National Memorial Arboretum – Sketchbooks

The reason for this particular sketchbook is that it is a favourite place to visit for my fiance and myself and also a source of inspiration due to its very nature.  The Arboretum is both a nature reserve and also a memorial site of all genres ranging from the World Wars and all other wars to individual regiments and units to organisations such as the Red Cross, animals, children who have died (there is the most beautiful tree with copper leaves) and the simple plaques on trees in memory of a loved one.  The Arboretum prides itself on being a ‘place of life’ and trees were only started to be planted in 1997 so it is very much a living place with something that all ages can enjoy.

My initial drawings and sketches and developments have started around my favourite Naval Memorial – this has particular significance to me as I was born in Freedom Fields Military Hospital (now no longer in existence) in Plymouth and my early memories include going to where my late Mum worked at the Devonport Naval Dockyard.  My father was in the army and stationed in Plymouth for the first 7 years of my life and hence also probably why I love this memorial so much.

I cannot describe the memorial any better than the following quote I have taken from an article  I found on the internet ( and written by Caroline Wyatt who is the BBC Defence Correspondent at the time:

“The memorial is made up of 13 glass panels, which its designer Graeme Mitcheson described as “sails of coloured glass” representing the oceans around the world.

Naval Service Memorial
The design of the memorial was intended to represent all the seas of the world

A bowed figure stands beside the panels, facing the setting sun and when light passes through them, Mr Mitcheson said, “the shadows will project onto this white terrace and it will become like a pool of water of the five oceans.”

The theme for the memorial was described as being: “At the going down of the sun we will remember them’.”

My own photos include these:







The design of the memorial is beautifully simple.

From these photos and many more I have taken I decided to initially start with a painting using gouache paints (I love the opaque quality) to try and capture the essence of the sculpture.  I wanted to show the different tones and colours created by the overlapping panels and also the different heights contrasting alongside the simple grey stone of the figure. I also tried to show the shadows of the panels but as water rather than colours on concrete.



From this I reduced the width of the painting and condensed it as if looking from a different angle.  I also tried to incorporate some sky with the sun setting to try and again capture the atmosphere the original designer wanted to portray.  I am not entirely sure of my proportions in this piece but still like the different panels and the contrast of the figure.



From this point I decided to play around with colours – I wanted to use different colours for each area including where the panels overlap.  My thinking here was and is very much of the assignment ahead (assignment 2) with regard to colours – I wanted to block the colours but just be free  with them rather than trying to use complementary, triad or even just primary or secondary colours.  For the background I use wet-on-wet dots of the same colours and let them blend. It was very interesting to see how one artists vision can be changed or inspire another (me) and the fact that their vision could have been very different.



In the second version I swapped the colours for patterns and also use a variety of fine liner pens and also Sharpie pens too – this really changed the way I viewed the original sculpture and also showed me how potentially this could become a textile piece using embroidery stitches or differing fabrics and textures or machine stitches.  This so far has been the most revealing sketch and will form the basis for further work.


I have continued to look at the above piece and think about it and the next stage in the sketchbook include a fabric sample of a chambray style cotton, variegated voile, embroidery threads and also small sketch of an idea for how 2 of the panels could be stitched:


From here at the point of writing I am intending to start on small stitched samples for the panels to try out different stitches.


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