Think inside The skeTchbook, gillian robinSon, DaviD HulSton anD aliSon Mountain (2011) London: Harper Collins Publishers Limited, 93 pp., ISBN: 978-0-00-743479-4, p/bk, £25.00 Reviewed by Adele Flood, University of New South Wales
It is always a good feeling when you see a book that captures your interest from the very first moment. It is often an aesthetic response that leads us to take a book off the shelf and it follows that we hope the interior content will be just as appealing. And of course it isn’t only about how a book looks and feels, it is whether the content meets your expectations, whether it be a cookbook or a piece of travel writing or even a novel printed on fine paper. Form tends to follow function: cookbooks require food to be glamorized, travel books need to have the landscape photographed in inviting and appealing ways, novels are produced in hardback covers evocative of the story within. So what was it about this particular book that attracted me upon first viewing?
First, it looks like a sketchbook that would be used in a classroom. It is standard A3 in size with spiral binding and strong cardboard front and back covers. A colleague, another art educator, came into my office just after I had opened the parcel and pounced upon it saying: ‘Oh my God, I’ve been looking for a book like this forever’. Secondly, it doesn’t disappoint when you open it up: the paper is smooth and inviting, with a soft beige background colour upon which the text and images sit in harmony. The way the images are reproduced represent several modes that various individuals use in diaries and sketchbooks to undertake their working of ideas.
As John Steers notes in his preface, this book provides insights into the development and thinking processes not only through the eyes of artists and designers, but also through a wide range of disciplines that all require reflective and creative thinking. I particularly enjoyed his reference to Anton Ehrensweig’s description of sketchbooks as ‘tease and worry books’. This resonates well with me as I often find myself drawing and scribbling my way through meetings to help me focus my thoughts. In fact, I am well recognized at InSEA Congresses for drawing my responses to the content presented.
Now to the content. This book explores the role sketchbooks and journals play in the creative process and then it delves into the learning that can take place when journals and sketchbooks are used in productive ways in teaching. One of my ongoing concerns is the ways teachers often use journals for assessment in the classroom rather than seeing assessment AS learning. This leads to journals becoming artefacts of assessment rather than the working and teasing documents to which Steers refers. The authors suggest this book is designed to ‘capture the spirit’ in which sketchbooks are kept (5) and they offer strategies that can be used to employ these books to help change attitudes to learning. They also tell us that sketchbooks are visual things and therefore have consciously made an effort to present images that both inspire and challenge.
1. To date, the author of this review has produced in excess of 80 sketchbooks and journals across her working life. ETA 8.2_Reviews_203-209.indd 205 5/4/12 9:27:23 PMReviews 206
The first chapter engages us in a discussion of the many forms a sketchbook or journal may take. The transformation in action by Karin Mullert shown on pages 14–15 is a particularly good set of images to make explicit the processes of thinking and creating change through texture and reflect well the idea posited: that sketchbooks are active (learning?) spaces. Chapter 2 asks ‘who needs a sketchbook?’; my answer to this is a simple and committed response of ‘everyone’. I find the ensuing pages absolutely beautiful in the way they reproduce drawings of architectural features with accompanying written notes. These pages are strong documentations of processes that the artists and designers have used to reflect and puzzle upon ideas early in development. Other creative areas of exploration of form: jewellery, choreography, illustration, practice of an actor and writer, teacher, and school students are all represented.
There is a considerable emphasis placed upon the ways in which teachers may employ the use of sketchbooks with secondary school students. They follow themes such as recycling, reworking and reinventing. Teachers would find these ideas easy to implement and they certainly add substance to understanding the role of these documents in terms of the student’s own learning. There is a more limited space dedicated to the primary or elementary school child; however, the pages contain an essential message to the reader. Sophie Merrill outlines ways that she uses sketchbooks for processes such as colour mixing, mark making and exploring and so on. Merrill, however, makes an important observation: that she expects children to make notes in their books about what they are trying to create and the materials used. This is then accompanied by commentary by the child about whether they felt their efforts have been effective. She also makes it clear that this process is important if we are to develop evaluation skills in our students in the long term.
As a tertiary educator, I could only hope that more evaluative skills could be developed from an early age.
Chapters 3 and 4 investigate the conceptual ideas of sketchbooks as thinking and liberating spaces that enable engagement with emotional intelligences: thoughts, feelings and experience. This is like a breath of fresh air in an educational world that seems to be committed to removing any of these important human characteristics.
Quotes from children such as: ‘A sketchbook is a visual diary of my most private thoughts, the things you feel but that no amount of words can describe’ (67) say everything one could imagine there is to say about introducing these kinds of learning activities into a schoolroom and then beyond into their ongoing life.
Finally Chapters 5 and 6 offer some ideas for the way teachers can introduce sketchbooks into their teaching. There are two projects included to assist teachers to see how they may follow through on their initial ideas to ensure that the learning follows good practice in the application of these ideas. In the words of another child: ‘we learned that art is pathways and memories, a playground of feelings’ (87).
I would suggest that every school purchase several of these books so that teachers can have them in their classrooms, libraries and staff rooms. It is vital that we give a voice to these important facets of our lives, that we encourage our students of any age and across disciplines to interrogate their ideas, thoughts and fantasies within a truly liberating space that is their own. The final compelling quote I wish to focus upon comes from a teacher who articulates clearly what researchers in narrative enquiry like myself are always
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trying to express: an individual’s narrative, whether it be written, painted, sung or spoken reveals something not only about the storyteller but about the human condition at large. As teachers, we are dealing with these concepts of self and learning every working day. He or she tells us: ‘The person you didn’t know was there, actually comes out’ (87).
Buy this book and allow your students to emerge as the people they can and want to be.
Adele Flood has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work in the format that was submitted to Intellect Ltd.
Today found me waking up with Helm crag and Silver Howe replacing my curtains, nestled beneath is the village of Grasmere and in it, Grasmere primary school. Working with Manchester Camerata composer Andrew Smith we began to explore, with a group of year 5 children, what it means to be growing up in Grasmere. I was particularly interested in the children's relationship with a landscape that has inspired great artists for the past 400 years. We took a sensory walk around their locality and paused to record memories, thoughts and ideas about the area: streams, churchyards, fells and forests led us to the national trust's newly acquired Alan Bank. Alan Bank had suffered from a devastating fire in recent years and is being patched back together by the national trust. Visitors are filling walls with scribbled suggestions of how the building should develop and there seems to be some debate about whether it is ok to renovate or restore. Its walls are a patchwork of time, etched with stains and scratches, scars and blisters. Many want the building to stay in this transitional state. It truly is an inspiring place as it stands. It is its 'nowhereness' that inspires; it doesn't belong in a fixed time, it is in motion.
Every aspect of this book has been painstakingly thought through and thus it is a complete triumph. There is such impressive attention to detail-from the tactile cover and quality of the paper, to the fact that the book's spine has been spiral bound, enabling the pages to lay flat for ease of use. (The artist can then select pages that inspire and refer back to them, as they work. Perfect.) I have bought several copies of this book and have passed them on to friends. It really is one of those books that should be shared, so that its' creative ideas and influence spreads.
Think inside the Sketchbook Gillian Robinson, Alison Mountain and David Hulston
Sadly, sketchbooks have gone out of fashion and in consequence, to a large extent, so has the sort of thinking, recording, exploring, drawing and observational skills that they encourage. As John Steers says in the preface to this exciting book: ‘How do I know what to do or make until I can see what I’m thinking?’ The book looks at sketchbooks (or what might better be described as work journals or day books) in the context of providing a non-threatening active space for exploration, play, selfevaluation and reflection. There are chapters that explore the definition of sketchbooks, the many different people who might use one – from school student to blacksmith, painter and illustrator, their value and use, and how to start using one. And, spiral-bound and very much sketchbook-like itself, this excellent book is full of wonder ful, varied and inspirational ideas and images. Essentially this is a book for art teachers, but equally it has much to offer anyone who should be using a sketchbook. Oliver Lange
My part in this book was to challenge and question prior notions of a sketchbook. I am interested in developing the book as a learning journal, a playground for ideas, a reflective and relevant space for all.
The book is not interested in developing drawing skills, and why should it be?
I am interested in developing curious, questioning and hungry minds that love learning and using an ideas book is a key stone of my belief.
here is a quote from a customer review from Amazon
The content is focused on (in my humble opinion) all that is wrong with art education. It does not encourage good observational drawing and developing strong skills, but rather cobbling together a bit of self expression. The book is heavily focused on teaching, particularly younger students and children, but not what I had hoped or expected. Many of the images are scribbles by very young children and only one or two skillful sketches. There are a number of really good books focused on developing sketchbook skills. Sadly most are, as usual, from the US as UK focused art books still shy away from art being taught with the emphasis on solid foundations of drawing, with style developing later when skill is achieved