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Keeping sketchbooks

Open College of the Arts Student Support

Sketchbook images by OCA students

Keeping sketchbooks
This guide is essential reading for all OCA students. Sketchbook and learning log work constitute 20% of your marks for assessed work so it is critical that you keep these elements of your study going, as well as the main body of work coming out of your course. Even if you dont want to be assessed formally, your tutor will want to see how you are developing and what your thought process is by looking at the reections you have logged and at your sketchbook work.

Keeping sketchbooks
It is impossible to over-emphasise the importance of using a sketchbooks as part of your OCA learning experience. Sketchbooks will help develop your drawing skill, and are crucial to your development as an artist. Sketchbooks are for recording objects, places, events and everyday life and, in addition to developing your drawing skill, working in them will develop your visial awareness and imagination. Sketchbooks can play a variety of different roles: they can be visual diaries, reference points, used to record travel, or be used for imaginative drawing and doodles, or all of the above.

Types of sketchbooks
You should have some small sketchbooks, A6 or A5 or little square books. This is so that you can always have one in your pocket or your bag. A smaller book filled with ideas and observations is more interesting than a larger one with blank spaces. But do have some bigger sketchbooks: A4 sketchbooks and larger. Youll find you use these in a different way to the smaller ones. Hardback books are strong enough to take every day use and help contain all the bits and pieces you may put into them. Use a rubber band to keep it together as your sketchbook begins to expand.

Make a visual diary

Think of your sketchbooks as visual diaries and as part of a wider activity of collecting and exploration. Try to ll at least a page a day, or at least get into the habit of regular drawing, and always carry a sketchbook with you. Sketchbooks should show what you have seen that has interested and intrigued you this could include photographs, textiles, and magazine and newspaper articles. Some sketchbook studies will be the starting points for your work, and resources for future reference. Make written notes in sketchbooks, perhaps, for example, a note about texture, scale, colour, method or technique.

Dont be precious
Sketchbooks should be essentially true visual records made up as you go along, not compiled by sticking good drawings in them in an effort to create a good impression. A sketchbook will inevitably have poor drawings and paintings as well as good ones because not everything you decide to draw will turn out to be as good an idea as you rst thought. Dont tear out pages if something goes wrong. You should feel unencumbered by the need to be accurate. When you are faced with a brand new sketchbook, dont freeze on the rst page. It doesnt have to be clean, neat and tidy.

Work fast
Some studies in your sketchbook may have taken you several hours but others perhaps only a few seconds. Make quick drawings and colour studies because working at speed compels you to decide, in an instant, what is important about the subject. Your individuality will sometimes be revealed more clearly when you are working spontaneously in this way.

Sketchbooks also provide an opportunity to experiment with different methods of working. Dont only use pencils and paints but also other drawing materials you have. Try different colour combinations, and the effect of overlays and collage. Using a different medium makes you look at a subject in a new way. Stick in a photograph or photocopy or just a fragment of another image that is directly related to research you are doing. This can trigger new ideas.

Draw, draw, draw

Draw or paint anything you see: trees, owers, a bicycle, a sheep, a dustbin, a cup and saucer, the texture of old stonework, a group of gures at a bus stop, waves breaking on a beach, shadow patterns in a sun-lit room. Draw something for a second or third time, perhaps in a different medium. Draw the same objects or gure from a different viewpoint. Draw unusual views. Draw the mundane: your favourite drink, your bed, your toothbrush. Draw people. Anyone is fair game. Draw your friends, your family, your pets. Dont worry if they move, youll get better at drawing them the more you practice. Vary the size of your sketchbook work, do magnied views of things. Sketch details that catch your eye. Draw other peoples work. Go to an art gallery and sketch a picture you nd interesting. Note the colours, the composition, the style and the techniques. Draw a day in your life, turn it into a cartoon in windows. Planning the design and composition for a project in your sketchbook. Draw your sense of excitement, your sad feelings. Draw your dreams, your nightmares. Capture a thought or an image from your memory before it is lost. Make a doodle of a ower, a heart, or a squiggle. Use watercolours to add some colour to the stark white pages for variety. Add colour to some drawings later on. Drag a light layer of acrylic paint across the page before or after drawing on it. Glue a background of sheet music, wrapping paper, tissue paper, sweet wrapper or text to the page. Look up, look round, stay where you are, just draw! Draw anything and everything. The more you draw the better you will be.

Make thumbnail sketches

Thumbnail sketches are quick, abbreviated drawings in any medium. Its helpful to draw up some boxes in your sketchbook to prepare for thumbnail work, just a few centimetres square. Thumbnails are good memory aids and planning tools too, excellent for gallery visits to remember key aspects of an artwork. You can also plan compositions by trying out different versions in quick thumbnails. Use thumbnails to plan colour schemes, just mark different combinations in each box. Dont forget that it is often useful to make notes alongside thumbnail sketches to help illuminate them, especially when you look back at the work a few months later.

Use your sketchbook to try out different drawing techniques. Do negative space exercises in your sketchbook, do a blind contour drawing (drawing your hand (for example) from memory without lifting your pencil from the paper). Do some 30second rapid sketches.

Collect and glue

Collect pictures and drawings from magazines and marketing materials that inspire you. Photocopy photographs and drawings in library books or periodicals. Paste these into your sketchbook. Keep things that remind you of places, people, atmospheres and feelings: a piece of fabric, a leaf, a bus ticket, a bill. Secure them in your sketchbook along with small sketches and notes.

Sketch and go
Create a bag full of sketching gear that is always ready for you to take out, on the spur of the moment. Keep it small, with just the essentials in it, but make sure you include: a sketchbook, a rubber, a drawing pen, a couple of soft pencils and a sharpener. Add a few colouring tools if you like.

Be tidy, be messy
Some people keep very organised sketchbooks, documenting their ideas and sketches neatly. Others are just a jumble of ideas and notes. No approach is right or wrong, its just personal.

You should carry your sketchbook around with you all the time, it is your home for personal musings. It is a refuge to draw meditatively with or without particular purpose. It is a place for spontaneity as well as for thoughts and work that take some considerable time.

Save old sketchbooks

Sketchbooks can jog your creativity years later and provide a record of your artistic development. Record your thoughts about art, your work and the work of others. Look back at old sketchbooks to spark memories, new ways of working and to see how you have developed. Set aside time each week to examine your sketchbook. Play with variations of things youve drawn or pictures youve pasted in from other sources.

Look at other sketchbooks

Get glimpses of other artists sketchbooks to get an idea of their private thoughts, their working methods and creative processes. Get inspired by other sketchbooks. Leonardo da Vincis famous sketchbooks are lled with drawings, diagrams and written notes of things he saw and ideas he had. Picasso produced 178 sketchbooks in his lifetime. He used his sketchbooks to explore themes and make compositional studies. Henry Moore lled one of his sketchbooks with drawings of sheep that wandered in the eld just outside his studio.

A persons rst sketch or drawing often outshines attempts to rene it. Some of your best work will be in your sketchbook. OCAs website is your first stop for information about courses, plus access to help, support, advice and tips from tutors and other learners. Register on the website, upload a picture if you like, and get chatting to other students via the forum. Find out about exhibitions and books recommended by fellow students, discuss the state of contemporary art or the music industry, share tips on techniques and processes, and share your thoughts on studying from home.

Open College of the Arts

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