Bren Boardman: Sketchbooks and mind mapping for artists
After a career in marketing, Bren Boardman sent her business clothes and briefcase to a charity shop, bought several pairs of jeans and took herself off to study art and textiles.
Four years later, in 2003 she graduated with a 1st class (Hons) degree in Printed Textiles from Loughborough University before establishing herself as a freelance textile artist, teacher and mentor from her home studio in Warwickshire. She combines her love of texture and vivid colours with her passion for gardening, to produce original pictures, wall hangings, prints and cards that are exhibited in galleries, shops and through her website.
During her studies and whilst teaching freelance at University, College and branches of the Quilters Guild and other textile related Guilds, Bren developed a process using sketchbooks and mind maps to help students develop an idea through to an original piece of work. In this article, Bren shares her process and explains how she uses the formula to help produce her gallery art textiles.
Developing artistic muscle
My studio shelves are filled with my many sketchbooks of all shapes and sizes, that span over 15 years of my ideas, some developed, some random – combining photos, lists, drawings, postcards, scraps of samples, and other paraphernalia.
I have always urged students to help their own creative process by working in sketchbooks, journals, scrapbooks, diaries, call them whatever you want, but to use them as an important place to gather any visual research and thoughts. Sketchbooks are often art projects in themselves, or can be the stepping stone to further development in any media you choose.
Occasionally, my own work seems to skip the sketchbook stage and starts straight onto the “canvas” without any early sketchbook development. But has it really appeared out of nowhere? I don’t think so! Just as with athletes developing muscle in training, artists develop confidence and ideas through practice in using their sketchbook to test paints, draw ideas, jot down thoughts, stitch random samples… these are all practice to help build “artistic muscle” or “mileage on the pencil”!
So, when I appear to produce a picture without backup work, this is unlikely to be the case. If you were to watch me draw a flower onto a background fabric, then you were to delve into some of my sketchbooks, you would be sure to find similar colour combinations, flower drawing or stitching method. We do not come to this without some practice and a sketchbook is a form of organising this process.
When I start a new sketchbook I try to reserve the first two facing pages to produce a mindmap so I can keep referring back to my notes and ideas during the project.
If, like me, your head is full of ideas for a project and you don’t know where to start, then consider adopting this practice and using the first page of your sketchbook to draw a mindmap. A mindmap is a diagram starting in the centre of a blank page where you write a keyword or phrase. From this central “idea” you can draw branches and sub-branches to write associated words, ideas and even images that all relate to your main idea. Since the brain doesn’t usually think in list fashion, but randomly, then the shape of this tree-like structure can help aid your creativity and serve as a dumping place during the project process.
Creating sketchbook pages
A few guidelines can help you if you are shy of starting a sketchbook, starting with my three Rules:
Different objects need different materials and implements to draw with
Remember the Visual Language of Art, including Line, Shape, Colour, Tone, Texture, Pattern, Form
Remember why you are doing this – To record visual information, observations, ideas, thoughts, experiences
Consider what kind of sketchbook you might like to make? For example:
- Reference: Process mapping e.g. colour mixing tests, storage place for samples and swatches
- Idea generation: Forming a mind map and process from idea to outcome (see below for help in formulating your Plan)
- To record a journey: Mental or physical e.g. holiday in Wales, my gardening year
If you still find sketchbooking a big step, then try to vary its contents:
- Photos, photocopies, prints
- Magazine or newspaper cuttings
- Drawings, sketches, doodles
- Text, poetry, stories, thoughts, letters, extracts, statements, words
- Colour – paint, crayons, pencils
- Fabrics, Threads, Wools
- Beads, Buckles, Buttons – but in moderation!
- Papers of all kinds
How to formulate a plan – From idea to outcome
During my years of teaching my Explore your Creative Potential workshops at The Bramble Patch, I devised a process to help my students to develop their own style through self-directed project work. Under my guidance, each individual prepared a plan for the year for study taking the following questions and examining each aspect in turn.
Concept – What is my idea? What shall I explore?
Influences – Who/What is going to be an inspiration for me?
Techniques – How shall I explore my idea?
Developing the Designs – What constitutes a body of samples? What considerations do I need to employ?
Contexts – What are the possible outcomes for my idea?
Evaluation – What are my criteria for judging my success?
Result – Where do I hope this will lead?
The planning process was especially valuable in helping students stay on track, measure where they were in the process at what time and measure the outcome so they could answer the all-important question “where to now?”.
Mind map of The Weaver
To demonstrate the plan in action, I’m using a project based on a holiday trip to India where I chanced upon a poem written by Kabir, the Mystic Poet, some 600 years earlier. When I returned home, I started a sketchbook with a mind map ‘Memories of India’ and a further mind map with thoughts about the poem, The Weaver.
The Weaver – poem by Kabir, the Mystic Poet
How many know of the weaver?
who spreads his warp
from earth to sky.
The two beams of his loom,
the sun and the moon.
Two shuttles filled with
a thousand threads
Watch him as he weaves,
Karma with Karma
woven with unwoven threads.
How well this weaver weaves.
The mind maps helped me unravel many thoughts about my trip and I went on to produce a Project Plan to help formulate my ideas towards a tangible outcome. I was able to revisit my plan at each stage of my development to check my progress and alter the plan if needed to suit my creative direction. Without a plan, I have a tendency to go off in many directions and “loose the plot!”
The Weaver poem project plan
Concept: What is my idea? What shall I explore?
India challenged me with its sheer excess of colour, noise, imagery and, of course, textiles. The quiet moment when I chanced across the poem written on the wall of an Indian Weaver’s ancient house “museum” stands out as a clear memory. I want to explore how to use the words in a piece of new work for an exhibition in Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire.
Influences: Who/What is going to be an inspiration for me?
I want to study artists using text as a key focus in their work, especially textile artists like Jette Clover, The Kemshalls and contemporary imagery by Joan Shulze. Since I only produced a tiny sketchbook in India, I want to concentrate on producing a larger book using Gwen Diehn’s The Decorated Journal and The Decorated Page.
Techniques: How shall I explore my idea?
- Work on different methods of putting text onto Lutradur
- Develop a colour plan to reflect the mood of the moment and the museum wall where I first saw the poem.
- Use hand and machine stitch with imagery to develop ideas further.
Development of Designs: What constitutes a body of samples? What considerations do I need to employ?
My aim is to produce a sketchbook and a finished piece of work or works based on my recent trip to India and on the poem, The Weaver. Several samples showing different methods of putting text onto Lutradur, background colours resolved and consideration given to the mood of the poem, as my own interpretation.
Contexts: What are the possible outcomes for my idea?
With an exhibition deadline looming, I would like to add a new original piece of text-based artwork to my finished works. I would like to have an impact piece that might fit into an unusual place in the venue. There is a long narrow window that could be utilised.
Evaluation: What are my criteria for judging my success?
I’m standing in the venue looking at my new finished piece. In my mind, It is an exciting interpretation of the poem and use of text on fabric. The work will be available for sale, so further success will be to sell the piece.
Result: Where do I hope this will lead?
- Resolving a new technique for putting text onto Lutradur.
- A beautiful sketchbook on India produced, inspired by my trip.
- A new piece of original gallery textile art that I can proudly show, having resolved lots of the stages on my Project Plan.
My efforts resulted in the longest wallhanging I had produced, 2.5m High x 50cm wide. I used only a couple of lines from the poem, but I felt the result worked. I coloured the Lutradur with many layers of acrylics in charcoal greys, rusts and golds, adding a verdigris chemical for textiles that helped with the aged look. I used large block printing letters for the text and hand-painted them before machine stitching shadows and highlights to achieve a three-dimensional effect. The outcome was a piece that looked quite drab but magical when the light caught the text and the gold paint. And the piece sold!
I’ve since made several very large hangings, used text in several pieces of exhibition work and as a result of using the venue window to show my piece, I’ve shown many of my wall hangings in gardens where the light through the material gives a wonderful sense of belonging to the piece. Project Planning helps keep me on track, focusing my mind and, together with a weekly timetable, makes sure I reach my exhibition deadlines.
- Gwen Diehn – The Decorated Journal, also The Decorated Page
- Kay Greenlees – Creating Sketchbooks for Embroiderers and Textile Artists
- Jane Stobart – Extraordinary Sketchbooks
- Sketchbooks for textile artists by Lynne Butt
- Finding inspiration for textile art by Cas Holmes
Ready to tap into the potential of your sketchbook to take your textile-based work onto a new level? Check out an opportunity to do just that here!