Keeping a sketchbook

In the past I’ve made a few vague attempts to keep “An Artist’s Diary”. They tend to veer rapidly to lots of text with the occasional diagram or a few lines that resembled not very much at all. However, it is a course requirement to maintain a sketchbook, so I set forth with courage braced.

On the left you see Page 1. On the right you see the jug passed down to my mother and “borrowed” by me for quite a long time now. The photo is a slightly different angle. Still, a start is a good thing.

However I may have gone off track. It all started with William Dobell, who has been described as “the last great portraitist” and who “regarded drawing as the cornerstone of art” (Gleeson, 1992).

Various course materials encourage looking at artists’ sketchbooks – to get inspired, to look at the marks and lines they used. At the local library to borrow a book on the sketchbooks of Picasso (“Je suis le cahier”) I saw a book on the drawings of William Dobell – excellent, keep that Australian slant.

Reading Gleeson’s text was exciting: “[drawing is] a graphic script of endless individual permutation” and “an artist’s declaration of intention”. “[Dobell] used a brush as a linear instument: forms, volumes and tones were all built up by the application of lines”. Could anything be more appropriate for a textile artist, building up a piece stitch by stitch – or pick by pick.

lower part attempting to learn from Dobell

Dobell, "Engines on the Great Western Railway near Paddington", reproduced in Gleeson, 1992

So I sat down to try to really see the marks – shape and tone to some extent, but primarily the marks. And I tried to reproduce some in my sketchbook.
I don’t believe I have ever felt more ridiculous. I would closely examine a small section, try to make a mark in my sketchbook – really just to try to understand what I was seeing. I quickly realised I not only didn’t understand, I didn’t really see. Which was a bit of a kicker. Plus I had absolutely no idea which pencil or piece of graphite or whatever might be appropriate. I did the resolute thing and went on for another page.
Today I did the regrouping thing and tried to draw some things sitting on my worktable.
What have I learnt? I had the purpose of increasing sensitivity to marks, however I didn’t know the right tools to use and I got distracted by the drawing as a whole as distinct from the markmaking. I think I’ll get a better result for me at this stage of development to restrict myself to careful viewing and enjoyment of Dobell’s work, no pencil in hand.
Re-reading the course notes, I need to be clearer on the purpose of the sketchbook. In one section it suggests a separate sketchbook for developing drawing and observational skills. The “primary” sketchbook should have a focus on texture, colour and structure – useful in developing textile works. Today I was trying to see and to record what I was seeing – to get it into my head and because some of it might be useful as input to other processes later. So not quite one thing or the other – maybe I’m not too badly off track.

I’ve put all my sketchbook work so far in a new page here, and will keep adding new material there (not necessarily everything). I’ve added the link to my new menu across the top of the blog – amazing what you can learn when in a new situation šŸ™‚

Gleeson, J (1992) The Drawings of William Dobell in the Australian National Gallery, (Canberra, Australian National Gallery)

2 Responses to “Keeping a sketchbook”


  1. 1 Meg in Nelson September 5, 2011 at 6:57 am

    Using the appropriate medium and learning how to use them “correctly” has been very difficult in my drawing class, so now I stopped worrying about it and use whatever I like, which seems to work, at least for me. But fear of having an unpretty sketchbook has always hampered my taking visual diaries seriously, and it’s been mostly on backs of receipts and envelopes. (Not to mention that we weavers do a lot of multiplications and divisions for art, which doesn’t render to pretty pictures!)

    I look forward to following your progress here.


  1. 1 Project 5 Stage 4 « Fibres of Being Trackback on April 26, 2012 at 9:52 pm

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In Basketry NSW Transformation exhibition Sunday 2 July. More info fibresofbeing.wordpress.com

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