How top textile artists use their sketchbooks -

How top textile artists use their sketchbooks

How top textile artists use their sketchbooks

Last month published an article entitled How to get started on a new piece of artwork which featured advice from a selection of our favorite collaborators. 

The use of a sketchbook to facilitate this process was mentioned throughout so we thought it a fascinating enough topic to explore and discuss further.

Once again we contacted some our of our most popular artists and asked them if they use a sketchbook, how important is it in preparation for a new piece and what advice can they share with you to support your process and development. Here’s what they had to say.

Daphne Taylor

DT Sketchbook 1

There has always been a sketchbook within my reach for as long as I can remember. Drawing is an intuitive, natural act for me – a second language, often more accessible than speaking or writing. When I open a sketchbook to draw, my body relaxes and I am most present.

As a young child my parents encouraged my love of drawing by keeping me supplied in an endless source of art supplies and drawing books. I have an image of being home, sick from school, observing my father cross the driveway with a new sketchbook in hand to keep me happy.

DT Sketchbook 2

In 8th grade I carried around that first black artist book where both drawing and writing began to cover the pages. Drawing in that book seems integrated with listening to music and responding to the world around me.

In high school our teacher gave us large black books to fill with drawing outside of class. We spent hours after school sitting around on a battered couch in the art room, drinking coffee, listening to music and drawing one another or the still-life nearby. It was here that we students learned to be fearless in filling these books, drawing from life, rarely judging. While not knowing it, we were experiencing the satisfaction and practical discipline involved with keeping a sketchbook. We were very fortunate.

DT Sketchbook 3

My formal art studies encouraged the keeping of a sketchbook as a vital tool in developing one’s art practice. I have valued this all my life. My sketchbook is a place where I draw with no judgement, scribble notes and design ideas that reflect what is of interest to me in a particular time. I see these sketchbook pages as investigations, inquiries and notations of possibility.

In my studio I keep a large sketch book that reflects the process of my textile work. Here on these pages I work out technical issues, record measurements and make small drawings and collages that express the essence that I am after in the quilt being designed.

DT Sketchbook 4

Most of all it is my small, portable sketchbook that gives me the greatest pleasure. Each page is a drawing of the mundane – a cup, a chair, a landscape. They are studies of the ever changing light, darkness, shadow and colour found in everyday life.

Such studies encourage thoughtful inquiry into what drawing is all about and keep my observation skills strong and perceptive. It is this act of drawing in response to the world around me that most influences my work as a textile artist.

For more information visit:

Gillian Bates

GB Sketchbook 1

It’s only recently I’ve rediscovered the importance of using a sketchbook. In my early career, I would be incredibly impatient, from a rough idea to finished textile without much thought in between. I was just so desperate to practice my textile techniques thinking using a book to plan would only hold up the process.

GB Sketchbook 2

I now find planning a couple of composition ideas in my sketchbook to be really helpful. It allows me a clearer idea of how the final textile might look and also helps with any areas that might be problematic when it comes to stitching. It also so important to never stop looking at your subject, using a sketchbook drawing is just another tool I can refer to when stitching.

GB Sketchbook 3

For more information visit:

Ben Venom

Ben Venom, Use Your Illusion, Hand-made Quilt with Recycled Fabric 25” x 25”, 2016

Ben Venom, Use Your Illusion, Hand-made Quilt with Recycled Fabric 25” x 25”, 2016

I use my sketchbook for notes, drawing out quick sketches for new pieces, and as a way to brainstorm new ideas. My sketchbook is a useful tool in the development of projects from beginning to end. I take it wherever I go as a way to always have a place to record ideas.

Ben Venom Sketchbook

Ben Venom Sketchbook

When developing a new piece I use my sketchbook to draw many variations of my initial idea from which I then go back and pick/choose different elements of each sketch to refine the ultimate design.

Ben Venom, Monument to Thieves, Hand-made Quilt with Recycled Fabric 95” x 67”, 2016

Ben Venom, Monument to Thieves, Hand-made Quilt with Recycled Fabric 95” x 67”, 2016

It serves as a great reference and starting point for my creative process. My sketchbook is full of notes, ideas, drawings, clippings, images, etc. I use it as the starting point for everything I do in my art making process.

Ben Venom in his studio, Photo by Monica Semergiu

Ben Venom in his studio, Photo by Monica Semergiu

For more information visit:

Pauline Burbidge

A selection of sketchbooks by Pauline Burbidge

A selection of sketchbooks by Pauline Burbidge

I use sketchbooks to collect lines and marks and to help me stand still and be quiet in order to observe and look closely.

My image making links closely with the natural world and I walk around my local rural area with my sketchbook at hand. I often set myself a task e.g. this morning I will look at trees and the formation of leaves. I will also add to my self-instruction, something like: I am going to work on ‘mark making’ or ‘continuous line’. Both of these headings are a very useful link to my current work with fabric and stitch.

A secondary larger scale drawing, Pauline Burbidge.

A secondary larger scale drawing, Pauline Burbidge.

When I work with my long arm quilting machine, Handi Quilter, I draw with my stitching line, using a continuous line. Before I start to stitch I would have probably made a secondary drawing, from my sketchbook page, on a larger scale. This helps prepare my planning and thoughts before I begin to stitch.

I draw with my stitching line. My Handi Quilter long arm machine is a sophisticated stitching machine and can be programmed to stitch repeated designs. However, I choose to use it in a more basic way; drawing my images freehand. I love to draw. I like the fact that no two shapes will be identical, and I feel that this echoes what I see in nature.

Stitching from sketchbook, Pauline Burbidge

Stitching from sketchbook, Pauline Burbidge

I also draw directly onto cloth, using a Markal fabric crayon stick. I often work from my sketchbook drawings for this. The cloth drawing can be made fast, laundered and used as my top-cloth for my quiltmaking.

Detail of ‘Order & Chaos’, by Pauline Burbidge. Photo, Phil Dickson, psd photography, 2016

Detail of ‘Order & Chaos’, by Pauline Burbidge. Photo, Phil Dickson, psd photography, 2016

For more information visit:

Ana Maier

Ana Maier, Um atalho entre estrelas, 2016

Ana Maier, Um atalho entre estrelas, 2016

I always start my artwork trying to draw the images that take form in my mind when an idea comes up. I do some sketches in different perspectives to test possible materials and technical solutions depending on the scale.

Sometimes I use cut-outs and paper folds to facilitate the perception of three-dimensional shapes. I review previous works, search reference images in books or on the Internet, study the symbolic meanings and colours associated with the concept. What at first looks like a bunch of scratches in single sheets becomes gradually a sequential record of the creative process. I reorganize and redesign it several times, add collages, notes and accumulate all the elements and trials in a sketchbook.

Ana Maier Sketchbook

Ana Maier Sketchbook

This investigative process always precedes the production of my objects. But it is in the manufacturing stage to perform a more accurate selection, seeking to express a synthesis of my thinking in the form of a compelling visual narrative. At the same time I try to update the sketchbook with the most significant changes, but without deleting ideas that may be useful for other projects in a few weeks, months or even years.

Sketchbooks are the best way to save these precious fragments of oblivion. They can be the missing piece in a future puzzle. Making an analogy with the dream of interstellar travel, a good idea can represent a space-time bending to enable unlikely connections. After all, everything comes from the dust of the stars, so we’re all in the same boat.

Ana Maier, Um atalho entre estrelas (detail), 2016

Ana Maier, Um atalho entre estrelas (detail), 2016

For more information visit:

Alison King

Alison King Skechbook page

Alison King, Sketchbook page

When I was teaching full-time I was always telling my students how important it was to maintain a sketchbook. They weren’t always thrilled at this piece of advice but came to see the importance of the activity when approaching new work. I am a firm believer that drawing is very important but more as a way of seeing. It doesn’t mean you have to be brilliant at getting a likeness of something – that’s not important. What is important is that drawing makes you stop, take time and think deeply about what you really see. It allows you to remember easily forgotten details of colour, line and, as textile artists, surface textures. Above all, and this can be the most challenging aspect, one would hope that with a small informal drawing or painting, one might catch the essence of an object or the atmosphere of a place. So where better to gather up all these  impressions than in a sketchbook?

Alison King, Barbed wire in the WW1 sketchbook

Alison King, Barbed wire in the WW1 sketchbook

When I finally had more time, I began to practice what I preached and keeping up a sketchbook has become a vital part of my creative work. Some of my time I am lucky enough to live in the beautiful landscape of the Scottish highlands and for three years I kept what could only be described as a visual diary –  a small book for every year. This was a very good discipline and I came to enjoy seeing the year progress in a new way, the changing seasons and migration of the different birds. It meant that I was out in all kinds of weather and in the strangest clothing – feeling that it was very important to work directly from Nature. I started using a small stool when I found there weren’t enough rocks in the right places to sit on. I found fingerless gloves were a big breakthrough in the winter months and  a hat in summer with netting to keep the midges out! Sketching out of doors is not a glamorous affair!

Alison King, Winter at the cottage from an early sketchbook

Alison King, Winter at the cottage from an early sketchbook

The most important aspect of all my sketchbooks is that before I do go out I prepare a number of pages , creating different surfaces. Sometimes just a simple wash but often something a little more complex maybe with overprinting or sponging – anything goes. This is because I’ve always found an empty white page incredibly intimidating.

I use a wide variety of media, challenging myself to use different techniques as often as possible. My real favourites, however, are my oil pastels – the softer and richer the better. Some of my drawing is quite representational but not always and when I use it to develop a large textile piece everything can become quite abstract.

A typical example of this would be visible in the large hanging I made for the Buchanan Bistro in Banchory near Aberdeen. The inspiration came from a number of sketches I did based on the patterns made by the heather burning on the mountainside. So, in the end, the work has an almost patchwork quality.

Alison King, Hillside Reclaimed sketch

Alison King, Hillside Reclaimed sketch

Alison King, Detail from the Buchanan Bistro Wall Hanging

Alison King, Detail from the Buchanan Bistro Wall Hanging

Not all my work is about landscape and recently I have been working on a very large piece about the Battle of the Somme. For this type of work, my sketchbook becomes more of a note/scrapbook but with some observational drawing too.

Alison King, Poppies on a sketchbook page

Alison King, Poppies on a sketchbook page

Alison King, Poppies from panel about WW1

Alison King, Poppies from panel about WW1

Most of my work is about landscape but in 2016 I completed a very
large piece focusing on the Battle of the Somme and McCrae’s Sporting
Battalion. Shown initially in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, it is now
on permanent display in the Heart of Midlothian Football Club. For
this type of work, my sketchbook becomes more of a note/scrapbook but
with observational drawing too.

It’s not just the mountains of Scotland that fascinate me but the
trees and woodland . Many is the time I have found myself looking
deep into a forest and glimpsing the light beyond. My most recent
pieces shown in the “Insights” book and exhibition, featuring the work
of the Textile Study Group, were developed from such tree studies in
my sketchbook.

We live in strange times right now but the isolation of the past weeks
has allowed me many hours on the mountain side drawing this wonderful
landscape in my latest sketchbook.

For more information visit:

Let us know how you use your sketchbook by leaving a comment below.

Wednesday 08th, July 2020 / 07:09

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25 comments on “How top textile artists use their sketchbooks”

  1. Thameena Riaz says:

    This was very interesting to read; I myself use sketchbooks but not as much. Usually the fear of drawing something badly or not quite getting it right holds me back, but after reading this a feel much more determined to use my sketchbooks!

  2. Val Marshman says:

    I am too impatient to use a sketch book and my drawing skills depress me, I just want to get on with my idea. I do however keep a sample sketchbook with pieces of every bit of fabric I have constructed but I can see how useful a tool they are. I must try harder.

  3. Ana Casnati says:

    I use at least three sketchbook and also I fabric one too. My process of creation is based in several sketchbook working.

  4. Kate from Fitzwilliam says:

    Using a sketchbook often makes me feel super self-conscious. I took encouragement from all of these comments. The idea of preparing pages in advance is also very interesting. Thank you.

  5. I am an artist that writes a lot…from songs to thoughts to everything… so I have a lot of journals…throughout which you would find sketches in between. I have had a few sketchbooks, though, dedicated to inspiring things I see that I may want to record, or mere doodling when I’m waiting somewhere to kill boredom. They’ve come in handy when inspiration seemed far away!

  6. sherron says:

    Wow, once again, a great post! ” NO judgements” really jumped out at me! Going to begin to use all the blank sketchbooks I have, and one for all things. I shared with the weavers and porcelain artists, we all need to do this!
    Thanks so very much!

  7. I use a sketchbook constantly, both for recording things I observe and for planning new work –but still at times find myself slipping into that self-consciousness that inhibits free expression and visual thinking on those pages. Loved this post and its reminders that the sketchbooks (I always have multiple ones going at the same time) should be a place where one can work without judgment. So inspiring to see how these various artists use theirs!
    I’m not a textile artist at all, but a printmaker. I only recently discovered the website, and I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoy the site and the newsletters. Thank you for all the wonderful posts, which are of value to artists working in any medium.

  8. Linda says:

    Even now, well into my sixties, I’m still intimidated by sketching, not so much about my ability, but by the feeling I’m being judged, and often interrupted. There seems to be something fascinating to others about seeing an artist sketching: “hey, whatcha doing?” (the interruption) and when that happens, questions abound, criticisms happen (judgment) and I’m still struggling with the subconscious loop of well-meaning but critical voices from my past (and present as well.) You would think that at my age I wouldn’t care anymore about all that, but it still is a brick wall for me. Reading these articles help a LOT, so thank you for that! I will continue to make a concentrated effort to get past these creative blocks and do more sketching.

  9. Anita says:

    I am very conscious that I am not very good at drawing. I am in awe of people who can put two or three lines on a page and it looks like a cat, I think I over-draw and try to put too much into my picture. I do however keep a workbook and I think that the change of name helps, makes it less frightening. I do draw in it and I add samples of stitches, fabrics and write ideas down and I usually find that my finished piece is quite removed from my first idea.

  10. I have not so much sketchbooks because i love to work immedly if I have ideas… And mostly with the felting process coming ideas for stiching, colouring ….further …but if I plan clothes, scarfs, pillows or other big work I’d like to make notes about shrinking, colouring, make sketches with patterns, colours …it helps me to concentrate and make a desicion which way I want to go…And if I am on holidays I note my ideas in a travel sketchbook for later…

  11. Thank you for this post. In recent years, yes, years, my art has taken a back seat to major changes in my life. I am aware of starting to create again, and for a while was baffled about how to approach my studio work. I reviewed my sketchbooks, which I thought did not have much, as I don’t/didn’t use them regularly. There was one particular series of images I wanted to find, but I had to go through all my design sketches to find them. That was an excellent place to start. I am reminded how valuable the sketches, and sketching is in the development of my work. I’ve got a toe in my studio again, and sketching will continue to be an important part of it.

  12. Linda Litchfield says:

    Very inspiring post. I have tried many times to develop a “sketchbook habit”. I begin well but can never sustain it. Time to try again.

  13. Cath Archer says:

    Love this article – it’s always fascinating to see other artist’s sketchbooks and journals, and I love it when artists display their sketchbooks alongside finished work. All kinds of things find their way into my journals – song lyrics, ideas, sketches, collages, inspirational poems and quotes. I write up as much as I can remember of my dreams, too. Sometimes just a fleeting image or impression, sometimes a whole vivid dream. One day the characters and landscapes might become a book, who knows?

  14. lc says:

    So helpful to see this story and the artists’ work as well as the comments. Glad to see some plans in rough form. I’m somewhat new to the sketchbook idea — at least as a planner and idea guide vs. just practice. I would love to know if anyone has a favorite (size, paper, brand) and what those who do fabric samples use for their books.

  15. Margot says:

    Daphne Taylor, exquisite, a wonderful discovery for me. Thank you.

  16. Chris says:

    I have been keeping sketchbooks for about 50yrs! As an art teacher I always encourage my students to keep a visual diary. Not always able to work on them, as life does get in the way sometimes…but always when I’m travelling I make sure I have a small book A6 in my handbag with pen and small watercolour box to draw whenever I can. Lately I have been able to retrace my thoughts in these books and be reinspired to create new works, using textiles now instead of acrylic paints. I would even say my visual diaries are the jewels in my studio!
    Thanks for the article, I always enjoy reading them, keep up the good work!

  17. Lynne says:

    Very interesting read and something I’m going to explore….I have sketchbooks but I don’t use them to their full potential, this has given me food for thought…

  18. Mariette says:

    I loved the topic of “sketchbooks” – it inspired me to be more disciplined in keeping sketchbooks. Although I work in digital media at this stage, I love the site and have been sewing since I was a child. During my studies I explored textile sculpture a little and have the intention of continuing with it at some stage. Thanks again for wonderfull and inspirational ontent.

  19. Carol says:

    I love my many sketchebooks. Been keeping them for years. When I taught I did the assimements along with the students to let them know I valued what I asked them to do. Now the books are collection and exploration spaces. Thanks for the encouraging words.

  20. ANDREA GASKELL says:

    A really interesting and inspiring post. I do sketch and go to a weekly watercolour class, but it’s not enough. I think it’s partly about building habits. I was thinking about my own practice and realise that a space to sketch is something that would work for me. I need to work on that. Thanks.

  21. Mary Chidlow says:

    Thank you for giving the subject of sketchbooks a wider audience . I have drawn for as long as I can remember. I use my sketchbooks to process thoughts and as a starting point for textile projects . Like another of the writers I am sometimes more interested in the sketchbooks of famous artists than their finished paintings . At a recent textile exhibition I was privileged to see the sketchbook ideas which resulted in the completed textile hanging .

  22. Annette McMaster says:

    To plan any creative work using a sketchbook will kill the creative process,for me. All my work has always evolved organically. I firmly believe that it will evolve as I open myself to receive the stimuli as they come my way. I am merely the conduit and never in control.

  23. lynette douglas says:

    turning 80 and am a terrible artist but will try yet again to keep a sketchbook


  24. Margot says:

    So encouraging, great article. If possible would love to see a more about sketch books, as to what sort, paper etc, lined v unlined. Why a particular artist uses a certain type of sketch book etc? Thank you.

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