Using Sketchbooks to Inspire Creative Textiles

by Dinah Jane Pitman-Rowe

sketchbook pages

What is a sketchbook?

This is a very difficult question, rather like asking, 'What is Art?'. Philosophers have spent decades discussing that dilemma only to eventually disagree. Beauty and Art can be in the eyes of the beholder.

A sketchbook is another form of Art; sometimes it is a finished product, other times it is a collection of ideas to be interpreted by the artist. It could almost be described as a visual diary, a collection of thoughts and feelings gathered over a period of time, some of which are rejected and others forming the basis of a larger project. An important detail is eloquently provided by Kay Greenlees in her book, Creating Sketchbooks for Embroiderers and Textile Artists,

There is no right or wrong way to use a sketchbook. Even if your sketchbook is part of a textile course, it is valuable precisely because it records your own personal thoughts, images, collections, observations and engagement with ideas, experiences and media. [It] should be personal to the maker.

Why use a sketchbook?

Sometimes the genesis of an idea is the most exciting aspect of creation, allowing freedom of expression in many forms including sketches, notes, samples, scraps, collages, photos...... the list is endless!

Artistic interpretation of one's imagination requires some ability to let go and allow the mind to flow, without preconceived notions of representation. If we can lose our inhibitions on paper, something wonderful and original may emerge. The trick is to record as much as we can when we are inspired, because amongst this vast array of jottings, a little seed of genius may well be germinating.

Your sketchbook could have initiated a Gestalt - a moment when all becomes clear. To continue this process, scribble note, doodle and collate, etc. Clarification of the journey will follow!

How can I develop my sketchbook?

sketchbook pages

If you are looking at a clean, white page, wondering what to do next, try some exciting activities using what is available.

  • Think of a theme that interests you, e.g. structures, flora, the beach, skiing.
  • Make a flow chart of your ideas. Note down any words or phrases that come to mind when contemplating your theme. You could explore poems or paragraphs from a novel or textbook. Some artists work directly on the pages of an old book. Research on 'Altered Books' will provide a wealth of inspiration.
  • Collect many visual examples of your chosen subject. Try the internet, holiday postcards, magazines, etc. Cut and stick them in your book.
  • Select one of the above pictures and analyse the colours used to clarify your colour scheme. Collate examples of threads and fabrics in the chosen palette.
  • Observational drawing of your specialist subject helps to focus on interesting details that you may have missed. Try using different drawing materials and time scales.
  • Photocopiers and scanners are an excellent tool to use for repeating an image and experimenting with patterns. You can also enlarge segments of your drawings to reveal unusual, abstract designs.
  • Software packages such as Adobe Photoshop, Corel Draw, etc., enable you to alter colour ways and layer one image upon another or draw directly onto your computer using a variety of brushes, paints etc.
  • Try using collage as a method of representation. Utilise pages from magazines, scraps of fabric, painted or dyed papers, etc. Cutting, tearing, folding, pleating, gathering and weaving are all possible methods of altering 2-dimensional forms.

sketchbook pages

These are just a selection of the many ways you can approach the process of making a sketchbook. I believe the most important aspect of this is enjoyment. Have fun and be playful in your experiments. Let your imagination run wild, delving into areas that inspire you. There is a vast world of possibilities to explore out there, so let your journey take you on an adventure!