Everyday Edges: Armchair Explorations 2021-2022

Sketchbook Diaries:
Everyday Creative Process

This series of experimental sketchbooks about ‘Everyday Edges’ aims to complement my location derive projects through providing a ‘safe creative fun space’ for:

  • 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.
  • 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.

I work 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.

Sketchbook 1
Everyday Edges 2021
Sketchbook 2
Edges of Responsibility:
COP26 and beyond
Sketchbook 3
Zemni 2022

Sketchbook 1:
Every Day Edges 2021

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 explored what is meant by ‘Everyday Normals’. Focusing on the concept of the ‘Every Day’ it is a daily record of everyday experiences over the month April- May 2021 leading up to my 67th birthday. 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. 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.

It started with personal development work for Assignment 1 of Illustration Sketchbooks. 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.

The Sketchbook so far is still very much a work in progress. 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

‘Creative Cuts’

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. 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.

Sketchbooks 2 and 3 forthcoming