have internet access and can upload images – it is not limited to the UK.  I thoroughly recommend it for sheer fun and self-discovery; for offering a “safe” way to explore and a means of extending or stepping over boundaries. In the meantime, they are running two other courses on drawing in September (a weekend) and October (4 weeks).  Details on their website.





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