Ellie Jakeman ©
Sketchbooks or Sketch pads whichever name you assign them, are one of the most important tools in an artist's tool kit! The journey of personal discovery and progress, that can be taken in a sketchbook, can take a lifetime for one artist, whilst another can fill a sketchbook in an hour! There are no definitive time lines with a sketchbook, you choose your time, place and pace...
Finding the right sketchbook for you is important so these adventures become personal and meaningful journeys. In this first blog we will look at famous sketchbooks and what they were used for. In the second blog we will help you choose the right one for your style, medium and purpose.
There are some that would even go so far as to call them an artist’s best companion, they travel with you mentally and physically and never leave your side. Many artists rely on their sketchbook for the many facets of their creative process and for developing their creativity.
What are Sketchbooks used for?
Artists use sketchbooks and sketch pads as an essential tool for monitoring their progress, pushing ideas forward, and developing themes. They are used for capturing thoughts and testing out ideas, used to test and foster new narratives, to push and develop designs, they are used as visual diaries and for note taking, working through propositions, practising textures and details and colour palettes, and testing out new media or mixed media … sketchbooks and sketch pads have always been part of the creative process and will always be kept by artists to chronologically record their timeline and to see how far they have travelled stylistically, spiritually, skilfully, etc...
Leonardo de Vinci, George Robert Lewis, JWM Turner, Frida Kahlo, Vincent van Gogh, to name but a few…
Historical sketchbooks have given us the privilege to look back at some of the initial stages and beginnings of the most iconic work the Art World has ever seen.
Leonardo de Vinci (1452 - 1519)
Leonardo de Vinci was the most diversely talented Italian Renaissance artist that ever lived; architect, musician, inventor, engineer, sculptor and painter known globally for his work.
Some of the most prolific studies of Leonardo Da Vinci can be viewed at the Victoria and Albert Museum; it is believed that Da Vinci created 50 different notebooks, between 20,000 to 28,000 pages of notes and sketches!
Image courtesy of V&A museum The Three Volumes of Codex Forster, Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. MSL/1876/Forster/141. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Not just an artist, Da Vinci was an architect, designer, inventor, engineer and a scientist. His acute attention for detail and thirst for knowledge is captured and written or sketched down on multiples of paper to later become a collection of sketchbooks and visual journals.
Some of the prolific studies of Leonardo Da Vinci can be viewed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, it is believed that da Vinci created 50 different notebooks, between 20,000 to 28,000 pages of notes and sketches!
‘A study for ‘The Last Supper from Leonardo’s notebooks shows twelve apostles, nine of which are identified by names written above their heads. Judas sits on the opposite side of the table, as in earlier depictions of the scene’.
George Robert Lewis (1782–1871)
Another Beautiful sketchbook collection from the V&A museum and an interesting and beautiful blog written by Sarah Bettie Fifty shades of hay: the sketchbook of George Robert Lewis. George Robert Lewis was a versatile English painter of landscapes and portraits.
This sketchbook was possibly made around 1815 in the fields at Haywood, Herefordshire, where he illustrated the process of haymaking. He focused on figure drawing, observing each of the labourers movements, and body language, some of the pages are full of little pencil drawings, quick on the spot observations, then further on in the sketchbook he drew them again in pen and ink, tone with wash within more of a landscape composition. Much the same as Van Gogh did with his rural scenes of workers.
The younger brother of Frederick Christian Lewis and of Charles Lewis the bookbinder, he was born in London on 27 March 1782. He studied under Henry Fuseli in the schools of the Royal Academy, and worked on both nature and antiquities.
JMW Turner 'The Channel Sketchbook' (1775 - 1851)
This beautiful sketch book is housed at the Yale Centre for British Art. Out of the 300 sketchbooks bequeathed to the British Nation now at the Tate, this sketchbook which is thought to be his last, made its way to the US after it was acquired by Mr Paul Mellon the Centres founder.
Inside this sketchbook, we find quick sketches of seascapes, landscapes, and observations and quick gestural responses made to recreate the sense of place and of the forces of nature, dark swirls of clouds or calm reflective sunsets.
Turner would take his quick paintings, drawings and notes back to his studio where he could reference them later for inspiration whilst composing his larger canvases. A beautiful example of sketchbooks for painting.
Turner would create these striking images whilst touring England's South coast and Frances’s North coast in the mid-1840s. Contained within this beautiful collection of pages are 74 watercolour studies and 26 graphite drawings, it is believed they were all created ‘en plein air’, on the spot.
It’s also believed that the artist worked from front to back on the right-hand pages, and then he turned the sketchbook over and worked in the opposite direction.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775–1851, British, The Channel Sketchbook, ca. 1845, Graphite and watercolor on medium, slightly textured, white wove paper, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1993.30.118.
Frida Kahlo's Visual Diary (1907 - 1954)
Frida Kahlo was renowned for portraying herself and her life through a collection of richly coloured and uncompromising self-portraits. There are many images of her dressed in beautiful and colourful traditional Mexican costumes and headdresses that sing off the canvas. They narrate her tragedies, and her passions, her dreams and her reality. Identity, the human body and death were concurrent themes in her work.
Frida started a Visual Diary at the age of 36, in the last 10 years of her life. This visual diary connected Frida to her feelings and emotions, she talked about her pain both physical and emotional. She discussed her worries, and her art practice. Her Visual Diary was a place to discuss her political opinions, her inner thoughts in both words and images.
She was freed from any shackles on these pages and the work that she produced illustrates her spontaneity and her creativity; they are not careful images; they are alive with movement and colour. She talks about how each of her colours are symbolic to her, 'Blue' refers to 'electricity and purity', while 'yellow' represents madness, illness fear, part of the sun, and happiness'
For Frida this diary was personal and intimate, where everything could be contained, remembered and created. Her pets feature in her visual diary, as do pre-Hispanic Mexico, nature and duality, all were recurring themes in Frida's work.
The travel diaries and letters of Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890)
The letters and sketchbooks of Vincent van Gogh are one of the best examples of word and image that reveal how deeply and complex an artist feels about their work. They are probably one of the Art world's greatest collections of a chronological journey that enlighten and educate us on this often misunderstood, talented artist.
We see the whole of his creative process through these sketchbooks and illustrated letters but seen through his eyes.
It is believed that Van Gogh may have written over 2,000 letters in total to his friends and family, especially to Theo, his brother, confidante and sponsor. He called the drawings in his letters ‘scratches’ and his letters contain over 240 sketches. He describes his inspirations, colours, feelings, emotions, health and daily life, along with his encounters.
Van Gogh’s sketchbooks were the inspirations behind his paintings, his daily visual diaries. He observed the world in deep focus, he watched human behaviour and body language, he noticed every nuance of human emotion and attended to the minute reproduction of it through his observational drawings. Nothing was too insignificant for his attention, he was an observer of life..
To see Vincent’s Paris sketch book press the title link;
Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890), Paris, February-June 1886 Credits (obliged to state): Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890), Paris, May-July 18908 Credits (obliged to state): Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890), Nuenen, November 1884-September 1885 Credits (obliged to state): Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890), Nuenen, June 1885-June 1886 Credits (obliged to state): Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
We have looked at five very different sketchbooks of five very different artists. However there is one overarching common denominator with all of these very famous artists. Their ‘sketchbooks’ became the receptacle in which they captured every form of creative expression personal to them, whilst on their travels or in their studios when not working on their larger paintings.
Their sketchbooks connected them to the real world around them and to their studios when they were on their travels, so themes could still be addressed and developed. Their sketchbooks connected them to their imaginations and to their dreams, re-creating their colour palettes, creating new landscapes, making the images tangible. Their sketchbooks provided a safe space in which to try out new ideas or discuss new narratives. To revisit old themes or explore new landscapes!
Ellie Jakeman ©