The UAL Academic Support team are developing online resources about sketchbooks and wanted to get input from us. We were asked to bring in examples and we had a roundtable discussion which was recorded. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t think I would have anything much to say, as I don’t really use a sketchbook much. But the discussion was really helpful to me in clarifying what role a sketchbook can play and the fact that it can and should vary with the type of your practice and even with the type of project.
This is my map of what we discussed.
Perhaps the key insight for me was that I felt I should have a lovely sketchbook, the kind that non-artists would admire, and it was a bit of a failure not to; but for me – and, I discovered, others – my process happens when I actually make work. As fellow student Tina Liveras put it in conversation afterwards: ‘if you put all your energy into your sketchbook, that’s where your work will be.’ And in the end, I don’t want to make a beautiful sketchbook for its own sake. I want to make satisfying work.
And, not for the first time, I remembered that I had been round this loop before, in relation to my textile work: for a time, I put a lot of effort into developing ideas in a sketchbook, only to find that this didn’t really have much bearing on actual work. Another student, Ruth Richmond, said she felt sketchbooks didn’t work for testing ideas, because everything changed so much when she actually made a piece. It was interesting that both Ruth and I, who work in completely different, almost opposed, ways, felt that the best way for us to make work is just to do it.
Or as a book artist friend told me: ‘Always make a mock-up. If it works perfectly, it’s no longer a mock-up but a finished book. If it doesn’t work, it’s OK; it’s only a mock-up.’ For me this applies to drawing too.