1.1: Everyday Edges: Sketchbook Diaries 2021-2022

My personal life seems constantly ‘on the edge’ – if I am not already stressed, I find stresses either responding to everyday events bombarding me in the news or personal insecurities. At the same time these edges can be creative – the everyday is not boring.

The ‘Everyday Edges’ Sketchbook Diary started with personal development work for Assignment 1 of Illustration Sketchbooks – an initial draft and daily record of everyday experiences over the month April- May 2021 leading up to my 67th birthday. Focusing on the concept of the ‘Every Day’, pages covered both personal reflections as I reach yet another age milestone, and everyday tumultuous events in the daily news on my TV screen under lockdown. The most resolved spreads are presented on the right.

This will be revisited and updated, with additional spreads, over the same dates April-May 2022 to consider everyday changes on personal and global levels.

As part of this sketchbook work I also experimented with ‘creative cuts’ – emerging narratives from cutting up A4 sheets of quick sketches in my front room. These will also be added to with new sketches in 2022.

Sketchbook Diaries:
Everyday Creative Process

I have used sketchbooks a lot throughout my work on the OCA Visual Communications degree. As:

  • a safe space for freeing up, having fun and brainstorming ideas the ‘help me think’
  • as a place to bring together sketches, photographs and notes for specific thematic or location project work
  • as a place to experiment with materials and processes, rapid and frantic sketching that can then be rubbed out or gone over as a record over time, sploshing ink and paint and seeing how they interact, collage that I can then draw and paint over.

I have worked with many different formats from very small folded pieces to A1 size sheets bound with a Bulldog clip between cardboard. With different types of paper, and also altered books.

My work for the past year has been mostly photographic and digital, partly because those were skills I wanted to develop and partly because I did not have access to my art studio because of COVID restrictions. I wanted to use this project to get back to having fun with drawing. But also to get into the discipline of keeping a diary of regular creative responses to my evolving thoughts, changing moods and the world around me. Something I have always intended doing, but not had time for until now because of professional paid work.

This experimental sketchbook ‘Everyday Normals’ aims to provide a ‘safe creative fun space’ for:

  • ranting, raving and following interesting ideas, even if they lead nowhere
  • experimenting with visual effects of different drawing, painting and collage media and styles
  • helping me think through all the multiple moods, thoughts and influences bombarding me everyday to motivate or prevent me from changing everyday habits
  • helping me to get a better sense of how I think ‘new normal’ should look like and start to make the necessary personal changes
  • clarify my subjective ‘voice’ that influences and informs my documentary work on location.

Some of these images, thoughts and ideas will be included in the final project ‘The new normal? 2022’.

Exercise 1.1 Annotated collage of ideas on sketchbooks from the OCA course guide.

This Sketchbook explored what is meant by ‘Everyday Normals’.

I looked through all the empty sketchbooks I had at home. I found an A5 hardbound sketchbook/diary that I bought many years ago at a museum in London waiting for a good use. It has three sections of lined paper, small square graph paper and blank sheets and quirky photographs of daily life, people and places by Elliott Erwitt on each spread. I thought this would be an ideal balance of blank space to fill and daily prompts to respond to if I got stuck.

I started by pencilling in the dates on a corner of every other page to map out two spreads a day each day between April 10th 2021and my 67th birthday on May 9th. Then each day I pencilled in and sketched my thoughts, moods, events and discussion in the news and/or responses to the Erwitt photos. If I had time I finished the spreads that day. Other days when I had a lot of work, I just jotted notes and came back to them later. Sometimes my mood, the event or the Erwitt image reminded me of something I had done in an earlier sketchbook or a photo I had taken, so I cut and paste that.

I also periodically reflected on my concept on ‘everyday normal’. I started off with a Zen approach, that every day is a potential for choice and creativity. Life is much too short to be boring, even in Lockdown. And I was always cheered up by the Erwitt photos. On a personal level the very process of keeping a daily diary routine is to intensify that experience of living – potential for getting lost down depressive rabbit-holes and mood swings as well as creative appreciation of seasonal changes in my garden and daily walks – in the this case Spring. Then the everyday bombardment of information and news – sometimes really interesting, sometimes upsetting and making me very angry, often repetitive and cyclical as not everyone is a news junkie watching several times a day.

I also became very interested in the effect on my sense of time, the merging and interlinkages between the present with flashbacks to the past, and also thoughts about ‘future normals’. Sometimes fearful of climate change and further waves of COVID affecting other countries I have worked in even if things are OK here. Sometimes hopeful and inspired at the thought that the disruptions of COVID may force a more fundamental rethink of ‘normal’ and our everyday activities and responsibilities to the planet and to each other.

These reflections prompted me to rethink my focus for Sustaining Your Practice from just a location-based psychogeography project to place these in the context of ‘new normals’ and ‘building back better’. To link more closely with my professional consultancy work with development agencies.

Assessment and
further development 2022

The Sketchbook so far is still very much a work in progress. The spreads that I find more successful and with more potential are shown in the gallery on the right.

Although it was very useful and I learned a lot through the discipline of making contributions every day – enriching the way that I lived them, I found that it is difficult to maintain that pace of experience for longer than about a month at a time without it becoming a chore and losing freshness. Many pages from very busy days are still in pencil draft.

I intend most of the sketchbook to be public, although I may put some further notes in the pockets created by the Everyday Stories insert shown below.

Some further things to explore in this or future sketchbooks are:

  • to do different perspectives of the same object
  • layering of thoughts over time eg using tracing paper or just gouache
  • experiment with transfers and gelliplate printing

My plan is to revisit the pages over the same dates in the month before my 68th birthday in 2022. By then I will have developed my drawing skills further in future sketchbook assignments for further reflection and clarification of 2021 images. Adding thoughts about everyday normals in 2022 as the basis for developing final digital and printmaking images for SYP Assignment 5 Building Back Better.


The below are only a small selection of sources of inspiration that I will cover in detail on this blog in connection with my SYP work. I have done a lot more reading and thinking than I have had time to present here.

David Shrigley
I like the simplicity of line and dry humour. This page is not really there, but something I want to aim for.
David Hockney
I like the energy and appreciation of everyday landscapes and changes in the environment. Also his expressive watercolour brushstrokes, digital and moving image work. In addition to his experiments with perspective, crayon portraits, printmaking and expressive painting around homosexuality. Full post forthcoming.
James Victore
I like his unrestrained expressive typography. But I need to study him much more.
Tracey Emin
I appreciate her bold openness about female sexuality and experiences, and her very expressive monoprint drawings with minimal text and her recent paintings based on a dialogue with Munch. These drawings need to become a lot more nervous. Blue watercolour on hairdye.
Louise Bourgeois
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I find Bourgeois’ psychoanalytic diaries somewhat self-obsessed and self-indulgent. But, like Shrigley, I really admire her minimalist line and direct expression. Here I am more influenced by her large watercolour work where she lets the paint lead.
Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo’s experience of pain and love is very poignant, though I do not really respond to her paintings. Her sketchbook though has some very powerful passages of simple drawings, collage overlaying text.

‘Creative Cuts’

In parallel to the Everyday Sketchbook (that needed to start a month before my birthday) I worked through the exercise on Making Sketchbooks.

I enjoyed this process very much, and plan to do some more little storybooks as I go forward.

The actual stories themselves need a lot more thought about relationship between text and image, and making the text more powerful and less cliche. But I was interested in how my subconscious made connections between the drawings and the potential to create spontaneous narratives that could then be further worked on. Although any horizontal and vertical lines can become a landscape and the eye automatically searches out faces, some of the other associations were not so obvious. The process certainly has a lot of potential for work on location.

Every Day Story 1: Landscapes in Red

The original A4 vertical rapid sketch was done in red oil pastel of a corner of our gas fire, a small table and looking just round the corner into the dining room. Because of the texture that would block pens and brushes, I worked into it in pencil.

The images that emerged after cutting turned into red and grey landscapes of some sort of flood apocalypse – influenced probably subconsciously by the news about the climate change discussions and my work on the Norfolk Marshes for SYP ‘Moving Edges’ projects.

Everyday Story 2: CAGED

The original A4 horizontal rapid sketch was done in somewhat dry black marker pen of our leaded bay window looking onto the garden. I went over some of the weaker lines and shapes in black oil pastel to make them more dramatic, though not always obscuring the marker texture. Again to avoid clogging pens, I went over some portions of the oil pastel with pencil, particularly the title page.

The images that emerged here were of rats and feeling locked in – influenced by continuing lockdown and all my sketchbook drawings of the rats, particularly a young one that appeared each morning scratching at the window to come in. Quite sweet really – if it had been the only one in its family.

Everyday Story 3: Spirits

The original A4 sketch cut into a spiral was in Cretacolour graphite pencil of a corner of the settee, a cushion and the corner of a ‘Fine Whisky’ mirror – hence the rather unoriginal idea of Spirits. Though that also reflected the very rapid, smoke and flame-like marks. I did not develop this one yet into a narrative.