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It looked like a jumble sale…..

…but in fact was a pile of generously donated precious sketchbooks from all sorts of people, that formed part of a ‘sketchbook handling’ exhibition at the Sketchbook Conference in Cambridge on Saturday.

A case full of sketchbooks

Organised by Access Art this tremendously animated conference was full of artists and educators, extolling the virtues of keeping a sketchbook. Led by an inspirational introduction by Eileen Adams (of Campaign for Drawing fame) there were workshops on visual thinking, sketchbook making and a range of approaches to the use of sketchbooks, with architectural students, school children and art students. One sketchbook was all words, all research, but the artist had clearly delighted in filling the sketchbook with text, in a painterly way. What was most exciting was being able to look through a huge number of sketchbooks, pointing out interesting use to others, photographing them and getting ideas for ways of working with sketchbooks. I have never seen such a variety of approaches towards sketchbook making. The purpose varied: some were research journals, others purely a place to experiment freely, others clearly designed to be ‘on show’.
Concertina sketchbook

During the conference we were asked to add post it notes to a wall to describe how we used sketchbooks. The following are a few snatches of what went up on the wall: visual scraps, doodles, random ideas, brain back up, experiment with materials, a place where head, heart and hand meet, found objects, postcards, photos, magpie, memory bank, reflection, tap into my subconscious, extending and adapting found images…. and, and, and… I took a few photos and videos on my iPhone while I was there that I hope give a flavour of the sketchbooks on show. I particularly liked the sketchbook in the video link below Its an excellent example of someone following through an idea and experimenting with a range of approaches. It shows both discipline and invention. The quality of the video isn’t great since it was shot on an iPhone, but its good enough to get an impression. Click here to see the short video: Flipping through a sketchbook
One of the most remarkable was a sketchbook labelled ‘My father’s’. I couldn’t find his name on it but the drawings are a fascinating document of life in the 1930’s, and also of drawing in a meticulous and accurate style. In the image here it looks as though he used ‘Quink’ ink.
‘my father’s sketchbook’

Another interesting sketchbook was one in which the artist had garnered an existing book and stuck work over the top of the pages, painted over them and at times incorporated the text into the work.
Textbook as sketchbook

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One of the most beautiful sections of the sketchbook exhibition was the table of Book art. This particular art form has grown in popularity in a big way in the past few years. Artists carve into books to make art objects, or cut into pages to create sculptural forms. The multitude of ways of creating art objects using books as a starting point was on show…
Book art by Lizanne van Essen

My favourite image from all the sketchbooks I saw was one that conjured up an era for me. Back to ‘my father’s sketchbook’. This final image represents not just an era long gone by but a style of sketching that you see very rarely these days. Call me old fashioned, but the technical ability and compositional value in the image of the cars in a garage is a delight.
‘My father’s sketchbook’


Posted by author: Jane Parry
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5 thoughts on “It looked like a jumble sale…..

  • Love all these new sketchbook lay outs. I could only present them this way as art in their own rights. When working on a piece and researching sketching etc… I have to present it clinically, I don’t know why but I have to. When I am creating a sketch book of ideas and art then I seem to be creative and I have also stuck in work and painted over books including a telephone directory and an art history book.
    This way of working seems to be the in trend, after visiting Secondary schools for my eldest daughter last year the art departments were full of sketchbooks all presented uniquely EG textbooks/ photobooks as sketchbooks/ text and findings written within the piece of art and photographs, they were fascinating to browse through as they seem so individual and personal and energised.
    I have some books which cover this and are a good visual read. Check Amazon they have loads on the subject and include one that I have for Embroideres and Textile Artists.
    The video was excellent and the book was an artwork in its own right. Thanks for stimulting me yet again Jane now where am I going to find an extra couple of hours a day to make another artbook piece? 🙂

  • This is a really interesting post. I’m beginning to make use of my sketchbooks more and more, so the ideas presented here are particularly inspiring. The sketches presented in the video are fascinating.

  • This is fascinating. I love using my sketchbooks,and have uaed them to try to get people moving, people in all sorts of situations,things I see that are interesting,shapes, etc. also as aa holiday record. Iwill now try ideas from your report and look forward to enriched experience.thanks.

  • Thanks so much for posting this, Jane. The event was clearly every bit as exciting as it sounded from your pre-event announcement. I was struck by the colourful nature of the examples you show, and also love the retro monochrome pictures, the quality of light and finish in them.
    Roberta

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