My blog friend Sue Brown posted an article about sketchbooks recently, examining how she uses her sketchbooks in her arts practice. I've mentioned somewhere else in this blog that Sue's sketchbook techniques have inspired me, not least because she overcomes a terror of the blank white page by painting her sketchbooks with ink and bleach and all manner of other unusual things to give a texture against which she draws. In a smaller way I've copied that idea recently, using watercolours, splashes of ink and stamps to 'rough up' those smooth pages so that I'm not so scared of them, as well as providing myself with an interesting background against which to draw. Sue describes how she uses her sketchbooks to record and rough out ideas. Lesley's sketchbooks over at Printed Material are used to doodle and make collages. She says, "They don't serve any purpose other than making me feel good. They are not great art but they are great fun" and I agree! Their posts made me take another look at my own sketchbooks.
So what do I think the sketchbooks say? I was a bit surprised to notice how formal they are... I don't tend to do "messy", I suppose. I also use sketchbooks in different ways at different times. When we went over to Europe in 2009 I made myself a hard-back book with pockets and different sorts of paper inside, and it was a cross between a sketchbook, a scrapbook and a travel journal. The sketchbooks I brought to Australia when I lived in England - long before we thought of moving across here - are records of amazing things like the exotic seedpods I found in the botanic gardens, and the luxury of sitting in the Emirates Lounge at Sydney Airport waiting for our flight home! When I was studying for my OCN Etching course and my Masters in Multi-Disciplinary Printmaking in Bristol I was required to keep a sketchbook which served a different purpose: it was a workshop journal as well as a place in which to distill ideas and progress. Now I carry a couple of Moleskine notebooks, one in which to draw and one in which to make notes when I go to exhibitions or see interesting things that relate to my arts practice. In fact the two get mixed up; it's usually a question of which one I can find in my bag first! These days I'm more likely to work in one of them when I've got a quiet moment than to read a book.
PS. In response to questions... I think my sketchbooks are like a "brain dump": in them I put opinions about what I see at galleries (which I sometimes come back to when I'm writing and I can't remember someone's name or the title of a piece of work) and observational drawings about where I am and what I'm looking at, and then I put studio stuff like experiments, plans and progress so that I've got something I can refer back to when I can't remember what I did or how I did it.
I'd love to be able to say, as some artists can, that drawing is central to my practice... it kind of is and kind of isn't. I found the Daily Drawings I did in 2008 were SO good for me in terms of making me less self-conscious about drawing - ever since then I've been able to just plonk myself down somewhere and draw and not mind that it isn't a masterpiece. I do more drawing as a result, which is great, but mostly the ideas for work come out fully formed or I work on them in 3D, without making preliminary drawings - except when I have to work out measurements or folds or proportions, when I find that drawing it out helps. Which is a long way of saying that my sketchbooks are usually about me being in the middle of something already so it's not really the case that work grows out of whatever I'm drawing in my sketchbooks.