The Sketchbook Project has been on my radar for many years and I was lucky to see a selection of books at the Other Art Fair in London. If you have been following me for a while you will realise that I am keen to continue to develop my drawing. Sometimes this takes me on a little sideloop but it always adds to my knowledge and experience.
I've never been a big fan of using sketchbooks. Drawing for me has been a meditative process, slowly building layers to create an accurate record of what I see. Sketchbooks have encouraged me to work faster and looser but I'm rarely happy with the results. Like everything, it's about practice and reflection.
Lockdown 1 gave me time to explore my media, experimenting with the materiality of graphite and searching solutions to some technical problems. With the assistance of Sally Hirst's lockdown videos/courses and "studio sessions" with Leila Godden I explored the reaction of Graphite with acrylic media and surface finishes.
My usual paper (Strathmore Bristol Board) is supplied via Jackson's Art from America and there have been considerable shortages, compounded by a Strathmore company restructure just prior to the pandemic. This led me to GF Smith papers and a sample pack to trial in Lockdown 2 which I approached in quite a scientific, structured way.
Around this time the Sketchbook Project came back on my radar and I felt the time was right to use these experiences and add my contribution to this Global Project.
The sketchbook arrived with a simple set of instructions, some suggested (but not obligatory) themes and a deadline!
The pages were thinner than expected but appeared robust. Fairly smooth, they responded gently to the graphite powder and struggled to develop depth, even with fixative and acrylic media. However the surface was perfect for drawing the wasps. This slight sheen enabled some interesting layers, a subtle 3D effect, and it responded well to rubbing and pulling back. Graphite on the brown cover was a revelation although a unipin fineliner was needed to draw more wasps on this surface.
In hindsight maybe I should have included some words in this book, an explanation of my thoughts. In 2014 I took a course at RSPB Dungeness with NIkki Gammans - an Introduction to BumbleBees. Nikki is a pioneer conservationist working to improve the habitat for Bees primarily working on the Kent coast where the majority of our 24 BumbleBee species can be found and where the Short Haired BumbleBee was last sighted. As well as learning about the sometimes complex ways to differentiate the bees, she was keen to help us understand why the bees are disappearing and how we can help.
The thing that stuck most in my mind was "nature corridors".
Where a species becomes specialised in a given area, there is a huge risk of a single catastrophic event. But more than that, it has been found that males become sterile by interbreeding, a circular problem with only one end.
The fluffy BumbleBee has become a poster girl for the conservation campaigns but it's only recently that other insects are getting their 15 seconds of fame. What about the wasps?
Conservation is a complex subject. The botanist's friend may be the ornithologist's foe. But one thing they all agree on is that we need to look closer at how we interact with the planet - we are all interconnected.
Sketchbooks are often an artist's way of thinking as well as a reference for future finished works. Letting go of these precious pieces is difficult but it's wonderful to know it's being held alongside over 50,000 others!
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