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!