Sunday, 3 May 2009


I have been thinking about sketchbooks, prompted by Nigel and Peg who are both interested in approaching weaving from the angle of new design. Peg is now keeping a sketchbook on her computer - this link will give you a glimpse into Peg's e-sketchbook.

Nigel and Peg both like the book Creating Sketchbooks for Embroiders and Textile Artists, by Kay Greenlees, pub. Batsford, 2005, ISBN 0-7134-8957-X. I was able to order this from the Derbyshire Library Service - I can't say often enough how wonderful our local libraries are, they got this book in for an 80 pence request fee.

However, when I got home to read the eagerly awaited book, I was disappointed. It was so simple and basic. It tells you what a sketchbook is and what to do with it... well of course it does! What did I expect?

I forgot that we all come from different backgrounds. Our type script looks so similar on our blogs, but we are different people with different experiences of life. I read this book from the light of my own world view.

I had a really good and thorough art education at school, and have 30 years of all kinds of art & design experience. I could actually write a book like the one I was hoping for. I expected some sort of magic, but found something plain, practical and for me very elementary. I re-read the title - this book is, as it says, for embroiders and textile artists, it assumes nothing more. If you didn't do art at school, if you never used sketchbooks and learnt formal design processes, then do give this book a read, I'm sure it will be helpful.

One corner of my studio is already piled high with sketchbooks. In another, I have a large collection of photos organised in envelopes by subject matter. I am surrounded by books on art and design.

So, I still didn't answer this - what did I expect? I was looking for an explanation of how to work through from an image or idea to a finished design. Do I actually need a book that tells me that? Well, no I don't, and I found that this book is aimed at people who have not used sketchbooks. It is a book to encourage you to get yourself a sketchbook, to collect material, to make all sorts of little sketches from just playing with colour to actually drawing things around you. In fact, to draw anything and everything, and to collect scraps of this and that. It is a good book - it does exactly what it sets out to do. I don't like the pictures, but that's me being fussy, there's nothing wrong with them, I'd just like to re-do them - they could be better!! Ah ha! now you see it has got through to me after all....

However, my favourite books on design and sketching are:

Sketching Made Easy: a complete beginners guide, by Helen Douglas-Cooper, pub. Paragon Book Service Ltd, Great Britain, 1995, ISBN 0-7525-1092-4

Design in Embroidery, by Kathleen Whyte, B.T. Batsford Limited, Great Britain, 1969, ISBN 7134 2633 0

Ideas for Machine Embroidery, by Enid Mason, Mills & Boon, Great Britain, 1961,

designs for machine embroidery, by Ira Lillow, B T Batsford Ltd. Great Britain, 1975, ISBN 0 7134 3023 0

Don't be put off by "embroidery" in the titles of some of these - they are about looking at things, drawing sketches and developing designs.

Having read through the Kay Greenless book from the library, I picked up my camera and set off to spend 10 minutes collecting "sketches" that could help for design. First, for colour and texture, I love the bricks in this wall which is waiting to be replastered:

This wall is alongside the new staircase where I photographed my linen yarns recently. Looking down, here's my booted foot on the sycamore wood stairs. What an odd photo! Yes, but we are looking for design ideas. I like the colours in this photo, the indigo blue with soft tan and gold shades, the dark and light tones:

This next photo is for the rich green shades, but also the form of the leaves, and the way the stems of leaves relate to each other. It is close to being something you could easily lift and develop into an embroidery design, or a logo. The range of green shades with just a little of soft brown and deep brown in the background could be nice in a woven cloth:

I think the rich, bold colours in these next two photographs of wall flowers just speak for themselves, this is luxury, time for a silk stole, or fabric for a stunning jacket?

And here for the contrast a favourite thyme plant, against a piece of gritstone (bottom right). As you look at this, do you see slight pinky tones in the greys? Is it my imagination? I love those greens, the light and dark contrasts, the leaves with slightly rounded edges but pointy tips. How very different the more olive / yellow green of the moss on the stone.

Will I use any of these photos, develop any ideas from them? I don't think so. But it's good to have the habit of looking and thinking, there's a different way to looking at things when you are thinking of art & design and it's good to develop skills for seeing and learning from what you see.

So where am I at with sketchbooks? I have piles of sketches that never went anywhere. The really useful ones for me have been where I spent time exploring colours and those where I have taken a sketchbook to specifically research a choosen subject. Just filling notebooks with this and that is to me a good way to waste time. Sketches, for me, need a purpose, they need to be going somewhere, a means to an end. As you can see they are for Nigel and Peg!


Peg in South Carolina said...

I wish we could actually converse!!! Machine embroidery is where I got my first dip into English design and sketch books. Though i have had many art courses, both as a child and as an adult, never had I experienced anything like what the English do. I was awed. I only learned to appreciate history. I've always disliked history. But the history of machine knitting/knitting I fell in love with. Somehow this was meaningful. Back to sketch books. Like you, working with color is the most valuable for me. And this sketch book is very purposeful insofar as it is about poking around about possible ideas for the fairly immediate future. Parts of it I will probably never use. But quite possibly, without those parts I might not get to the parts I could use. Nothing is ever wasted. You are quite right about the book. But without the chapter on e-sketchbooks I might not have taken the turn I did. In many ways, however, the book is a turnoof because i could never create such beautiful pages. I simply throw that out of my head. I'm going in all sorts of directions here. Chatting would be lovely........sigh........ And thank you for the post. But the last sentence confuses me a bit.... Must stop writing.....grin!

Dorothy said...

Peg, if we got together for a chat I'm sure we'd talk till our voices were gone and the sun set and risen again!

I think the reason I have pages in my sketchbooks that seem like dead ends is that I have a habit of wandering off to look at dead ends, I get absorbed by odd ideas and details. As I get older I realise I've got to focus on particular things / themes if I want to go anywhere!

I hope that some other readers will get in touch and let me know about their use of sketchbooks...?

Irene Adler said...

Have you seen the book by Constance Howard called Inspiration for Embroidery? It is a lovely book and certainly I find it inspiring.

I have a sketch book but usually end up just making plans on scraps of paper which then get lost or thrown away once I've completed the project they were made for.

I shall have a look at some of these e sketchbooks and see what is what - never heard of them before I read your blog today.

deborahbee said...

Having just spent the weekend at a weaving workshop I am re-inspired and ready to be much more daring. One of the things I want to do is play around with samples using texture and colour rather than over complicated patterns. I think photography is a good way of catching images in the environment which I do but then don't refer to when designing a project. I appreciate your book lists. I have always bought books at charity shops and second hand book shops on embroidery and knitting (before my weaving started) I will open them again for ideas.
At the workshop I used a 4 shaft Harris table loom. Made me realise I could do with a small loom to experiment on. Several at the w'shop were using Louets but I have returned to your post about the Voyager.In the end I might just look out for a basic second hand one as I found the Harris adequate though I disliked metal heddles!!

Dorothy said...

Hi Deborah, it sounds as if you have had a very useful time at the workshop.

There are always 2nd hand 4 shaft looms around on the Loom Exchange and e-bay, but if you know what you want it's worth putting a "wanted" advert out, either on the Loom Exchange or in The Journal. I know a few people who've done that and got just the loom they wanted.

I love the metal heddles on my Voyageur, they are very easy to use, they slide on the rails smoothly and easily and I find them quicker to thread than Texsolv.

Dorothy said...

Irene, thanks for mentioning the Constance Howard book. I'm sure I've seen it but I don't own a copy - I have no doubt that the local librarians could find it for me!

Like you I throw away rough notes at the end of a project. However, friends I know who have done the college / university courses in design make a display of all their notes and sketches. One weaver I know keeps her preparation work in a ring binder file to show to customers, along with photos of the finished work. I know it's useful for her when discussing possible commissions.

Nigel Morgan said...

Oh the sketchbook business . . . well for me it 'is' essential because whether it's music or weaving most of what I do has an end result - a performance / recording or a woven piece. My HNC course at Bradford is training me to research, develop and weave samples for an end product. As I progress I'm finding the sketchbook discipline so valuable, but I am running my sketchbook alongside a diary which double as a technical notebook. I used to put the two together in one place. Now I don't, and I think the result for me is better. I've just written an e-mail today to the friend who kindly lent me the Greenlees book and I said (enclosing an image of some sketchbook images ' you can see I've made some progress in making my sketch material clearer and more focused'. It's great though Dot to hear your point of view and to get some further recommended reading. Though nothing beats seeing examples of an other artists sketches

Life Looms Large said...

I wanted to let you know that this post has influenced me. After seeing a number of posts about sketchbooks, and knowing that people who go to art school get indoctrinated into the importance of sketchbooks, I decided to give it a whirl.

I started a sketchbook late last week - and so far I'm loving it.

I figure that in engineering school a good part of what we learned was how to think like an engineer. So I'm hoping a sketchbook will be a tool to help me think/dream/envision like an artist.

I've also gone through your book recommendations and my library's card catalog....and now that I have a sketchbook I will look at some of those resources so that I can learn more about how people use this tool.

So thanks for putting the idea out there for me to mull over for the past month!!