Whenever we teach students about working in sketchbooks we always encourage them to work direct to the page, rather than relying on working on loose sheets and sticking bits in. Now I fully understand people’s reluctance to work direct to the page of a pristine sketchbook in case they ‘spoil’ it! It’s always easier to work onto separate sheets of paper so you can edit the best bits and then glue them in. Indeed, collage is a very valid sketchbook technique when it’s done well. In a way that’s all part of the designing process I suppose and demonstrates skill of a different kind. Do you hear the ‘but’ coming? BUT, lots of random bits and pieces glued to the page tend to look disconnected and lacking the artist’s hand. There are of course creative ways around a lack of visual cohesion:
The image on the left shows a page from a book about Kew Gardens that I altered. Although this is an altered book rather than a blank sketchbook it presents similar problems to make it work. The tulip flowers were two separate illustrations scattered between lots of text. The photographs had been cropped to only show the blooms and short lengths of stem and leaf enclosed within a rectangular frame. Once I obscured the text by painting over it with gesso, the tulip heads looked as though they were floating in a large empty space. They needed grounding to create a composition that suited the available space and proportion of the page. Using the partial image I had, I imagined how the rest of the plant would look and added long narrow stems as well as broad pointed leaves. By taking the drawing right to the foot of the page I could anchor the original illustrations and make them ‘belong’ and I think it gave the tulips the elegance the cropped image lacked.
Here’s another page with a similar treatment. On the left is the original illustration and travelling across the spine of the book and onto the right hand page is my interpretation of how the plant might look if you could see more of it. It would be exactly the same effect if I’d collaged a photograph into my sketchbook and extended by drawing beyond the rigid edges of the photo. It’s a technique that works with lots of different mediums too – here I’ve just used graphite pencil and the tulip drawing also include artists’ permanent pen.
Of course it could be a wonderful challenge to use colour, matching the colours of the photograph with paint, ink or coloured pencil. On this page the only original bit of the image is that group of leaves and flowers in the bottom right hand corner. The rest of the page is an invention using Derwent Inktense pencils together with graphite pencil and a little wash of watercolour. I hope if you enjoy working into a sketchbook, or if you prefer to take an existing book and modify its illustrations, this article might provide a few ideas of how to integrate separate images into the book so they look as though they really belong there!
Enjoy your sketchbook – it’s one of life’s simple pleasures don’t you think?
Bye for now – Linda