I became involved in sketchbook circles seven years ago through NSEAD (National Society for Education in Art and Design). Whilst teaching full time, I felt my own practice was sliding; another month would go by and my weekends became full of backlogs of marking, lessons to plan and exemplars to make. Joining a national sketchbook circle with other teachers and practitioners allowed me to maintain some kind of creative voice, independent from my teaching responsibilities. I was accountable each month in sending my book onto the next person. This was a huge national circle and, instead of rotating books, we were all part of a circular pendulum, so I had a visual conversation with just two other people. I have never met the other artists in person during the different annual circles I took part in, but it did not seem to matter. The monthly conversations we had were intimate, personal and always genuine.
I am currently part of a sketchbook circle with a group of engaging, vibrant and lively UK based artists, all of whom I have met in ‘real life’. We are a small group of five, and we rotate our sketchbooks once a month, giving ourselves time to respond to the thread of each book so far, and to take things in a new direction. We sometimes work over the top of previous pages, so it’s crucial not to be too precious or feel total ownership over any sketchbook. We have no visual rules. We consist of a jeweller/printmaker, three painters and me, a draftswoman. We can draw, paint, stick, write, cut away or build up. We are a group of women and this, in itself, has impacted our visual conversation; we are now in the fourth month of our rotating sketchbook circle, and themes in each book are becoming more apparent. One book has a strong theme of home and family, another book finds a connection with nature, whilst another is full of fleshy bodies, lumps, bumps and wobbly bits! We form a group of women who are excited about making, communicating and being supportive and positive towards each other.
At the end of each month I enjoy receiving a sketchbook in the post. Each book is steadily growing. I am excited to see the sketchbook I originally started too, when it finally comes around to me again. I enjoy the responses others have to my own work, and the variety that each sketchbook produces. Some pages consist of layered paint, others are collaged from bags of flour, magazines, surfaces and materials found around the house. Other pages are full of looser drawings, mark making and explorations of a surface. Pages of drawings link together through colour, or the same media, or a continuation of a particular piece of a drawing. Illustrative ink drawings of seed heads morph into more abstract shapes, and then finally into parts of a body which then mutate into drawings observed from textile designs. Each of us has our own style and I can identify each artist from their pages.
When I receive a book each month, I take time to look through it, sometimes for a few weeks. I always need time to appreciate and think about how each book has developed thus far, how to respond, how to link pages together, how to form a story, how to develop a visual thread. This month’s imagery started with pencil drawings made along the coast path, and ink drawings of imaginary plants, which have now developed into more abstract shapes that are beginning to resemble cells. Last month’s book felt more topical, with collages of food packaging, pills, and a sense of the current world situation creeping in. Our commitment to this project and to each other will result in five sketchbooks full of a year of our lives and our own individual experiences.