Reflections on sketchbook work and lessons learnt along the way

This post is about lessons learnt when doing some sketchbook work and particularly with reference to using new materials or media or papers etc.

I have been struggling with my sketchbook work at this stage (June 2015) as simply was unsure what to include and what now and how to go about it generally but have been looking at many others on-line and on Facebook to get ideas.  I decided to order the course recommended book on Creating Sketchbooks for Embroiderers and Textile Artists which I am currently awaiting – I am sure at this stage it will prove to be more than invaluable and used as a reference point for many years to come.  In the meantime I realised that the way I had done my first sketchbook was insufficient, chaotic and a general mish-mash of rough sketches with no real coherent work or ideas but at the same time it gave me the opportunity to settle into the course.

Bearing in mind that book I realised the way I will work  best is with order and to separate off my work into themed books that I can add to and work with over a period of time and also will serve as a reference point in the future.

During the course of taking photographs for possible ideas I took one of the Naval Memorial at the National Arboretum in Staffordshire and having done an initial basic painting on cheap printing paper I decided to try and different version on rough watercolour paper – I have never used specific watercolour paper before so realised this would be a learning curve.



In my painting I have condensed the panels and also separated the different colours off using a Sharpie black pen with details outlined in a thin black pen – the painting is primarily watercolour paint in varying levels of transparency and opaqueness and with washes in the foreground of the panels and figure.  Further I decided I did want a sunset sky but the paint didn’t give the contrast I wanted so tried pastels which I also used at the very bottom on the picture to denote the grey concrete plinth the original memorial stands on.  The learning came from the different effects I could do with the paint on the paper – being able to blend the washes in the front whilst also having the time to work with the paint on the panels so that the marks from the brushes can only be seen when close to it.  Further it was interesting how the pastels did not blend well on the rough paper and this is most apparent with the concrete plinth where I used the pastel on the long edge to make the most of the texture.


When I did the original painting the colours were flat and lifeless and the brush marks more clearly seen. The washes at the bottom did not seem to blend as easily and again seem flat in tone.

I realise that although initial sketches or paintings can be done on cheaper paper and for many textile pieces and sketchbook work that will suffice but for others it is useful to learn about the different weights and textures as these can add a different aspect in their own right and may provide further inspiration for transferring into stitch.

One of my themed sketchbooks will be on the memorials – it is a place that I know well but also safe for me to sit and sketch alone and I have access to all year round so will be interesting to see what develops particularly as my skills develop.

I will also be trying a different painting on Not style paper which seems to be a mid-way between rough and hot pressed – the difference I believe is in how rough the paper is and also the weight of the paper seems to be a key factor too for painters … from what I have been told by other OCA painting students heavier papers enable you to work more with wet-on-wet techniques and be heavier with brush techniques and it is the weight of the paper that is often more important than the roughness or smoothness.

As a further point I have also purchased a book by Socar Myles on Drawing for Fantasy Artists – I certainly have an interest on fantasy art but this book also goes into techniques, using different papers, pens, brushes etc and crucially for me mark making and drawing textures as well as capturing movement, atmosphere, composition and also form.  The mark making and textures section was the reason I purchased the book as it has shown different ideas including how holding your pen can affect the marks you make – holding normally means you can be very controlled whilst holding at the top of the pencil or pen will mean your marks are looser and more fluid which is an interesting aspect to consider in future.

The book also explores colour and perspectives – the latter of which I have always struggled within in my drawing and want to get to grips with understanding the techniques.  Overall this book gives a broad range of instructions and the fantasy art books are a surprise as they also seem to present them in a way that is of interest to me but which can be adapted into a broader textiles drawing concept. As I only received it yesterday I have yet to try many of the instructions but it is proving very interesting and enjoyable reading at this point.

In further sketchbook exploration over the course of the last few days I have started to put together a personal project theme book which will both enable me to sort out further my sketchbook work and also act as an ongoing journal – the theme is for a mixed technique charity quilt.  The sketchbook work on this will now become as important as the final end project and I understand will enable me to trial techniques, colour combinations, sketches and designs for the various parts of it – it is being done very much as separate elements and no doubt as a quilt-as-you-go project that although quilting based will have those elements that are very much textile technique based.


These are two photos taken from my latest sketchbook – the one on the left is a drawing and watercolour painting of blossoms done on Not watercolour paper … and the right hand photo shows the embroidery yarns for the stump work blossoms.  Just in view in the right hand photo is also a small sketch done to check the sizes of the blossoms I want to do – am also thinking of doing the stump work without wire to give a softer look and I now understand these are all notes I need to add.  In the next day or so I will start to add scraps of fabric etc too and again realise through looking at other students sketchbooks and those you can research on-line that these are the sort of things required.

Learning that a sketchbook is not just a record of drawings and paintings but a place to explore and learn is my biggest lesson of all so far.










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