1.0 What sort of sketchbook should I use?

Keywords from the brief:

  • What sort of sketchbook should you work in?
  • People use sketchbooks in different ways, and therefore need different kinds of sketchbooks
  • It is probably a good idea to try a variety of different types of sketchbooks
  • What [do] you think you might use the sketchbooks for?

I interpreted this first exercise as a challenge to think about and write down my relationship and use of sketchbooks up to this point and how I’d like to challenge or change that for the better in some way.


How I’ve used sketchbooks up to this point?

To date I’ve used:

  • An A2 hard covered sketchbook – I only used it once and really didn’t get on with it.
  • A3 is the standard size I like working in. Currently softbacked with fairly good quality paper.
  • A4 was a format I used when I first started the course, but I found it slightly to big to carry around and not big enough to be expressive.
  • A5 is not really a size that appeals.
  • A6 is a great size for carrying everywhere. I started using a small sketchbook quite recently after a suggestion from my tutor.

..and a selection of images of the contents:

Seeing these images altogether for the first time I make the following observations:

  • The sketching is almost all figurative or typographical – there’s virtually no ‘playing’ with pure form/texture/colour.
  • I use a fairly limited set of media; pen and ink, ink pen, watercolour, sharpies are predominant – so part of way I should change how I work with sketchbooks is being more experimental with the media I use.
  • During Key steps in illustration, I did alot of digital work that included many ‘test’ images and thumbnails – these feature very infrequently in my sketchbooks and are in a sense ‘lost’ opportunities.
  • All the sketchbooks so far have been used in a portrait 4:3 aspect ratio – it would be interesting to see how working in a square or wide aspect ratio would change things.
  • I probably treat them with too much respect. There’s not really much mashing up of ideas/media but quite a lot of control – more mash-ups, less respect and handmade sketchbooks required.
  • A significant portion of the sketches seem to be means to an end rather than real creative opportunities – more mash-ups required.

How I’d like to use sketchbooks going forward?

  • To log, catalogue, collect in one place all the creative detritus that I generate band currently make into piles and then bin.
  • Mix it up, experiment, take risks regularly and as part of my core practice, be radical, be brave.
  • Develop ideas both through observation and imagination.
  • Pasting, cutting, collage, painting, sketching, drawing, scratching, erasing, collage, writing, storyboarding, thumbnailing, artworking, thinking, developing, answering questions and asking questions.
  • Mapping creative journeys from brief to solution.

Thoughts about size and format

  • A6 to take everywhere.
  • A3 heavy duty paper in a binding that can take a battering (can’t be precious and must be able to expand with new content).
  • A3 various papers/surfaces to experiment and try things out – try using different coloured and textured papers.
  • Need to think of a format for reportage – feels like this could be A4 but perhaps a landscape format?
  • Need to experiment with new/different media.

What I did

After writing up how I currently use sketchbooks and what I’d like to use them for going forward I went into my local Art Shop with the intention to buy several new sketchbooks in different formats and different papers. The shop holds a wide range on sketchbooks and I stared at them all for about 15 minutes before coming to the conclusion that none of them really felt right and in a way buying something new was missing the point.

I already have an A3 sketchbook on the go and surely the quickest and most effective way to make a start would be to start there.

So I returned home empty handed with a plan to start working in my new way immediately using my current sketchbooks as my starting point.

Current sketchbooks

I was working in two sketchbooks;

  1. An A6 Daler Rowley sketchbook with cream coloured paper and hardback cover – I carry this around with me everywhere and it’s where I jot down thought and ideas and some drawing from life.
  2. An A3 sketchbook with fairly heavy duty cartridge paper with a soft cover. I started to use this format book during Printmaking 1 because I would typically fill up one sketchbook for each part of the course; there were five parts. This meant I could easily send the sketchbook to my tutor for feedback and then in the meantime start a new book; this meant there was no disruption to my work.

The work in my current sketchbook develop ideas and experiments from the final Printmaking 1 assignment and a freelance commision that I’m taking forward as a series of personal projects.

Here are pictures of the sketchbook before I made any changes:

Sketchbook reworked

My first change was to cover over the black sketchbook cover with a piece of used artwork. I spray mounted this across the front and back covers.

I then added loose images, test prints and other scraps that I’ve generated as part of my current projects and that relate to the drawings in the sketchbook.

Even this simple change has made a big difference to the way I feel about the sketchbook.

Here are the pages re-photographed to show the difference.

It’s a start…


What went well

  • This exercise got me to reflect on how I’ve used sketchbooks so far. Looking at a cross section of work altogether for the first time gave an interesting insight.
  • Making quite simple and quick changes to my current A3 sketchbook had made me feel quite differently about how I could use it going forward; I’m quite excited by whatever happens next.

What I would do differently/better

  • Part of the exercise suggested making-up a small sketchbook. I will make up my own sketchbook and am keen to repurpose an existing book cover, but that will come a bit later when I’ve had more time to collect the various parts.


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