How top textile artists use their sketchbooks
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: www.daphnetaylorquilts.com
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.
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.
For more information visit: www.gillianbates-textiles.com
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.
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.
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.
For more information visit: www.benvenom.com
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.
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.
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.
For more information visit: www.paulineburbidge-quilts.com
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.
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.
For more information visit: www.anamaier.com
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?
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!
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.
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.
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
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: www.textilestudygroup.co.uk
Let us know how you use your sketchbook by leaving a comment below.