Practitioner Focus March 2018: Georgina Bruce

Tell us about your work:

My work is inspired by a broad range of subject matter, from natural forms and organic shapes to geometric lines, structures and organized patterns. Contrasting these disparate elements and combining them to make something new, is always exciting and a challenge I enjoy.

I am a mixed media artist working primarily with lino and paper cut, drawing, photography and watercolour mediums. I enjoy experimenting with the layering of images and materials and the combinations that are possible in order to render an image. I aim to derive clarity and order from something that could be considered chaotic or mysterious, such as the growth of natural forms and plants, or the structures and systems that support our everyday existence such as maps and networks. I carefully break down ordinary, everyday forms into their fundamental and identifiable parts and reconstructed them in such a way as to question the viewer.

Nature has a pattern and order to it that is not determined by humans, although we do try to organise and make sense of this. I am fascinated by the structures and systems we use such as maps, diagrams, grids and text, that turn vast areas of information like land, space, data, behaviour and language in to something manageable and understandable; order from chaos. I also enjoy breaking down complicated structures or ideas to its basic components, starting with shape, line and colour.


I used to mostly work in lino printing, however drawing and pen work play an increasingly important part in my work these days. This has become more prominent as my work has changed dramatically in the last four years through being involved in sketchbook circle and responding to the work of a variety of talented artists. There has always been a graphic quality to the visual images I create and an organized and structured look and feel to them. However, very often I respond to 'happy accidents' as they happen and work with what I am given in order to forge something new and unexpected. Although a challenge at first when this occurred, I now welcome the unexpected as an opportunity for my work to develop in unusual ways; I am now far more willing to give over to entropy.

This method of working does not come naturally to me and again is a result of taking part in sketchbook circle for the last four years. Being actively involved and collaborating in a visual dialogue with other artist teachers has helped to motivate and inspire my work in new and exciting ways, which I could not have predicted before taking part. This is an important aspect of my practice and is always changing, responding and adapting to the work of others, be that artists, teachers or even students.


What creative project are you currently working on?

In the last two years I have made a more conscious effort to exhibit my work more regularly in local galleries and exhibitions. Usually, the themes are broad and open to a variety of work and styles. This year, however, I have been selected as one of fifty artists to create and exhibit work in response to a project called “Fifty Bees”, the aim of which is to illustrate the diversity of Britain’s bee population and their delicate ecosystems that are under serious threat. The range of work involved is diverse and collectively will aim to present an informative and stimulating conversation about these creatures. With my love of bees this opportunity aligns perfectly with my interests, whilst providing a challenge in the ways it could be approached. I think it is vital that more people are aware of just how important bees are to the ecology of the British Isles and what better way to share this message than with art?

The exhibition will take place in June this year at the Richard Jefferies Museum in Swindon.



How does your creative process work?

I have always found the initial stages of any project both exciting and daunting in equal measure. There is nothing scarier than a blank piece of paper, and I would sometimes find it agonising to make those initial marks and blemish the page, quite often being dissatisfied with the results; I struggled to do anything that wasn’t controlled. Then a few years ago, I received my partner’s sketchbook through the post and it changed my working practice forever. The sketchbook was an A5 concertina sketchbook, with one long single page folded in to smaller ‘pages’ that showed a continuous and developing piece of work when unfolded, rather than lots of individual pieces. No longer did I have to always start something fresh, but instead I simply carried on from where my partner had left off, quite often working back in to something from months ago. Everything was a work in progress, until you just knew it was done. I found this way of working liberating, and it has stuck with me ever since. When I began the Artist Teacher Scheme at Oxford Brookes University, the initial task to introduce us to our colleagues and lecturers was to present something that showed our inspirations and chosen method of working. I made a concertina sketchbook, which I began by punctuating the long strip with the work of artists and images I found inspiring. My self-imposed challenge was to then join these up in a seamless strip of colour, line, shape and pattern that moved from images of barnacles, skeletal structures and modern architecture to the work of Henry Moore, Derek Lerner and Ebon Heath. This sketchbook is A6 in size and is still going; I carry it with me at all times, along with my travel art kit, ready to create anytime and anywhere.



What materials could you not live without?

The list grows constantly but there are some key materials that I have with me at all times that I could not be without. Firstly my Rotring Tikky Pencil 0.35mm is my go to when starting any piece of work. I use diluted black Quink ink in a water brush pen, along with a mini travel set of Windsor and Newton Cotman watercolour paints when putting down any grounds or washes. Along with staedtler coloured pencils and fine liner pens, I use white gel pens and a large white marker pen to block out larger areas. When working on a larger scale I have started to experiment with lino printing on to clear sheets of plastic and then using sun sensitive papers to make a cyanotype print. My ‘toolkit’ adjusts to the style and scale of work I am producing, but these are definitely my go to materials.



Where do you search for creative inspiration?

I am a full time art and photography teacher, and in the past I have struggled to balance my school work, with more personal work. I find inspiration from the projects I create and the lessons I teach, and particularly the work my students produce in response. The school trips to galleries and museums, such as our annual pilgrimage to the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford always furnish me with ideas also. More recently my own work has begun to direct the schemes of work I am producing for the classroom, with the development of more printmaking and large scale mixed media drawing and an ethos of making mistakes and responding positively to the unexpected has begun to be more common among my students. Pinterest is my initial source of inspiration (georginabruce), but I have recently begun to use instagram (gbruceart), which has been an unexpected source of inspiration in recent months. However, I find that my stronger and more substantial ideas come from simply playing with contrasting imagery in unusual ways, through collage or digital manipulation. Most recently maps and text have been of particular interest and I enjoy collecting and combining these elements to drive my ideas forward.


What is the best piece of creative advice you’ve been given?

It doesn’t need to be perfect, you need to make mistakes and get things wrong. Finding out all the ways something doesn’t work for you, gives you a better idea of exactly what it is you’re trying to do, and what is possible. I don’t know if this was advice I was given, or just something I learned over time. It was, however a lesson I needed to learn and something I am still endeavouring to do.


Practitioner Focus: Helen Scribbans

What creative project are you currently working on?

I am currently working on producing a range of Raku fired ceramic pieces readiness for Christmas craft fairs and galleries. All my work has had its first, bisque firing and I’m in the process of applying the Raku glazes. This is my least favourite part of the ceramic process, I think because I don’t see the results of the glaze until the Raku firing and also having had many glaze disasters in the past. I’m not a very confident painter and don’t feel like I am good with colour so I tend to stick to only 2 colours of glaze now; turquoise and white. I find limiting the colour palette stops me thinking too much about what colours to use! I’ll be glad when the glazing is done so I can get on with the exciting part  - the Raku firing. 

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How does your creative process work?

I usually start with a shape I like and this is the most important aspect of my ceramics. This could be inspired by anything from a sculpture to a piece of clothing. I then try and adapt the shape to make a vessel out of clay. I really enjoy the construction or engineering of a piece of pottery which I think comes from my love of dressmaking. I get great satisfaction from fitting 2D pieces together to make 3D shapes. 

What tools or materials could you not live without?

Clay and my pottery tools.


Where do you search for creative inspiration?

I attend as many exhibitions, workshops and courses as I can and take inspiration from many different arts and crafts, especially 3D work. I also like looking at other people’s work to see how they have made something, then seeing if I can use that technique to fit in with my own work. I find that one art or craft informs another so as long as I am creating something, I rarely run out of ideas of what to make.

What is the best piece of creative advice you have been given?

Focus on one technique and do it well. 


Practitioner Focus: Ciara Gibson

What creative project are you currently working on?


I've recently changed my teaching contract from full time to 4 days a week to give me more space in the week for making. I've also started a series of short, weekly sessions locally for adults called 'Make Space, a chance to come together and make space in your week for making and playing. Taking on this role has encouraged me to think about how I use my time. I'm looking forward to being part of the Platform Perth festival next year and keen to do some mixed media work around mythical creatures and landscapes so I'm doing some prep for that.

How does your creative process work?

I’m not really one for planning things out. I love exploring ideas with different materials and then watching what unfolds. While I really enjoy figuring things out and playing, it can sometimes be a struggle to stay focused on the process rather than imagining what the end result will be. I am learning to be more mindful in my making.

My workspace is like an ongoing 3D sketchbook with all the various bits and pieces I'm working on scattered around and piled on top of each other.


What tools or materials could you not live without?

I’m rather obsessed with gelli plate printing and have been using the huge volume of prints I end up with to make all kinds of books and sew into landscapes.  I’m also really enjoying exploring free motion machine embroidery so I’d be lost without my sewing machine.


Where do you search for creative inspiration?

Living in Highland Perthshire I am extremely fortunate to be surrounded by the most stunning landscapes.  Walking the dogs each day in all weathers gives me time to notice the changing seasons and I love thinking about the different pathways we take and the many repeated and familiar journeys we make over the year.

What is the best piece of creative advice you have been given?

Stop thinking and make! 


Practitioner Focus: Gemma Roche

What creative project are you currently working on?

Currently I am exploring the perception of conspiracy theories and observing how minds can be moulded by the media so that we accept things as fact. I am interested in the new term ‘fake news’, but I am also exploring how this has been documented in the past before this term was applied. I am exploring how society has responded to this using found images and song lyrics taken from American culture in the 1960’s and present day.

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How does your creative process work?

I am inspired by artwork that encourages storytelling and documents the current world we live in. I am constantly on the lookout for images that I can use in my work. I attended an artist talk with Maurizio Anzeri at Baltic in 2011. He finds vintage photographs at car boot sales and is both saddened and inspired by the fact that these photographs have been abandoned when they may once have meant so much to someone. I love the idea of creating new personas of anonymous people and distorting the perception of the viewer by using thread, collage or text.

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What tools or materials could you not live without?

I would be lost without typography! Stamps of various sizes, words cut out of newspapers, stickers and Letraset (which is sadly depleting). If I have a creative block I can always rely on a song lyric, a statement or quote to inspire my creative process.

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Where do you search for creative inspiration?

I am privileged to work with a number of creative people in the north-east as part of NEATEN who work in both schools and galleries. They challenge me to alter my teaching and artistic practise depending on the projects I am involved with. For example, I am currently working on a project with Amnesty International where young people document a journey taken by refugees using poetry and photography, encouraging compassion and creativity. Artists and campaigners such as Shepard Fairey (‘I give people work to debate and dream about’) and Bob and Roberta Smith (‘Art is your human right’) exude peaceful yet powerful messages in their work which influence both my artistic and teaching practise. Using these influences in my art lessons in turn gives me creative inspiration. Seeing young people interpret art in ways I had never thought of encourages me to think differently.

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What is the best piece of creative advice you have been given?


‘Don’t think about art, get it done’ Andy Warhol

Practitioner Focus: Carola Chambers

What creative project are you working on?

I appear to be in that 'pondering phase' at the moment, having finished one large canvas and mulling over ideas for the next piece of artwork.

The Sketchbook Circle has been monumental in this process and I am constantly grateful and energised by the ideas that develop from the exchanges. However, I can't imagine ever having enough time to develop them all!

I am also creating a series of 'art-in-a-box' projects, enabling primary school teachers to deliver stand-alone art lessons to their class. This should allow for all children in KS1 and KS2 in my school to access challenging and engaging art activities, regardless of the individual teacher's knowledge or expertise, as I am unable to work with all year groups in my school.

So, if any of you creative people out there have any suggestions or want to share your own personal experience of doing something similar, please get in touch.


How does your creative process work?

As mentioned, I mull over ideas and play around with materials and techniques before finished pieces begin to evolve.

Like many, time is the main issue, so I tend to work in the kitchen where I can be involved in family life, as I have 3 smallish children, and can spend snatched moments working on pieces whilst simultaneously cooking ( however, often the cooking part suffers as I get absorbed in what I'm creating art wise). But I often regard my materials as ingredients and can be dictated and inspired by them. So this location suits me: the kitchen is the hub of my creative environment. I also like to engage the senses by playing music which suits the mood of my work and if working in the evenings, wine and incense are often involved, adding to this sensory experience of making!


What materials and tools could you not live without?

Well, the Sketchbook Circle, obviously! 

Also, chunky graphite sticks, textiles and acrylic paint.  I like the tactile nature of my 'ingredients' and love combining and layering materials. During my involvement over the last 2 years in the Sketchbook Circle, I have really enjoyed exploring new techniques and processes.

I never thought I'd say this, but also technology. It really speeds up the design process, since my days in art school more than 20 years ago. Apart from playing music through it and researching lesson ideas for school, I use my I-pad to digitally play around with ideas and to record my work.


Where do you search for creative inspiration?


I am very inspired by nature, colours and pattern and am lucky enough to live near fabulous forests which never fail to inspire. I am also excited by materials and textures of papers and fabrics. I must also acknowledge good old Pinterest for the ease to find visual inspiration and to access a world of amazing creators.


What is the best piece of creative advice you have been given?

It sounds corny but, "follow your heart" and "be true to yourself".


Sketchbook Circle Mail-outs

Monthly Postal Mail-outs

For the last two years Sketchbook Circle has offered a lovely, monthly, postal mail-out.  These mail-outs are intended to offer a bit of inspiration and to encourage the participants to be creative perhaps even sharing their artwork and ideas with others in the Sketchbook Circle community. Some of the mail-outs offer interesting materials to work with or unusual techniques and others are more focused on ideas.  It is always lovely to see our community sharing the things they have made in response to the mail-out (#sketchbookcircle).

We have had some fantastic, guest mail-out designers which has helped us to keep the mail-out varied and interesting.  We are always looking out for ideas!  So give us a shout if you would like to take a month over!  

The exciting news this year is that we have support from Great Art, which means that some of the mail-outs will include materials for you to try out.  However, there will still be the usual inspirations, ideas and prompts and other artist educators sharing ideas and experience.  

You don't have to be part of the circle to sign up for the mail-out!  Maybe you are keen to receive something lovely and inspiring through the post?  Maybe you could buy it for someone else as a gift?  

This year we are charging a little bit more which will allow us to develop the mail-outs further and enable us to afford slightly more for the contents of each per pack.

Take a look at the images of some of the mail-outs from the last two years but do get in touch if you have any other questions. 


Practitioner Focus: Amina Booth

What creative project are you currently working on?

In July I was getting fed up with how little effort my Year 13 students were putting into their personal investigation, I told them that as an artist this should be their dream opportunity to research and explore an issue they were interested in through art. One of them said ‘why don’t you do it then Miss?’ so I thought why not? So here I am doing a personal investigation on how colour impacts on an environment (I need a more exciting title!). I was sparked by the Favala painting project in Brazil, a project that transformed the aesthetic and the social psychology of the whole community.


How does your own practice impact on your work in the classroom?

Doing my own personal investigation has certainly kept the students on their toes, it’s prompted some interesting conversations and I think that the students like it when they can see that I’m unsure about where my project is heading. It makes them feel less anxious about not knowing what to do next with their own work and we can work through the creative blocks together.

How does your creative process work?

My creative journey usually starts with photographs, I love to travel and carry my camera where ever I go. I’m not a Photoshop expert but I do love experimenting with it, I’m a massive fan of layers so the next step in generally layering images and exploring colour combinations. I like to zoom in and crop sections so images become more abstract.


What tools or materials could you not live without?

I use my sewing machine as a drawing tool and I think because I’ve drawn with my sewing machine for so long it’s impacted on my hand drawing. I draw mostly using a continuous line I like the imperfections of a continuous line drawing I think it adds to the character of the drawing. Because of my love of layering I use acetate a lot in my work, its versatile material that I can draw onto, stich into, spray paint, print and photocopy on.

Where do you search for creative inspiration?

I never know how to answer this because I’m inspired by so many different things. Like most artists I notice beauty in ordinary objects which others may pass by; a rusty gate, a weathered wall, patterns in window reflections etc. I often go for a wander around Liverpool when I need some inspiration. Liverpool’s a city of contrasts between the old and the new and that’s one of the things I love about this colourful place. I use photography as a starting point and instead of recreating these photos back at home; I aim to capture their essence, expression and emotion, highlighting the different tones and layers.

Practitioner Focus: Dr. Emese Hall

What creative project are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on various small-scale projects, many involving textiles.  However, I’d really describe myself as an ‘ideas person’; I’m constantly designing projects in my head but not so many make it to fruition - often because my imagined projects would take unattainable time, space and resources to realise.  It was encouraging to recently notice that the sculptor Christo’s website has a section dedicated to ‘projects not realized’.   It’s never really occurred to me to use the Circle sketchbooks to document my mental projects, but maybe I should pursue this…!  These are a few of the projects that I have dreamt up: Ludmila’s Broken Tresses,  the title of which comes from BDC Pierre’s book Ludmila’s Broken English: a visual commentary  on the story of poor young Russian women who sell their beautiful, long blonde hair to be made into extensions for rich westerners;  (less deeply) Popcorn Poodle, a giant poodle made from popcorn: an homage to Jeff Koons’s Balloon Dog ; and (again connected to food – one of my favourite topics) The Grotto of Gluttony, based on Margate’s Shell Grotto, but instead of being decorated with shells, decorated with chocolates – which I think would make for a fun installation.  An extension of this would be to introduce a heat source and film the chocolate melting and the grotto’s collapse! 


How does your creative process work?

Over the summer, an artist friend in Cyprus was collecting examples of what people said made them happy - and I told her I was happiest when I’m making.  It really doesn’t matter what in particular; it’s the hands-on creative process that I relish.  As mentioned above, the creative projects I realise often tend to be small in scale, which is where I think my natural skill set lies.  I like to gather together bits and pieces and see what I can make from these that is pleasing – the same applies to much of my cooking as recipes typically annoy me!


What tools or materials could you not live without?

It’s hard to identify just one or two things.  Although I enjoy creating relatively simple artwork I like to have lots of different tools and resources to hand.  I have a dresser containing shoeboxes bursting with resources, which range from possible collage materials to paints, pens and pastels.   I also have bags and bags of fabric and ribbons etc.  Actually, I think I would find it impossible to live without fabric –not only do I love gorgeous patterns but I get excited about perfect colour combinations.  In addition to the mental projects listed above, I also have quite a collection of unrealized fabric designs that I really should get down on paper… 

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Where do you search for creative inspiration?

There’s an acrostic I share with my students: ART = Always Right There.  My personal view is that everything you see about you in the environment can either be regarded as art or appreciated artistically.  This view makes life a rich experience, as even the most mundane place can hold/present appealing features.  I once saw an advert in a magazine where a wall was painted such a beautiful shade of blue I burst into tears!  I feel very lucky to have grown up in a home full of pattern and colour.  Both my parents are accomplished makers in different ways and their work inspires me.  I’m not the greatest risk-taker; therefore I would say that Picasso is a bit of hero as he was so very adventurous and massively prolific.  One of his quotes is:  I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.  That’s not me at all, but I would like it to be!


What is the best piece of creative advice you have been given?

Earlier this year I took part in a contemporary drawing workshop with my artist colleague and friend, Sara Dudman.  Sara made an excellent comment that really resonated with me, which was: ask yourself: are you your favourite artist yet?  I would say that on occasion I am one of my favourite artists but I do need to heed my own advice – again, something I tell my students: love your mistakes and learn from them.   


Practitioner Focus: Ben Meredith tells us about Running a Workshop

This year I made a decision to challenge myself and to say 'yes' to opportunities in teaching that may seem daunting. I had always assumed that delivering a session to teachers specifically would be difficult (just look around the room the next time you have internal CPD; see any grumpy faces, jaded broken educators?) I had anticipated a group that would demand I utilised all of my classroom management skills.


How wrong I was. On arrival I was greeted by a group of teachers from all over the UK who teach in a range of institutions. They were friendly, keen, and eager to share advice over a coffee and a very resourceful and receptive bunch. There was a sense that everyone in attendance appreciated having time to make - just because you teach art doesn't mean you have time to make any of your own. Delivering my session was so rewarding - a series of timed drawings that led to a collaborative piece based on 'portraits of feet'. It was a dream art class; every student could draw and not a mobile phone in sight.


I joined in all the other workshops over the weekend, so I got to play both teacher and student. The workshops were inspiring and have already played a part in my teaching sessions. That's amazing when you consider it was last week. I did not expect teachers to take up my lesson with verve and it's the greatest compliment that they have taught it in they're classrooms. The Facebook group once again proving a great place to network and share photos and insights.
I am hoping to take a group of students back to Bristol before Christmas as The Arnolfini is a great venue. I also hope to attend more Sketchbook Circle workshops and to deliver another workshop if they'll have me. 


In my opinion your employer should pay for you to attend this CPD - it's so much better than the death by PowerPoint they wheel out every year. The content of the workshops will make my life easier not harder. 
During the weekend I encountered zero grumpy jaded faces, just lovely creative faces belonging to people who love art and yearn for the days when they went to Art College.


Practitioner Focus: Penny Prileszky

Tell us about your work.

I stumbled into teaching straight after completing my BA in Fine Art in 2002, so lost touch with my own practice for a few years, while new routines and responsibilities took over. My creativity found its outlet through my pupils’ work, and I found this to be both rewarding and frustrating in equal measures.

This is my third Sketchbook Circle, and I have noticed that with each collaboration, my work is becoming more adventurous, and I am experimenting more widely with media and techniques.

Although I am currently exploring mixed media, I don’t think I have a particular style or trademark in my work. Even when I was doing my BA, I allowed things to evolve with every new stimulus, responding with whatever materials felt appropriate at the time.

I prefer to create without the restrictions of specialism, media or style, and the Circle allows me to continue working in this way, which in turn, keeps me inspired.


What creative project are you currently working on?

I like to work in series, and some of the pages I have created in the book I share with Yvette are developing into an independent project based around medieval illuminated manuscripts. I originally studied Graphic Design, back in the day, so my love for hand rendered letterforms has returned as a major influence on this body of work.

My collaboration with Suzanne is leading me back to pattern formations and textures, with a more vivid colour palette, and this has led to a series of embellished lino printed postcards, two of which were auctioned recently for NEATEN.

My ‘in progress’ project is another collaboration, this time with my eldest son, Joe. I am responding to his photographic portraits, and although the project is in its very early stages, the long-term plan is to exhibit our work together.


How does your creative process work?

I don’t have much space to work at home, so working in a sketchbook or on smaller pieces suit both the space and time I currently have available.

Working within a given timescale has been highly beneficial; I need structure and deadlines to motivate me, and this has helped me to claim time regularly to make my work.

In my collaborations, I never plan a response until I have seen the work of my sketchbook partner. This keeps the ‘flow’ authentic, and gives me the intensity of thinking/response time I need to be at my most creative. I usually spend 4-5 days just looking at the work, and thinking, before committing to an idea or thread. I then set aside a block of 2-3 days, or the equivalent in evenings, to make, present and collate the work. Quality, uninterrupted time is important, so I need to plan it in advance.

I need to immerse myself completely in whatever creative process I choose to utilise; I find it both meditative and rewarding. I am happy to not have a ‘default’, or ‘go to’ style, as this challenges me.


Having spent so many years worrying about the meaning behind my work, it is refreshing to have the freedom to create work just for the sheer joy of making. The Circle has encouraged me to experiment without fear, to explore the many influences that feed my practice, and to recognise and acknowledge recurring threads. Ideas conceived specifically for the Circle are often developed further into more resolved collections of work, but the starting point is always a sketchbook.

What tools or materials could you not live without?

A sharp scalpel, Derwent Studio coloured pencils, acrylic paints, embroidery silks, and my printer.

Where do you search for creative inspiration?

I live in a beautiful part of the country, I work with some incredibly talented colleagues and young people, and surround myself with like-minded creatives whenever I can. This makes it easy for ideas to emerge, and I always have a list of projects I’d like to get started, if time and space were not such an issue.

I seek out patterns; in nature, in the urban environment, and I am fascinated by anything that plays to my sense of nostalgia. Textiles, wallpaper and ornaments from the ‘70s appeal to my love of kitsch, and while they don’t always directly inform my work in terms of subject matter, there are often colour combinations or motifs that I will lift and reinvent.


I love typography; fairground signs, hand drawn letterforms, vintage advertisements, and these often pop up in my work. I like to work on found or manipulated surfaces, so I can often be found mooching around boot sales or charity shops, looking for interesting starting points.

My local Art College is a reliable source of inspiration, and I often pop in on my way home from school to spy on my ex-pupils!

Pinterest is also a very close friend, and we have spent many long hours together.


What is the best piece of creative advice you have been given?

I am privileged to have been taught drawing by the late Osi Rhys Osmond, during my Foundation Course, and then later during my BA. He was such an inspiring artist and tutor, with so much wisdom and advice. His mantra, however, was always ‘Draw what you see, not what you think is there’, and I often find myself repeating his words in the classroom to my own students.





Practitioner Focus: Amanda Duke

Fleeting Moments

Tell us about your work

Dropping from Arts Faculty Leadership to 0.6 p/t teaching three years ago allowed me to immerse myself into making my own work again. Joining the Sketchbook circle has been really helpful in making sure I keep going and it is keeping me connected with others across the country who are juggling their lives and their time yet are determined to make their own creativity a priority. In addition I have had a joint residency opportunity over the last year with Emma Taylor at Sussex Prairies, an RHS partner garden in West Sussex. This has culminated in an exhibition entitled ‘Fleeting Moment’ which continues until mid October this year.

I have discovered that having deadlines to work to is key. Responsibility to others helps me to keep going and makes sure I meet challenges in my own work. I have gradually become confident enough to call myself a mixed media and textile artist and believe that collaging and assembling materials whether paper or fabric based is at the core of everything I want to make. In the sketchbook circle books I can see an annual increase in my ability to loosen up and to work without fear. In my residency work I have built a body of work which includes 5 series each containing 6 works. A series of photographs recording shadow play in pressed leaves from the garden. A set of screen print collages where I have assembled pre prepared coloured papers, personal photographs, and drawing materials onto screen printed backgrounds. A series of plant dyed fabrics which have been arranged and layered before drawing and embellishing with running stitches. An installation which shows the different experimental processes I have researched and practiced and various journals which show another record of my residency journey. The residency has given me a unique and vital opportunity to make the commitment to making my own work again, explore new ways of working and engage in subject matter which has become extremely important to me.


I have responded instinctively to the prairie surroundings. Collecting and preserving plant life has been continuous and led to research into natural dye processes, recording through photographs, notes and sketches, leaf rubbings and teaching myself screen printing. I have been mixing a variety of materials onto cotton rag paper and cotton and silk fabrics. Outcomes in stitch, print based media and collage reflect a sustained interest in the changes that occur in a garden across a year. My aim has been to capture the very essence of the plants, the impressions left through the changing seasons and the warmth and light of the summer sun in an attempt to re-create a sense of the Sussex Prairie Garden.


What creative process are you currently working on?

A life time fear of dyeing fabric was cracked 3 years ago when I taught myself how to dye with indigo. With lots of practise with the Shibori dye process I became fascinated in learning more about different ways of dyeing fabric. The residency gave me the opportunity to work with nature through the garden plants. Collecting and foraging has been a real feature of the last year. Taking rubbings from leaves, hammering colour out of leaves and flowers, bundling leaves into fabric, steaming and simmering the bundles revealed some real possibilities. I have had to complete a lot of research through reading, watching You Tube videos and talking to local people with fabric dyeing experience to find out more about the process. I am becoming proficient at scouring and mordanting fabric with Allum (a preparation process to ensure that the dye is colour and light fast) and most of my work has involved Ecoprinting. (Contact printing leaves straight onto fabric through bundling, tieing, steaming or simmering in water). My next quest will be to extend my mordanting knowledge by using copper and wood ash in preparation for dyeing and also using modifiers to alter the colours after dyeing.


How does your creative process work?

I work in ranges and series all of the time and have at least 3 -4 series on the go continuously. This way of working helps me to keep an experimental approach going. Rather than invest all my attention in one ‘masterpiece’ I float from one series to another. When I return to a series I have a fresh eye, see the work differently and adapt and alter the works. I put a series away for a while and get on with another series and then put tthose few works away. I find that distancing myself from the work in between helps me to see the works objectively when I return to them later. Making all these works part of a journey, an ongoign process has helped me to build confidence in what I am doing. If one work fails it matters less and I can rip it apart and rebuild it without worrying or feeling a failure. Happy accidents occur along the way too which again helps build confidence.


What tools or materials could you not live without?

Masking tape, PVA glue, knife, paper scissors, fabric scissors, a range of black and white drawing media. Various ways of making colour such as ink, acrylic paint, pigments and selectasine for screen printing and embroidery cotton for drawing. Silk, wool and cotton fabric, plant life for making marks and colour on fabric.

Where do you search for creative inspiration?

I make intuitive responses to things that I have observed around me, first hand, and then I search for creative inspiration within the artworks themselves. Sussex Prairies residency has given me my subject matter. I am now moving into my own garden for inspiration.


What is the best piece of creative advice you have been given?

When I was 16 years old my father said to me: “ if you want to be an artist it will be your job to reveal to others what they cannot see themselves, you will have to find that angle, that viewpoint in things that no-one else has shown us yet.” This conversation has stayed with me as a lasting memory of my father who died when I was 20. He has never left my side whilst I am making things and in my attempts to reveal to others what it is I find interesting about the visual world and my attempts to communicate this to others.


When I was 18 years old my art teacher Harman Sumray shared a quote with the class from American Author and poet Carl Sandburg “ I don’t know where I am going but I know I am on my way”. This phrase was a great revelation to me at that early point in my life. The realization that whatever I do in my life and that whatever I try to create it will not be the finished article, that leading a creative life will be a continuous journey of reflection, curiosity, reflection, more experiences, reflection and more making searching for an unknown destination. I am loving this renewed immersion into my making my own work and believe that I will continue my journey. I hope to keep connected with the sketchbook circle, a great way to keep things going.

Digital Circle Practitioner Focus #2: Wendy Copeland

Tell us a bit about yourself

I went to Glasgow School of Art, got a BA Hons Embroidered & Woven Textiles. I didn't really do the fabric thing, much to their disgust and my joy, as I made latex and ceramic heads, all based on the distorted portraits of my friends and family, how I really saw them!

Then I was meant to have a job with Jim Henson, alas the recession came. Ended up being a community art tutor and doing loads of art clubs for social services and SEN adults in galleries. I completely loved working with SEN, so decided to train as a teacher, which eventually led me to working in the North East of England in a SEN school. The first couple of years of teaching, I still managed to have exhibitions around the UK, also finding time to learn Photography (darkroom) and continue to develop my love of Life Drawing.

Years later, we (now husband and I) decided to pack it all in and go travelling, much to my dad’s complete and utter horror! After an amazing time out, seeing and experiencing awesome places and meeting life time pals, we decided it was time to come back to the land of reality and work (plus it kept my dad happy!)

Sucked back into the world of teaching, my own art work was pretty non-existent, just loads of demo/samples for work - ended up being a "jack of all trades".

Eventually, and I really don't know why I didn't hear about it sooner, I discovered NEATEN and NSEAD, this opened doors up into a whole new way of working/thinking, and most importantly my work/life balance. I started to think about attempting to make my own work again and this is where I first heard about Sketchbook Circle. So last year, I decided it would be good to have a challenge and work small and push myself into the unknown world of collaboration. Unfortunately one of my partnerships completely broke down right at the beginning, but luckily the other one was successful and we managed to develop a good creative conversation.

I am now about to start my 24th year of teaching, and I can honestly say that I feel revitalised, and would now consider myself to be known as an artist teacher. That is all down to being involved with NEATEN, NSEAD and of course sketchbook circle, which has allowed me to bring experimental fun back into my own art practice.

What / who do you use as inspiration for your work?

Basically, anything that is around me may be used for inspiration. This digital circle started with photographs of my trainers and pavements, which I thought was a good excuse for breathing stops as I am doing some running challenges this year. It has further developed on into street and urban landscapes and just recently influenced by a Radiohead gig I was recently at.

I regularly carry my camera around and recently just got a Lomography fisheye (film), which has allowed me to experiment with double exposure. This has then led me back into the darkroom to experiment further with more alternative photography techniques.

How long have you been working with digital processes, and what brought you to it?

Having recently just started teaching GCSE Photography, I knew that I would need to brush up on my Photoshop skills (digital darkroom), fed up being one step ahead of my pupils. So, when the opportunity got announced to do a digital circle, I decided that I would give myself a challenge and branch out into the unknown world of digital and tackle my lack of digital/computer skills.

Do you have favourite apps/software/hardware that you use?

I've mainly been using my laptop with Adobe Photoshop for most of this circle(iPad at the side with YouTube on). I have found the "help sheets" that Georgia has sent out to be extremely useful. Completely loved experimenting with glitches, especially when you just press play and Photoshop just does everything for you, seriously really clever!

I have just got the Procreate app, under Sarah's recommendation and hopefully will find some time this summer to experiment with this.

How has the digital circle impacted on you and your work?

Like I said earlier, it has brought the experimental fun back into my own art work, at times a cheeky glint in the eye when showing and speaking with my pupils about what I am doing. They have loved being involved in some of the work, happily posing with images over their faces. I am really fortunate to be working with Sarah, as this has also helped to push me out of my comfort zone and made me attempt to be more creative and experimental.

Does a digital project change the nature of collaboration?

For this circle, I have not purely just worked with digital, I have ended up using sewing, sculpting and adding wax into some of my digital images. I have found that we (Sarah and I) have been able to creatively bounce off each other, either being influenced by our use of images, colour or shape to help to develop a natural flow of work. The only thing that is different is how you send your work, but after getting advice, I worked out that Slack was good platform to use.

Digital Circle Practitioner Focus #1: Sarah Wills Brown

Tell us a bit about yourself

I have taught art in secondary schools, in both London and Oxfordshire since 1993. For the last six years I have taught in a prep school which is certainly very different to just teaching teenagers! I have always maintained the discipline of keeping sketchbooks throughout my teaching career, combining this with a love of mono printing and drawing. Over the last two years I have begun the process of focusing more on my own artistic practice, and this September will see me starting an MA in Art Education at Oxford Brookes University. This has been my first year taking part in Sketchbook Circle.


When I did my degree in Graphic Design, it was the late 1980s and I had a real phobia around computers. What is really funny is that at the time I somehow convinced myself that I didn’t have the time to sit and learn how to use the software; to be honest it was all a bit scary.


I make mixed media drawings. I am interested in the flow and rhythm of line and am fascinated with the layers evident in architectural and plant structures, as well as in the landscapes around me. I love things which are broken, discarded, fading or faded, invisible to the human eye, or lying dormant, just beneath the surface. I am drawn to the textural qualities of peeling paint, rusting surfaces and decaying timbers. I explore these themes through a combination of photography, print, drawing and more recently digital techniques.

What / who do you use as inspiration for your work?

I live near Shotover Hill where my daily walks, combined with regular visits to both The Ashmolean and The Pitt Rivers in Oxford, provide plenty of visual inspiration and thought. I love the crossover between Art and Science and really admire Andy Lomas’ digital ‘Aggregation’ works, which are truly inspiring.

How long have you been working with digital processes, and what brought you to it?

I remember seeing David Hockney’s exhibition, A Bigger Picture in 2012. Walking into a room full of his stunning digital drawings was truly inspiring and this really stuck with me. I have played with digital drawing now, on and off for a couple of years. But it wasn’t until a collaboration in Oct 2015 on Twitter, between myself and artist teacher Karen Wicks, that I really began to start exploring the possibilities of working digitally so that it could feed back into my own drawing practice. It was important for me to find a way of mark-making which was similar to physical drawing, so that has meant trialling many different apps. I will also be involved in another digital collaboration with Karen on Twitter for #drawingaugust. This year like last, we will play drawing tennis on a daily basis, starting off with one image which will fly backwards and forwards between us as we manipulate, draw into and over, erase and add to, over the course of the month.

Do you have favourite apps / software / hardware that you use?

Procreate and Sketches are my ’go to’ apps. I tend to start in one and then flick backwards and forwards between the two, then into Photoshop to manipulate images further. I have been playing with the whole Adobe suite for Digital Circle, and have recently been making some brushes of my own, using Adobe Capture.

How has the digital circle impacted on you and your work?

The discipline of responding to and ensuring that I have something worthwhile to share with my partner Wendy has had a very positive impact on my own practice. Juggling this with teaching full time, certainly helps focus my creativity! As the year is progressing, I am finding that I am using my iPad alongside my sketchbook much more to record my surroundings, thoughts and ideas. I can easily take a drawing, add a photo or other texture on top, change the colourway, crop and manipulate and then draw into the layers further. It is also a great excuse to try out more apps. The flexibility, adaptability and the opportunity to try things, make mistakes and start again, reuse areas or work back into layers is really opening up a much looser approach in my work. This is now happily feeding into my mixed media pieces.

Does a digital project change the nature of collaboration?

I don’t think a digital project changes the nature of collaboration as long as you are working with someone who challenges, inspires and communicates their thought process with you. I think this is the real key to a successful collaboration. I have also found the month-long process to be a flexible one, as at times I have been able to get started almost straight away, giving me time to really think about my response, and other months due to time constraints it has needed to be a quick response, making the whole process adaptable. The digital work is only ever an email away from my partner and we have both worked hard to get our responses to each other by the very beginning of each month. For myself, posting an actual sketchbook each month would have been too much of a challenge. I am loving the virtual sketchbook Wendy and I are creating and we plan to print it when finished!

Practitioner Focus: Liz Goode

Please introduce yourself

 My name is Liz and I am the director of The Foundry Gallery in Chelsea, London. This is my first year doing Sketchbook Circle and I am really enjoying making the time to make work again.

What is your background in art?

1994- Foundation Diploma in Art & Design at University of Portsmouth

1999- BA(Hons) in Fine Art at the Kent Institute of Art & Design at Canterbury

2002– MA Printmaking at University of the Arts: Camberwell

2004- PGCE in Post Compulsory Education at the Institute of Education

I spent 7 years as the Fine Art Lecturer on a Foundation course at Richmond Upon Thames College. There were many ups and downs and sadly towards the end more downs. After having my first son in 2011 I took voluntary redundancy. This coincided with my husband and his business partner deciding to open a gallery as part of their architectural practice and I stepped in. I had to learn my new career by doing it! I joined the Association of Women Art Dealers and went to as many seminars, lectures and workshops as I could. I also won a place on an art dealers boot-camp which taught me most of what I needed to know.

As the director and curator (a one man show really!) I am always on the search for new artists whose work resonates with the gallery’s remit of art work that explores the relationships between art and architecture. I do the graphic design, website, contracts, photography, curating and hanging and making good the space afterwards. I am also the writer and editor and put out all the press releases which have had a good track record. Each exhibition takes up to a year to put together as a mum of 2 I have limited time and I like to build a good working relationship with the artists I work with.

Tell us about your work

Currently I seem to have three main threads to my work: one is based on found maps, the second comes from photographs of buildings I’ve taken and then edited on Instagram; editing, cropping and tessellating with the “Layout” app (through Instagram) to create new ‘architectural’ structures. The third is triangles, triangular shaped roofs will be basis of new series of screen prints I’m starting in September.

Where do you make your work?

I make my work on the dining room table. I am also working on my trusty iPhone 5 with Instagram and Instagram Layout.

What materials could you not live without?

Camera, iPhone, Macbook, Copic pens, graph paper, Gelli plate, mt tape, Instagram

Where do you find the inspiration for your work?

From exhibitions I have seen, artists I like, art journals I have read, art books, blogs, Instagram and my surroundings.

How does your creative process work?

I start with research then through experimentation and working through an idea. I throw out a lot as I am out of practice and a perfectionist so I am finding the Sketchbook Circle liberating!

Featured Artist: Henry Jones

Tell us about your work

From leaving art college in 1987 until; discovering watercolour in 2013, my only 2D creativity was filling sketchbooks with sepia ink drawings using a basic cut bamboo pen. Working monochrome has taught me when using colour to keep my palette down to versions of the three primaries, relying on tone and composition to tell the story. From the late 80s to late 90s I travelled widely, with much walking from tropics to snowy mountains giving me a feel for landscape which is now embedded in my mind and drawn upon in my work. Painting almost exclusively watercolour for the past four years, land and cityscape are my main subjects, and I have to include at least one figure in every painting, even if that figure is so small as to be almost invisible. I do paint the occasional work in acrylic or oil, and shall pursue oil more as my confidence with the medium grows.


What creative project are you currently working on?

Short term, I’m creating work for entry to a number of open selection exhibitions, 40 paintings of European cities in square format for a gallery in Cologne, a couple of small local commissions and a large 4’x3’ oil painting commissioned by an British ex-pat living in Estonia. Long term, every artist’s desire: for each painting created to be uniquely mine.


How does your creative process work?

Never lacking subject matter I sketch every day, either from life or general ideas. I’ll work on new subjects, plein air and studio, experimenting with composition and mood until I find something with a bit of mileage in it, then honing rough edges (of roughing overworked smooth ones), pushing it further along the path of improvement to that ever so elusive success. I believe in painting as much as is possible, as with everything, practice makes ... better. Talking with other artists about their and my work is useful and getting robust criticism from everyone, regardless of artistic knowledge, is frequently enlightening and freshens stagnant ideas.


What tools or materials could you not live without?

1: Sketchbook, pencil and/or bamboo ink pen/ink

2: Watercolour paper, brushes and paint


Where do you search for creative inspiration?

As one who enjoys walking in rural landscapes and cities, there is never a shortage of ideas bombarding my imagination. Wide mountain scenes, views from a train, footpaths, busy stations and the artist’s favourite, people-watching all offer subject matter. I am a member of an art society where talks, demonstrations and criticism help creativity. Workshops with artists I admire are something of an addiction, every one I have attended, has given me valuable advice, as did a recent residency in France with a number of international artists.


What is the best piece of creative advice you have been given?

Copy the work of those you admire, put in the hours until you create your own style, and keep it simple.

Practitioner Focus: Suzanne Chalke


Please introduce yourself

My name is Suzanne Chalke and I’ve been teaching since 2003, 7 of these years being Head of Department at Hinchleywood school.

This is my 4th year taking part in the sketchbook circle and my experience is getting better and better. I initially joined up after attending an NSEAD conference and loved the idea of doing something for myself, sharing a book with a neighbour and creating collaborative work. As Head of Department we get more and more swamped with paperwork and deadlines, I felt I had lost my own creative identity.  A Sketchbook Circle seemed to me to be the best way of kick-starting my own work and discover what I enjoyed creating and making, it’s most definitely succeeded.

Tell us about your work

It’s taken a few sketchbooks for me to finally rediscover a style of work that I would call ‘me’. My degree was in 2D design - surface pattern, printmaking, textile design, photography and graphics. I would say that I’m still very much in this area and continue to enjoy combing these techniques. At present I am focusing on combining mundane everyday images such as drain covers and road markings with collage, gelli printing and mono printing. I like not being too set in what I do but instead experiment with different colours, layers, stencils and shapes then see where it takes me. I then start playing around with collage, composition and doodling on top. This has taken quite a few years to get to the point of being able to ‘go with the flow’ rather than being worried about ruining a page or getting bogged down in detail and the finished result.

What creative project are you currently working on?

Apart from taking part in this year’s sketchbook circle I have recently started an evening class in ceramics. I have never made clay work before and am enjoying learning new skills and understanding more about the technical side.

At school, we have recently been successful in our bid for a printing press so I am very much looking forward to further developing this area of my practice. 

How does your creative process work?

My process either starts with an image and goes from there or it could be techniques based.

With my print making I will often use quite graphic images but I also like to create more abstract prints based of colours, shapes and line. Sometimes I will create my artwork in a free at school, procrastinating, and continue when I have my A level group. I feel it’s important that students see their teachers creating their own work, have a dialogue about what I’m doing and share ideas. Quite often they have helped me with my sketchbook circles, 2 heads are better than one.

What tools or materials could you not live without?

I couldn’t live without my pens, camera and paper. Taking photos is important to me, to be able to capture a colour, texture or shape. To have a moment where something has stopped you in your location and being able to capture it. I also love a bit of doodling as it helps me to stop my head from over thinking, just zoning out and not worrying what you are drawing.

Where do you search for creative inspiration?

For my inspiration, I tend to keep my eyes open when I’m walking about and pay attention to small details that others may miss such as textures on a wall, shapes of shadows on the ground, the pattern in an electrical pylon or the painted lines on a road. I enjoy looking at the mundane of everyday and just being aware of it. Since focusing more on this ideas pop into my head as I’m going to the local shops and then I’ll know what I’m going to create.

I also use Pinterest a lot, for school and for myself.

Being part of the sketchbook circle has inspired me hugely as I’ve leant new skills in workshops, seen so many good ideas in the Facebook group and from the partners I have had over the 4 years. I have often had to step out of my comfort zone to respond to a partner’s work.

What's the best piece of creative advice you have been given?

I’m not sure if there has been any specific advice but a collective. I would say it was just to get on with it, start it, not to procrastinate and trust that you are good at what you do. To take some risks and experiment and have fun, see what happens. I try to instill this in my students to varying degrees of success, some relish it and others not so. I believe it all boils down to what Matisse said, that ‘creativity takes courage’.


Featured Artist: Ben Meredith

Please introduce yourself

My name is Ben and I currently teach A Level Fine Art in an FE College in South Wales. I have a Degree and MFA in Fine Art so in that regard I've not been too radical in my career choice. I am currently trying to balance my teaching, a young family and continuing to have a creative practice. This means working small and that my sketchbook has taken on an even greater role than previously.

Tell us about your work

I have an eclectic taste but certain themes/processes resurface. These include the figure, faces, continuous line, drawing people who are unaware e.g in cafes or on trains, sewing and embroidery, painting, collage, ink washes, obsessing over my sketchbook, childhood, overlapping and layering and playing with flatness.

What creative project are you currently working on? 

Currently I am trying to improve my printmaking skills having only flirted with it in the past. I have producing a series of Twin Peaks inspired images and this has become a small edition of prints which is a new departure for me. This is also an attempt to see if I am able to produce more illustrative work alongside my more observational/figurative/semi-autobiographical work. I am also considering setting up an online shop; but in this regard I am rather lazy.

How does your creative process work?

I predominantly want the opportunity to be looking at someone in front of me; figures and faces are my main inspiration. I find all people have something I want to capture; the clothes they wear, the postures they hold and I see these forms as a series of shapes, lines and patterns that can be developed in infinite ways. Drawing is key for me, I don't think I can be an effective painter or printmaker unless I keep drawing (practice makes 'better' in my case) . I also believe that Art should be playful and that through play we continue to learn - I tell this to all of my students. I start almost all of my drawings using continuous line and cannot recommend that way of drawing enough. So my process is a mixture of play and exploration but at the same time trying to pin something I've seen down.


What tools or materials could you not live without?

A sketchbook with nice paper (currently it's all about Fabriano), a pencil case filled with; pens, markers, brushes, my embroidery kit, watercolours, material swatches and matt Modge Podge glue - love that stuff! 

Where do you search for creative inspiration?

Gallery trips when I can, a bit of Facebook or Pinterest. I have realised and accepted more readily this year that my students also inspire me a great deal - being in a studio five days a week teaching means I am constantly exposed to new processes and approaches to visual problem solving. I am passionate about FE and feel that students at this stage start to make some of the 'good stuff'. I am often asking students to show me how they made a certain surface or texture and later unconsciously it will appear in my sketchbook in some way. I also work with some great Lecturers who encourage me and my family are also very inspiring - I have three daughters and I could draw them forever.

What's the best piece of creative advice you have been given?

On my degree my Lecturer was called Jim (I really looked up to him) he said that drawing is actually about looking rather than copying. The more that you look the better your drawings will become, the time you devote to drawing means in turn you become quicker and the connection between your hand and brain becomes almost instant. It was something along those lines, and I have found it to be true. 



Katie Smith: POWER-UP

Artist Katie Smith took over the postal mailout for April. Through this, she invites us to 'POWER-Up' by contributing to a new work by Katie and Kate Genever


My name is Katie Smith and I’m a socially engaged artist. I use a variety of creative media from pinhole and Polaroid photography to collage, low-tech print and stitch to engage with and stimulate social processes. My work can respond to a particular need or issue within a community or explore the creative potential of bringing people together around a shared goal or interest.

I take a ‘go to the people’ approach to making art and love the challenge of working in unconventional spaces. My work is always collaborative and is often fuelled by random encounters, unexpected situations and a willingness to take risks.  Past projects have included pitching a caravan outside my local ASDA, going on the road with long-haul truckers and experiencing bare knuckle fighting at a horse fair.

In 2015 I joined the Sketchbook Circle in order to confront my irrational fear of sketchbooks which had developed in the 20+ years since leaving Art College. I hadn’t anticipated how powerful the experience would be; I think it’s fair to say that one collaboration in particular changed my life! I discovered that my sketchbooks provided a space to ponder and process the stuff of life; they could help maintain equilibrium, encourage enquiry and support some really deep reflection. They strengthened my belief that finding the right space to be creative in and the right people to be creative with can have a hugely positive impact on mental wellbeing.

My circle experience has definitely influenced the development of a new piece of work with artist Kate Genever. We are on a mission to find out what the phrase ‘Power-Up’ means in the context of human thinking and behaviour. Is it something that we do when faced with a challenge or difficult situation? Is it about building energy and finding extra abilities? Can we define it as the processes we use and strategies we develop to become stronger? Can it help us to deal with the tricky bits of life? For me, every time I work in my sketchbook I’m powering up, I am practicing self-care.

We would like to invite you to send us a postal Power- Up. The idea is simple, create a postcard with a visual Power-Up on the front and a written response to the question: What does the phrase ‘Power-Up’ mean to you? on the back. Postcards received will be scanned (front and back) and shared in our online gallery. Full instructions can be found here:

We hope that our online gallery will evolve into an accessible 'Power-Up' resource for all. It could be used by individuals in need of a boost or by groups and organisations to encourage conversations around positive mental health, emotional resilience and self-care. The postcards themselves will be exhibited at an inpatient unit and school for young people with acute mental health issues and will form starting point for a new project with them.

If you’ve signed up for the Sketchbook Circle mail-out you will have received a couple of postcards featuring my stitched jackets. If you aren’t signed up but would like a pair of postcards please send 50p and an SAE to Katie Smith, Unique Cottage Studios, Fulney Lane, Spalding. PE12 6FA. The project is self-funded so any profits from postcard sales will help us to develop this work.

Featured Artist- Dylan Gibson

I don’t come from an artistic background but I was always given space to draw, the materials and tools to draw with.  The dining table was my drawing board/studio area, it was always the area where the family was near, I liked the engagement and enjoyed the comments.  Comics were an integral part to my early art experience.  Bold exciting images in Judge Dredd and 2000AD really left a lasting impression, they helped me to read, understand the visual narrative and pacing.  I’d often create my own characters or my own comic stories, some short others over several issues.  My mum was very good at giving feedback she could really look at my work and be critical, I didn’t always want to hear it but I think that is why I sat and drew at the dining table to get her critique.

I was always defined as the kid who could draw.  That support from the teachers really fuelled my confidence and my skills in communicating.  In secondary school my art teacher introduced me to the possibilities of a career in the arts and the support and guidance to get me to art college.

After University I worked with an interior design studio in Belfast, the owner had been impressed by my degree show, I’d written and adapted an illustrated comic of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, taking great care to properly visualise Nemo’s Nautilus, based on the strength of that design I went on to create art work for pubs, restaurants and nightclubs nationally and internationally.

Since becoming a freelance illustrator 15 years ago I’ve had the opportunity to work for a wide range of companies and organisations, each with a different idea of the purpose of illustration. Some want you to tell a very specific story, others to sell their product or visualise an idea.  Versatility is essential and tackling these different expectations on a daily basis can keep things interesting and challenge my practice. Over the years I’ve often been presented with or sought out challenging projects, opportunities to draw tricky subjects or render difficult concepts in pen and ink.  Feedback while no longer coming from the dining table, from clients offers the chance to reflect on my skills and approach it is often within the narrow context of the brief and there are few opportunities to discuss and develop my ideas with other creatives.  

For my own professional development I will also create personal artworks with a focus on either trying something new with an idea or look of character or a personal take on an existing character.  This is I suppose how I started my journey as a creative and I do this to unwind and for fun, sometimes they just stay in my sketchbook if I really like what I’ve done I will finish it off to go in my folio. 

Keeping it touch with other creatives is essential and last year I watched in envy as my wife Ciara enjoyed the creative dialog between her and her sketchbook partners, I was really glad I could be part of 2017’s circle of creative people.  I’m finding it difficult at times, as I can be a little spent creatively on commissioned work. I’m looking forward to hitting my stride and see where my partners can take me.



Practitioner Focus: James Nairne

Please introduce yourself!

I'm an artist teacher, currently working as head of art in an independent boarding school in the south of England. I have been teaching for nearly 30 years (gulp!) after a short period as a 'full-time' artist.

Tell us about your work?

I make paintings (and sometimes prints), working from drawings, photographs and memory. I need to find an emotional connection to the work - I used to work a lot from landscape and the sense of place provided that. In the last few years I have reintroduced figures - wanting to try and say something about the connections between people and place. What I choose to paint seems to come pretty intuitively but there's normally a connection to some experience in my own life.

What creative project are you currently working on?

Currently there's 2 paintings sitting in my office at work I'd like to finish (one I started in 2013!) but actually the only real live project at the moment is producing digital work for the digital sketchbook circle. Nevertheless I am using that to develop ideas, so I don't see it as anything different. In fact it's important that it's not different from my usual practice. I think I have learnt over the years that you need to use every opportunity to make art - I always try and keep some germ of an idea in my head so there's something to use when called upon to 'make art'.

I have several sketchbooks that make progress slowly. I have a square 8"x8" spiral book I use for observational drawing when travelling and when on holiday; there's a couple of A4 ideas books that I scribble, stick and sketch into - often it's a printout of the existing state of a painting which I then work on with drawing pens at home in front of the TV; an A5 landscape whose rules are get it down really fast, work only in black and white and always from observation. My main go-to-book is a Seawhite A6 landscape hardback that I carry pretty much everywhere. For this book the only rule is use the next page. I have been using these A6 books for over 10 years and there must be about thirty or so now.

Like many teachers I find it hard to find the time to make my own work - the refurbishment of a small cottage and garden has been the time killer in the last two years, so the sketchbook circle has been a really good discipline. I need deadlines and challenges.

How does your creative process work? 

In fits and starts. During term time I rarely have a moment to consider my own creative practice so it's in the holidays that I get going. Normally I look back on photos and sketchbook work and begin to make studies in one of my A4 books.

What tools or materials could you not live without?

For drawing: a grey Pental colourbrush pen, a small white Posca, a Staedtler Graphite 777 Mechanical Pencil 0.5 mm tip and a black fineliner. Although I have a collection of about 100 pens!

For painting: watermixable oil colour. I love working with these: real oil but without the smelly solvents.

Where do you search for creative inspiration?

Galleries - I find there's nothing like a long day in London visiting exhibitions and some smaller galleries to feel fired up and keen to be making my own stuff. Otherwise increasingly I look online.

What is the best piece of creative advice you have been given?

I'm rubbish at remembering who's said what, or where I read something. I think you have to find your own way to solve problems and work things out.