"Before I talk about how I do it, lets me explain why I even draw in my sketchbooks.
First of all, like stretching for exercise, it warms up the hand-eye-brain co-ordination, it gets your eye-in at the start of the day. I like to work in my books as the first thing I do to start the day well .. because I always have a great afterwards.
In the simplest terms, it is the act of training and practice, learning through doing. I am much more responsive to kinaesthetic learning – that is the tactile physical act of drawing and writing in a sketchbook rather than listening and reading – through which memories fade pretty fast.
We are living through the digital revolution, and it’s all too easy to be seduced by this technology, as wonderful as it is, and what it can achieve. And some may argue that keeping a sketchbook is archaic and anachronistic - not fitting of the age, But it would firmly contend that Time should be taken out of the equation. This rigorous practice is timeless. It is where ideas are caught then developed. Drawing stops time and makes us present. Great on-site-drawing is being in the NOW.
Although I’m going to show mine later, no-one needs to see what is inside the covers of your journal. Inside there is a space as large as the universe to make mistakes and embrace them. To sum up why I work in sketchbooks, well in all the chaos in the world especially right now, and with day to day life, it is the principle constant that keeps me sane. It calms me down, it gives order and purpose. How I do it and what I do is constrained by simple regulations. I use different size books for different purposes. A tiny pocket size book for jotting down ideas – bullet points in a text, thumbnails in line.
A little larger, A6 is for mainly drawing, not necessarily the best drawing, but its size allows for a 30 minute idea to be completed - that’s an average journey on a bus or ferry. The A5 book is split between writing and drawing. I treat this more as a diary than tackling bigger ideas for a project. It’s a good size to write in. I can comfortably write a double page in one session. The writing doesn’t describe the drawing, and the drawing doesn’t illustrate the writing. Certain experiences can not be expressed in pictures – words can describe and help remember the invisible – the sounds, smells, thoughts and conversations.
My A4 books now are day per page diaries where I draw anything for practice, and try ordering my life in lists. I need lists, for without them I am bewildered. I stick things in these books too, ephemera, or news clippings, things that may have provenance in years to come. Sometimes you can learn more about a time and place from a receipt than the existential musings of self-absorbtion. An A3 book is usually a dedicated project – a journey. It is loose and free because the size means you have to express far more physically, using sweeping gesture and movement. It is closer to painting.
So now let me talk about what I put in my books and where they have taken me. . . I work first and foremost in the field, on location. I am like a journalist and my work is research into people and place. I’m interested in history both ancient and modern. I enjoy the edges of things – no-man’s-land, when night becomes day, the edges of cities, Ruins and sacred sites. The man-made and the natural – opposites juxtaposed as Metaphors and symbols. I have travelled to many conflict zones because I want to understand what peace may look like. I like characters; individuals. I never cease to be fascinated by people, where they come from, what makes them tick.
I am trying to get into a zone that allows me to express a feeling. What it feels like to be there. It’s a search for the The Spirit of Place and narrative of this journey; Its a human story of the never ending quest to find sanctuary. It’s a story that involves the places I roam and the people I meet there. I put myself into situations, often extreme to learn through experience. I truly believe that we can only make conclusions if we witness ourselves. A sketchbook allows me to express this truth.
The materials I use to document are simple and efficient. Mark making is fundamental. EVERYTHING starts with lines and I use a wide range of mark-making materials…dip pens, ball point pens, pencils, markers all have different qualities. I am learning new materials and techniques constantly – it’s the idea that important I’m not interested in developing a particular style. Style should be the natural progression from your philosophy. When you are starting off, the search for the surface is everything because that’s what people initially respond to – but it’s what is below the surface that stands the test of time and has gravitas and pathos. But I am always searching for new materials to communicate – but all the time revisiting the fundamentals of art and design and translating this in my teaching. Colour, Composition, Texture, Shape – SPACE. HARMONY and UNITY.…
Education is the key. How I communicate these journeys in a sketchbook to a wider audience involves a higher level, and that’s where new technology comes in, because the digital revolution has freed us up to get ideas across efficiently to a world wide audience.
But computer skills are nothing without a simple line expressing a simple idea on paper ... And it’s the people who have done this before that I’m inspired by – those that apply their brain to new ideas on blank pieces of paper. These may be artists – Like William Blake, who saw and felt things, others who wrote letters, journalists scribbling in the harshest of circumstances... Writers, who observe the human condition… film makers storyboarding with vision. Musicians struggling with the word, rhythm and chord on a piece of paper … and chefs too noting taste and the balance of flavour and ingredients. Scientists with preternatural imagination - noticing the patterns in the mysteries of creation. I’m interested in the history of ideas and the people who make them.
All of what I say might seem a little too subjective and philosophical. But I know through my experience, from the ups and downs, the one thing that is always going to be true is that keeping a sketchbook doesn’t let you down. It changes your life quite dramatically through its causes and its effects. It alters your perspective to life and your understanding of people. It helps you connect with a higher force -a mystical law– a law that eliminates prejudice as your eyes become open to the interconnectedness that we all share with each other and everything else.
In life We Travel, WE move, but we stay still in the space between the past and the future on these pages in a sketchbook journal. Or at least we do when we are letting go, forgetting the insecurities of past failures, and forgetting superficial aspirations for a future. That’s when we do our best work and that’s when we work towards a true purpose, a common goal of helping others through our creativity. That is the state I have learned to strive for. .. one that leads myself to ask with joyful anticipation as I turn over to the next blank page and ASK myself… what happens next, if I put down this mark, what positive change will I create for myself and those around me in the future. The state I am striving for is one of HOPE. That’s the goal of sketchbook – to give us hope. "