Creative Sketchbooks Workshop

3-4 June, 2017 Manchester

This 2-day course in a studio in a gallery in a former mill in Ancoats in Manchester was run by Brian Raymond of Creative Art Courses. It had been advertised by an OCA student and was supported by OCA. 9/10 course members were OCA students from Textiles, Design and Drawing. As ever it was good to meet up and work with fellow students including those on other pathways.

Following introductions we were straight into facing the white page! Brian soon had us drawing, painting and sticking newsprint into our sketchbooks creating textures, tones and layers which would be used as backgrounds later in the workshop. The drawing could be random shapes or scribbles with pencil or coloured pastel but Brian also encouraged us to use text suggesting that the viewer’s attention is often drawn to text in paintings. The drawing and collage was then covered with white emulsion paint (a cheaper substitute for gesso). We now had a number of pages in our sketchbooks with a variety of backgrounds on which we had worked with a variety of media – and it was only coffee time!

In the next part Brian showed us a few ways of putting extra pages into sketchbooks which is useful if you wish to add extra work to an earlier project and also to annotate pages where there is insufficient space left. The first image shows an insert using paper

clips and the other three images of a page using hinges made from strips of masking tape. Both examples make use of 2nd hand envelopes which can then be painted over. The second example uses an envelope opened out in a landscape format to extend the size of the page.

In the third part of the day we were invited to make two or more drawings in our sketchbooks of a potted plant using emulsion, collage, pastel, dip pen and ink together with use of the pre-prepared pages and also inserted extra pages for annotation. The first drawing would be an initial observation and the second or others building on and developing this image.

The image top left shows my first attempt at the plant using emulsion, dip pen and green ink. The image below shows an added page with paper clips,  in the shape of a leaf and used for annotation. The image on the right shows my second drawing of the plant in which I tried to make more use of the varied line of the pen to depict the sinuous and interlocking nature of the stems and leaves, as well as positive and negative space and lost and found edges. I think this was a more dynamic image and more expressive of the plant itself.

On the second day Brian introduced us to a four point process for using sketchbooks, annotating at each stage in the sketchbooks and/or your learning log:

  1. Primary research in A4 ring back sketchbook, drawing images from direct observation, exploring small aspects and details as well as the whole, to really get to know the subject.
  2. Research into other artists who have used the same reference material, exploring their ideas and methods, putting photocopies into A4 sketchbook and doing your own versions or using the techniques with your own subject.
  3. Taking the material in 1. and 2. off on your own tangent to develop your ideas (A4 and/or larger sheets)
  4. Working up into your final composition.

I found this outline hugely helpful and gave me a much clearer understanding of how to make use of sketchbooks in creative ways.

For the remainder of the workshop we explored these four stages with a project using seashells. Here are samples of my work at each stage:

1. Primary research – drawing shells in dip pen and ink on paper I had primed with shell-like shapes in emulsion to create a page structure. Also using brown paper to create shape, colour and texture. Dip pen very useful for fine shellproject01details of barnacles but needed additional lines for balance on outside of shell as well as defining shape. Explored colours in shells with acrylic swatches on added page. It was interesting to really look and to discover unexpected colours in shells one would normally describe in general terms.


2. As we did not have the time and facility to research other artists Brian gave us pre-prepared information, including illustration, on the work of Kitty Sabatier.shellproject02

I have never heard of her work but loved her minimalist style and skilled use of pen and brushwork. She was an inspired choice.



3. We then used ideas inspired by Kitty Sabatier to develop our own ideas in developing the shells theme. I wanted to keep an abstract image and yet suggest the ideas of seashells with line and wash. These shellproject03were engrossing and fun to do and I liked the 1st and the third ones in particular in that I felt the colours resonated with the shell colours and the ink line hinted at the shell edges. I decided to work with the third image for my final picture.















4. My final image, which included some collage did not work out quite as I’d hoped. It has


suggestion of shells, for example on the left hand side with the use of positive and negative space and the texture of the emulsion together with the fine pen lines, but I think the dark shapes seem to encircle the inner two shapes and are not well balanced. It lacks Sabatier’s skill with paint. But I need to remember it was a stage on the way to greater resolution and not, as I had hoped, a final wonderful image!

What I learned from the workshop:

  1. just how much help and how creative using and developing sketchbooks can be. Hitherto I had always wanted to get down to the end product and preparatory sketching seemed an unnecessary chore. Now I feel fired up to use and really value my sketchbook as a work of art in its own right. I returned to the workshop on the second day really fired up.
  2. some very practical methods, especially how to make and insert additional pages into a sketchbook and ways of prepping pages to  suggest underlying texture and tone, for example, as well as overcoming the challenge of the pure white page.
  3. My work is unique and my own and I am learning from it and proud of it. It was amazing how using the same materials, subjects and tasks there were 10 very different interpretations. The workshop reinforced for me my desire to make art my practice and the vital part sketchbooks should play in that.

A big thankyou to Brian Raymond

for welcoming us to his studio and for his excellent teaching, facilitating and for sharing his wisdom, creativity and experience. It was clear that considerable work had gone in to the preparation and planning of the course from which we all benefited immensely, taking away with us enhanced knowledge and skills.

Thanks also to Deborah, OCA student, for helping to arrange it for us and to all the students who talk part for their affirming comments and ideas and some good discussions especially at lunchtime.









7 thoughts on “Creative Sketchbooks Workshop

  1. Looks like you got a lot out of the course. I’m just starting with OCA so nice to see students getting the chance to meet up and get feedback from each other.

    1. Yes it was one of the best workshops I’ve done. As you are starting look out for study visits which are an opportunity to meet other students.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing. Wish I’d seen this at the beginning of Drawing 1. But will be helpful for my next stage – POP I think.
    Best wishes

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