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Sketchbook ~ One of the most exciting words in the English language?

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You might be able to tell from the title of this blogpost that if people utter the word “sketchbook” in my company I am highly likely to leap about with excitement. It’s not really the word – it is the concept, the history, the thrill of a new, unmarked sketchbook, the myriad possibilities and opportunities to fill it with colour. It is the chance to play.

Playing with colour, texture and shapes in a recent sketchbook

The association between sketchbooks and play started a long time ago. My parents encouraged my passion for art from the very start. Maybe the only time they could get any peace and quiet was when I had a pencil in hand and plenty of paper to make my marks. Sketchbooks were a big step up from the huge stack of scrap paper. They were more permanent. Any art produced within the sketchbook pages were taken much more seriously than the doodles on loose sheets. My masterpieces would not get mistakenly thrown away if they were in a sketchbook. Sketchbooks are things of substance and gravitas. It’s funny how this concept has reversed in later times. From GCSE years onwards, the sketchbook is where the ideas are developed and the stand alone piece (or pieces) that follow are considered the jewel in the crown.

Detail from a sketchbook dated 1999. I would have been 20 years old and doing a Fine Art BA Hons course in Cardiff when I was working in this small sketchbook

As I have alluded to in previous blogposts, the prospect of working with sketchbooks was the ultimate selling point for me when I was trying to decide whether to sign up for the Professional Garden Design Diploma at The Cotswold Gardening School. This was an opportunity for me to play again! I have filled at least one huge A2 sized sketchbook for each of the four project gardens that we have worked on. I was slightly concerned that I had gone a bit over the top at first but tutors really appreciate being able to see where every detail of a final design originated.

Lists of plants and printouts of digital and hand drawn sketches

Each sketchbook ends up being a combination of sketches, both freehand and printouts of digital sketches. I also include mood boards consisting of inspirational photos of other gardens and garden features and lots of text explaining what is going through my mind when I am adding to my sketchbooks. In addition there are loads of fabulous images that I have clipped out of my collection of gardening magazines or found online. There are lists of plants, lists of hard landscaping materials, sizes, costs, practicalities as well as flights of fancy and always colours, shapes and textures.

A mood board for a college garden design project

Today, for instance, I have been working at my drawing board on the final master layout plan for our fourth and final college project. This involves lots of research of measurements for details like the ultimate spread of the canopy of a particular tree or the width of brick edging for a path. Every time I had a query I would do my research online and note dimensions and any other useful details down in my sketchbook. It won’t be one of the more colourful pages but I will always be able to look back and see where and how that final design came about. I will also be able to use that information in future projects. Today was a practical, technical drawing sort of a day but I know that in a few day’s time I will be using my sketchbooks to look closely at colours of plants and how they relate to my original ‘big idea’ ~ see previous blogpost for an explanation of the ‘big idea’ concept

My new digital sketchbook

Recently I have had to change tack a little. I was approaching the end of my latest physical sketchbook, the printer was on the blink and I was going though glue sticks faster than I thought was environmentally sustainable, so I did something a little drastic. I moved the second half of my final project into a digital sketchbook format. It is not my preferred way of working but it is sufficing quite nicely. I have taken a photo of one of the last, clean double pages of my real-life sketchbook and uploaded it to my iPad. I now use that photograph as a backdrop onto which I copy and paste all of my latest drawings, thoughts and inspirational images. I then use the pencil facility to make notes as if it were a tangible sketchbook. I feel much happier that I am not increasing my printer paper / electricity / glue stick consumption carbon footprint but I do miss the feel of an actual sketchbook. I will never move all of my work from physical to digital but I can see how the two mediums can work well in conjunction with one another. This is especially important in the exciting and intense last few weeks of what has been a mind-expandingly extraordinary course. I’m heading back to my drawing board because I’ve got work to do… but my sketchbook is never far away.