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.

Practitioner Focus: Lucy Hall

Tell us a little about yourself

I’m in my third year of Sketchbook Circle and can’t imagine life without it now! I am an Arts Leader and Arts and Literacy interventions teacher at a primary school near Brixton in South London. I work part time as a teacher and develop my own designs the rest of the time. Currently, I’m working on a series of digitally printed silk scarf designs.

What is your background in art?

It’s a complicated one!  Many years ago I completed a foundation course in art and design but I had very little confidence in myself and my abilities as an artist. When I was rejected by my chosen college to study fine art, I decided to change direction and ended up studying psychology and sociology.  I went on to work in documentary television for nearly a decade. This was an interesting and exciting career but I always felt that something was missing, that something being art.

I decided to re-train as a teacher for a number of reasons but, most importantly, it allowed me more flexibility to go on to study art and design.  During my NQT year, I did evening and weekend classes to build up a portfolio of work (not quite sure how I managed that!) and, to my great surprise, I was accepted by Central Saint Martins on to their M.A Textile Futures course.

There followed an exciting, very challenging and, at times, somewhat gruelling two years of intense study whilst also teaching part-time.  I graduated six years ago.

Tell us about your work

My current scarf designs combine abstract photography, mark making and illustration.  As they are produced digitally, I spend a lot of time staring at a computer screen. It is therefore a great joy to also spend time working in sketchbooks.  In these, I enjoy experimenting with collage and embroidery as well as painting and drawing. 

Where do you make your work?

In my bedroom…I do live in London, after all!  I have set up a mini studio there with desk, paper drawers and many, many rolls of paper and piles of fabric.  It’s my aim to earn enough money from my scarves to justify renting out a studio day!

What materials could you not live without?

Pencils and inks.  Embroidery threads.  Collage papers, (I have two drawers stuffed full of old postcards, pages ripped from magazines, children’s paintings etc. which I always go to as a starting point for my sketchbook work).  I also use Letraset a lot and enjoy searching on Ebay for unusual fonts!

Where do you find the inspiration for your work?

It’s not very original but nature is my big inspiration.  My final M.A work was a series of screens which attempted to recreate the effect of dappled light created by trees which I see when out walking in the countryside. My scarf designs are based on a series of photos I took in woods and which also try to capture the ever-changing effects of light and shade. I love drawing the irregular patterns found in nature too.

Working with younger children is very inspiring because of the way that they play with colour and make marks in such uninhibited ways. I also love children’s handwriting practice books for some reason and this tends to pop up in my art work fairly regularly.

How does your creative process work?

During my M.A, I found that my work became quite controlled and self-conscious.  Since then, I have worked hard to get back to creating in more playful and instinctive ways.  My new motto is a very simple one: ‘think less, do more’.  Being part of Sketchbook Circle has helped me hugely with this.

I have two quotes from Sketchbook Circle on my noticeboard.  One is, ‘Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love.  It will not lead you astray.’ My creative process involves a constant battle to get into this state of mind, and sometimes I achieve it!

What is the best piece of advice you could give to someone new to the circle?

 The second quote on my noticeboard is from Andy Warhol who sums it all up for me; ‘Don’t think about making art, just get it done.  Let everyone else decide if it is good or bad, whether they love it or hate it.  While they are deciding, make more art.’

Creative Spaces

We asked our members to share images of the spaces where they make work with us. The response showed how personal and important these places are, from an iPad, a toolbox and a laptop desk, to large and beautiful studios. The images reveal how differently we work, where order or (organised) chaos are our preferred ways of working. Thanks to Sue Guildford-Potts, Vicky Charlett, Yvette Hughes, Cherrie Trelogan, Claire Connolly, Elinor Brass, Helen Homewood, Diane Bruford, Jayne Everiss, Ben Meredith, Harry Bell, Tilly McDermott, Sam Hanson, Mandy Barrett, Anne Laurie, Elaine Morgan, Morrighan Humpleby and Sally Jane for sharing their spaces with us.

Practitioner Focus: Dee Maguire

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a secondary school art teacher and I live and work in Dublin, Ireland with my partner and 3 cats!  I began my career in art as an exhibiting artist for a couple of years after I completed a degree in Fine Art Sculpture.  When I undertook a PGCE in 2000 to train as a teacher, I had presumed that teaching would support my career as a practitioner by giving me a sense of financial security.  But instead the demands of teaching took over and I slowly lost my engagement with my personal and professional practice.  As my identity as an artist took a back seat - so much so that I would consider myself as an arts educator as opposed to an artist teacher – I mourned its loss.  Over the years I tried to re-engage with my own art-making but struggled to keep momentum or develop ideas.  I completed a master’s in Visual Arts Education in 2014 but as nothing like the Artist Teacher Scheme exists in Ireland there was no hands-on, making aspect for me to get my teeth into.  Instead it was purely theoretical and although I really enjoyed researching and writing I still was looking for something to help me start working as a practitioner again.  That’s why finding Sketchbook Circle has had such an impact for me.  Discovering this initiative has given me a structure to start making and thinking in a valid way once more.


How did you get involved in Sketchbook Circle?

In the course of my research for my master’s degree I discovered NSEAD.  A notice about Sketchbook Circle was on one of their newsletters so I contacted Elinor to find out more.  As I was based in Ireland, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to join but luckily I was so I signed up for the 2016 circle.  I really didn’t know what to expect as I had never worked in this way before.  Starting was difficult as I hadn’t made any work in so long.  I also found not having a theme or starting point difficult so the Facebook page was a great support in starting off.  I got inspired looking through the images of other’s books and it was great to ask for advice from others in the circle and also see that I wasn’t alone in feeling anxiety about starting off.


Sending my initial few pages off to a stranger frightened the life out of me as I really didn’t feel any confidence about what I was doing. But I needn’t have been worried as I can honestly say that last year’s circle has been the most valuable artistic experience that I have had since college!  One of my swaps didn’t work out unfortunately but I had an amazing journey with my main partner Carola Chambers.  She was really supportive and positive to the work I was sending her.  After an initial visual introduction we started to develop a visual conversation and an interesting and relevant body of work began to emerge.  By the time we were working on the second book, I was making work that I was proud of again and the ideas were flowing.  I’m so happy to be making and doing again and realise that regular making is more important than what I make. 


My engagement with sketchbook circle has also been influencing my classroom practice. I feel that a consequence of becoming re-engaged with my own practice has been the re-invigoration of my teaching and this has been reflected in my schemes.  Coincidently the art curricula here in Ireland are currently in a state of flux.  Assessment changes are in the process of being implemented in senior cycle art and there will be curriculum changes to the junior cycle art programme next year.  For the first time in the history of Irish secondary school art education sketchbooks are now going to be an integral part of the assessment process.  The current 5th year cohort of students will be the first group to participate in these changes.  I felt that a classroom Sketchbook Circle would be a great fit for my 5th years and would be a great way to get them used to working in a sketchbook and developing a regular practice.  It also has the benefit of making the students more confident about showing and talking about their own work, something there wasn’t enough of.  My students love the circle (done as a weekly swap) as it has given them ownership over their work and has been a great tool for peer teaching.


Can you describe your work?

I have always been inspired by the figure and this continues to be a dominant theme in my work.  My early work before I became a teacher was installation based and often time-based and site-specific.  My central concern was around representing memory and a visual record of everyday relational interactions.  The work I have been making recently, as a result of the circle, has resulted in my work developing in a new direction.  Through the visual conversation I was having with Carola, new ideas and starting points started to develop and astronomy emerged as a central theme. At the end of our partnership I felt that the work was only just beginning and I have been continuing to work on some of the themes that have emerged out of the books.  I feel that this is initial research that has the potential to lead to a larger body of work.  Drawing has always been and continues to be central to my practice and is the backbone of what I do.  Working in the sketchbook format has meant that I have worked primarily with 2D mediums recently and I see this as a main departure for me due to my background in Sculpture. I have been experimenting with paint and playing with collâgé.  I have been exploring print – in particular drypoint etching – as this has felt like a natural progression from drawing.  As a result of ideas conceived in the sketchbook I decided to hire studio space in a print studio and spent a day working on printing in a larger format.  It was so enjoyable to be back in a professional studio environment – if even only for one day – and make work.  Interestingly, some of the themes from my earlier work have been creeping their way into my current work and they seem to be finding homes in my new working practices.


What inspires you?

Everything and anything!  As I’ve already mentioned the figure remains a major inspiration.  I have always had a fascination with empty/abandoned spaces and I’ve always been captivated by shadows.  Over the last number of years I’ve developed an interest – at an extremely amateur level - in astronomy and my reading around this topic has started to inform my current work.


Tell us about the space you use to make art.

I generally make work either in my classroom in school or at home on the dining room table, it all depends on what time I have to hand.  I love working in my classroom because of the space, access to materials and tools such as a small printing press.  I like to work after the school day when everyone’s gone home and I’ll be undisturbed.  If I’m working at home I usually take over the dining room table for a couple of hours.  I’d love to have a studio space in my house that I could just leave everything out after a session and not have to tidy everything away while I’m in the middle of something. 


When do you find time to make work?

Finding the time to make work is the biggest challenge in maintaining a regular practice.  I seem to be regularly time-poor as a result of juggling teaching and personal commitments.  However I think that’s one of the most important benefits of the Circle.  It motivates you to find some time – no matter how small – on a monthly basis.  Knowing someone’s waiting on the book is a brilliant motivator - deadlines have always been an important tool for me in making work.  Some months I do very little and other months I may have more time and do more.  Once I’m actually sitting down and doing, it spurs me on to find more time to do more, but unfortunately there’s never the amount of time available to me that I’d like to spend on my work.


What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve been developing some textile pieces that came out of ideas from my work with Carola.  I had been playing with layering images which lead me to layering text using embroidery.  This work conjured the motif of a veil and I’m currently researching the symbolism of the veil both historically and culturally. This is very much work in progress which I hope will grow into more formalised pieces. When I started my new 2017 swap, I initially thought that I would continue this work into the new swap, but in the end I felt that I couldn’t start a new swap that way and that it would be out of context.  There’s a strange disruption about finishing a swap and starting a new one.  This year I’m working with just one partner.  We’ve been working on a book each and have decided to swap them every two months. I’m excited by what my new partnership with Petra Matthews Crow will bring and interested to see if the ideas that I had been working on will creep back in to this new book.


What art materials can you not live without?

I couldn’t be without fine-liner pens and always have them with me, I just love drawing with them!

Practitioner Focus: Karen Wicks

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a mother of two and have been an art teacher/head of art for sixteen years in various schools in the U.K. Last year I did the Artist Teacher Scheme at Birmingham University which led me to change direction in my career and go into working in inclusion; I am currently setting up an inclusion space at an inner city school and work with disaffected teenagers.  

What kind of art do you make?

My work is quite experimental and is often a response to 'place' and the residue left by our interaction with it. I like to push my use of drawing beyond the traditional mark making media and have used shadow, thread, projection and ice to create pieces of work that are intended to be temporary. 

What inspires you?

I am inspired by the ordinary, the marks that people don't always 'see'.....eroded walls, road markings, rust, shadows. The direction of my work is also fuelled by collaboration with others, this interaction gives me a push into the 'unknown' and will often steer the way that I respond to an idea. 

I have been involved in the Sketchbook Circle since 2012 and it is interesting that my first collaboration with Elinor Brass is still feeding my preoccupation with making a response to 'place'. I also like to make work that can be left in situ to be found, so have regularly made pieces of work for #freeartfriday to be discovered and taken home by a stranger. I like the idea of using art to make the unnoticed noticed.  

What materials can you not live without?

As a screen printing graduate I am always drawn back to using print in my work, so the answer to this would partly be printmaking ink. However the direction of my most recent work has become more digital so I would also have to add my IPad to that list! 

The tool that I use most though is my iPhone, for capturing initial images to projecting using a mini projector and also, most importantly, in sharing and finding ideas with others using social media.

When do you find time to make?

This is tricky as I work full time and family takes up most of my time outside of work. I used to make art at school in my lunch break when working as an art teacher. I found the Sketchbook Circle model worked for me as I would often 'hold' the dialogue in my head until there was an opportunity to make work. So producing work then, and now, often happens in intense snatched periods of half an hour here and half an hour there. I have found that this has also had an impact on how my own work has developed as I cannot use lengthy processes due to the time restraints. My children are quite often my art 'sidekicks' and will come along when I drop work to be found, or when I am drawing they will join in! 

Where do you do your making? 

At the moment either in my garage or if it is digital drawing, in bed last thing at night! I did rent a studio for a short spell of time but found that I didn't get time to go often enough to make it worthwhile. 

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

I tend to be quite prolific and full of ideas and in talking to another artist prior to doing the Artist Teacher Scheme, he told me to 'cast my stone and follow where it rolls'. When I was on the course I think I was hoping to find a definite 'answer' to what my work is, but I've come to realise that actually there is not one fixed answer. So I follow the advice in that I let the journey unfold whilst being mindful of my gut instinct when making a response. Also, having other critical friends who understand your artistic intentions and preoccupations is invaluable to the process of making art and that keeps me steered in a more focussed direction as well. 

What's your next project?

At the moment I am finishing a project called 'Brindley Village' which is about a derelict village site which is now forest. I have used a bursary from AN Artists to work with artist Bo Jones in developing projection drawing and am currently in conversation with a former resident of the village about co-curating an exhibition about the place. 

My next project will be informed by collaboration in the digital Sketchbook Circle; I am currently using digital drawing to capture the process of working with pupils who have SEMH and Attachment Disorder  and the emotional residue that is created through the projection and 'containment' of strong feelings. I am looking forward to sharing work with the talented Louise Clazey and Claire Kennedy. 

I am also planning to be involved with a group of artists I worked with last year in a project called #dis:placed in co-editing a newspaper publication about experimental drawing practice. This will be another exciting opportunity to collaborate with David Smith, Stephen Carley and Sarah Wills Brown. So, altogether an exciting year ahead!


Beginnings: We asked Four of our Members the question: How do you start a creative dialogue?

Gemma Billson

Getting Started is the hardest part, staring at an empty blank page in a crisp new sketchbook with white pages is intimidating.

I have been part of the circle since it was introduced to the TEA group and in the last couple of years I have switched from brought sketchbooks to making my own. Including this year, I have collected a range of papers different colours and different styles to encourage a more creative approach and avoid a creative block of staring at an empty white page. I enjoy working on tracing paper, envelopes and have a slight obsession with luggage labels (they seem to fit in with any book and theme).

I find I am a bit of a contradiction in my approach in that I love to view the work of others that seems to be spontaneous, messy and layered but find it difficult at times to stray away from neat, precise and controlled. The past two books I have worked on have been ring bound to allow more freedom to work on the pages. I have included different sizes of paper and envelopes are great to hide or reveal. A lot of the inspiration for pages and ideas for the books have come from the workshops that I have participated in as part of the circle. Book binding, Zines, printmaking and photography have really stood out. Even the snippets I have seen from those I have just seen the outcomes for have been a great influence.

Themes have varied from natural forms which can be a bit safe but a theme that I always find myself returning to. To toys, figurative work and sometimes a mix of everything. The thing that makes the circle so appealing is that there isn’t a right or wrong approach. You can work in any format the starting point can be anything and you have the freedom to let it evolve to a completely different outcome. I have found myself working much more in mixed medias and really enjoy using a lot of collage in my work.

Through the influence of seeing so much on the social media pages I used a lot more text in my work. Depending on the partner you have being part of the circle really pushes you to work in different styles and out of your comfort zone. My aim for this year is to use more textiles in my book as it is an area I am not particularly confident in, but sewn pages and adding more texture to my work would be an interesting development. 

Christine Thomas

1. Select a really lovely book. Sniff, hum and ha, put it back on the shelf. Repeat several times from you vast collection of lovely books that you are saving for the 'right' project.

2. Spend several minutes/hours/days selecting said right book - however many you think necessary. But not longer than a month.

3. Having selected the book, decide to not use it and make your own from interesting scraps of paper.

4. Get your paints/drawing/sewing stuff out. Realise that what you want isn't in the pile and spend 2 hours looking for it.

5. Clean the kitchen.

6. Stare at book.

7. Clean the bathroom

8. Stare at book.

9. Have several cups of tea.

10. Stare at book and eat biscuits.

11. Realise its teatime and you now need to feed the family. Leave all art materials out on the dining room table

12. Eat your dinner amidst art materials. Or on your knee. Try to persuade the teenager that its normal and she doesn't have to eat in her bedroom. (This is a usual occurrence depending on what project we're working on)

13. By this time, it's G&T time, so knock yourself out, have a large one. Or two. Give up and go to bed.

14. Get up the next morning and realise you can't use the dining room, sneak past it and go for a 3 mile run. While out, have a lightbulb moment that you can actually record your return to running in your sketchbook, get home, sign up for a ultra marathon and/or triathlon (just so your sketchbook looks really interesting) and attack your book with vigour, printing images from your run, weaving photos, painting over, printing. Wait for it to dry and then stitch in.

15. Have a real sense of achievement and award yourself with an episode of Vikings. Then have the awful realisation you just paid a small fortune to torture yourself in a triathlon and agreed to a friends suggestion of an ultra marathon.

16. You can then leave out steps 1-13 and start from step 14.

17. Repeat.

*Please consult your psychiatrist/doctor before signing up for really stupid extreme sports events

Elaine Humpleby

I have always kept a sketchbook but each lasted for years. I spent a lot of time promising myself I would do some work in them, but never doing as much as I wanted to, I think I had lost the habit of practising as an artist. In 2015 I started the sketchbook circle collaboration and felt the pressure of communicating visually with another artist. One of my worries was how to start.

I wanted to share who I am so began with self-portraits and some annotations of artists, ideas and hopes for what I wanted to do that year.  I stuck in some of my current lino print development and outcomes. I also added some of my portrait photography and some of the artists and art movements that were interesting me at that point. I also added an ‘introduce me’ page. It felt good to write an ‘ice-breaker letter’ to this person I had never met sharing how I felt about participating in the project; my hopes, what I was nervous about and what kind of practitioner I was. I was pretty sure they were likely to be having the same feelings. As a first timer I am not sure which I was most nervous of: working in someone else’s book or another person working in mine. Of course, it all turned out fine. Whoever my partners are for this coming year I look forward to it. Sketchbook Circle encourages you to be brave and enjoy being creative.

As a teacher I tend to stress about assessment criteria. I have realised that the sketchbook Circle is about creativity and enjoyment, it is okay to relax and just have some fun in our sketchbooks. The first pages are an introduction; the start of the creative conversation that lasts all year. I tried new things and grew in confidence. This year as usual I will start with some form of self-portrait (a habit I have followed for years with all sketchbooks) then introduce myself as an artist who also teaches. I have a list pinned on the wall where I create: the start-point list reads

1.       Keep the start light-hearted and general. (a kind of summarised mini exhibition of the artist also known as Elaine Humpleby)

2.       Share my passions and ideas (what motivates me and what interests me)

3.       Include some of my current work (original or photographs: copies are fine)

4.       Add some new work just for that book; this will show some of my ideas

5.       Tell my partner what my ideas are for the project across the year; are there any rules (for example am I happy for them to work over the top of my work? or Are they happy to send it recorded/signed for?)



Practitioner Focus: Sara Noble

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work

I make things. From small accessories to large fibre installations and have dabbled in a bit of experimental filmmaking. I did my BA in Textile Art at a time when Craft was not at all fashionable, it was difficult to be recognised as either a Fine Artist or a Textile Designer. Teaching developed for me quite organically over the years in between other odd jobs. I started working freelance for the Crafts Council on the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef at the Knitting and Stitch Shows, installing textile exhibitions and teaching people how to crochet, I then picked up other regular workshops in public libraries and holding stalls at makers markets. Later, becoming an Art Technician in a fantastic department in a boys state secondary inspired me to further go onto do a PGCE. I completed my NQT this Easter whilst finding myself unexpectedly pregnant and am currently on maternity leave running around after my latest creation!  

Describe the space where you make your work

This is currently non existent, it was the spare room where my partner (who is an a comic artist /illustrator) and I shared our studio space, but everything is now piled up in the corner of the room as we’ve had to make space for our baby - how can such a little person have so much stuff! However, I usually make most things on the move, the spaces in between doing other things, my bag normally packed with knitting, crochet or a sketchbook to keep me busy on bus journeys.

What materials and techniques do you use in your work?

I mostly work with constructed textiles, screen printing, experimenting with different materials, anything that lets me build up layers and textures to explore colour. I have a huge hoard of all sorts of materials that I collect for their colour, texture or pattern, whether it may be drinking straws from a pound shop, particularly bright plastics bags, fabrics, all sorts of yarns. I spent a few terms at Morley College, learning how to use a knitting machine which was incredibly technical and frustrating but also fantastic. I used my machine as part of an installation piece for my final PGCE exhibition. I generally prefer working directly with my hands, knitting, crochet, drawing and printing.

Where do you find inspiration?

Although I mainly use soft materials and textiles associated with the domestic and indoors, I am very much drawn to architectural structures and urban spaces, graffiti, popular culture, music and bright colours.

Is there a favourite thing that you've made recently?

Over the summer break, when I should have been out lots enjoying my lasts days of freedom before motherhood, I became a bit agoraphobic worried I might suddenly go into labour as I was hugely pregnant, so I spent a lot of time at home. I selected fabrics from my hoard to make a patchwork quilt for my baby. All the squares have some story, fabrics either collected from various travels, from family members, or previous surface prints I had created.

How does your creative process work?

Each project is different depending on the technique or space I’m working to. I’m usually drawn to a particular colour, pattern or mood for a piece, take lots of photos, work out ideas by drawing in my sketchbook. Sometimes I just lift an observational drawing from my sketchbook, onto another surface or space.

Is there anything you'd like to try?

I would like to spend more time developing photography skills either in a dark room or trying more experimental techniques, I’ve only touched on this occasionally, I love the magic of an image appearing and not having total control over it. I really got into making cyanotypes earlier in the year and have recently dug out my Holga, medium format film camera.



Sketchbook Circle Weekend at BALTIC by Susan M Coles

The NEATEN (North East Art Teacher Educator Network) Sketchbook Circle residential took place at Baltic Centre for Contemporary art on 28th/29th October and the majority of people attended both sessions.

On the Friday night we welcomed everybody with a glass of wine and drawing activities, as we sat in the downstairs cafe at Baltic, gazing out onto an incredible sunset over the Sage Music Centre and Tyne Bridge, followed by the twilight twinkling lights of the famous Quayside and Mill Bridge. I facilitated the evenings drawing activities- we started with drawing our "lives"which really broke the ice when people paired up and shared. This was followed by a quick sketch of your partner followed by a semi collage drawing developed from that using facila features from a bank of images. We were served with delicious homemade soup and bread, and encouraged to enjoy another glass of wine. 


The final activity of the evening was to build a visual map of where we were and then indicate our own journey path to the event tonight. This was great fun (and also very educational for those who had never visited Baltic before.)

t was great to have the whole space to ourselves and work with partners and larger groups to get to know each other. When people had to show how they had reached Baltic, by running around the map, proved to be quite hilarious! 

On the Saturday we all had a choice of two of the four workshops on offer. Yvette Hughes shared her enthusiasm and experience of making zines and framed this beautifully within the context of making for pleasure and enjoyment. Her collection of resources are impressive, right down to the old typewriter and other novelty ways of mark making. Yvette also had the idea of us starting the day with a Saturday swop shop where we all exchanged ephemera to use in sketch books.

Meanwhile, Gemma Roche and Anna Ramsay were busy on their workshop which was about breaking the creative block barrier, with some shared work where the group used a variety of materials to develop pages which were then passed onto the next person. They created a pace for this which allowed much creative sharing to take place. After a simply gorgeous lunch, overlooking the River Tyne and the Quayside, we started the afternoon workshops.

Louise Clazey introduced us to encaustic wax techniques and encouraged people to recycle data records as part of this- destroy and create- from something we don't particularly love! The results of "art Data Anomalies" session were both diverse and very personal. Paul Raymond really got on board with the Big Draw STEAM theme, with his workshop on Weapons of Mass Creativity. Making projectile firing catapults to create a group artwork was the best fun I've had on a weekend for a long time! Art, Design, Engineering, assemblage and performance- all in one workshop. The final piece was a performance which all the group came along to watch. 

We ened the day with a plenary and feedback session before people packed their bags and headed off, some to their journeys home, some to their hotels and some of us just to wander around the gallery spaces as the sunset once again lit up the space outside. Baltic are partners to NEATEN and have supported us and Sketchbook Circle throughout, we have plans for NEATEN's ten year anniversary next year and will be creating more opportunities for artist educators to collaborate and create together and embrace Big Draw and Sketchbook Circl as part of that.


Thank you Baltic and Vicky Sturrs, Louise, Paul, Gemma, Anna and Yvette. 


Practitioner Focus: Tilly McDermott

Can you describe your work in a few words?

Intuitive, process-oriented, abstract, conceptual.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by so many things! Old paper, cardboard, old books, reclaimed paper materials – scrap store stuff. Textures; muted colours; sounds; nature; graffiti and street art; overlooked and abandoned objects and disused spaces. Things with a narrative, a memory, a footprint.


How do you find a balance between teaching and making art?

Sometimes it’s a struggle! I’m a single mum, and I’m in the process of setting up a Creative Arts organization with a friend so that we can deliver our own community arts projects. And of course, working! I’ve just left my regular job for freelancing, so I’m juggling everything at the moment. I make time to make work each day, even if it’s only 5 minutes to doodle or to add to an existing piece. I also spend some time writing each day. It’s often snatched time between bath time and bed time, or first thing in the morning, but I need this time to let my brain shift down a gear, almost like meditating.


What materials could you not live without?

Water soluble graphite, charcoal and gesso. Acrylic paints. Pencils and notebooks.

What would your dream project be?

I was in hospital briefly last Christmas as a day patient, and in the foyer of the hospital there were some beautiful large-scale, abstract murals, which really inspired me… there are also a few wonderful examples of murals in Coventry city centre. I would love to be commissioned to create a piece of art to go in a public space – particularly somewhere like the hospital, where it would have a positive impact on people’s wellbeing. I’d like to do it as a participatory project in partnership with patients or service users, empowering people and giving them a sense of ownership and control over their environment.

Or I’d love to do a residency to make a body of work or explore an idea; I’d love to see what impact it had on my current practice and work to have access to ‘proper’ studio facilities, and I think it would push me out of my comfort zone, which I think is necessary for personal and professional development.


How does your creative practice work?

My creative practice is based largely around process, exploring ideas about identity, memory, personal narrative. I am fascinated by the endless possible variations on a single theme.

I make large drawings on sheets of lining paper or reclaimed cardboard. I mostly use gesso, charcoal, water soluble graphite and acrylic paint – I like to use materials with which there is a physical involvement and connection, and my drawings emerge as I work, exploring and expressing process and movement.

I then often tear the drawings down to make other things – I made some of my larger pieces into tubes with ‘windows’ cut into them, which I lit from the inside – windows into the mind, shedding light onto the process, making thinking visible. I like to use recycled paper materials, and I repurpose a lot of my drawings. I like the way they change and evolve, and take on a life of their own. I like to take lots of photographs of my work as I go along, and manipulate the images using photo editing apps on my phone – infinite possibilities from a single starting point – like personal identity.

I also love to write; I keep a handwritten notebook, and I have a blog about my art work. I like the blogging format; I like the fact that I can scroll back and see how my work has changed and developed over time. I also love the handwritten format – I find the process of writing by hand meditative – the rhythmic motion of my hand moving across the page making those little marks, recognizably my handwriting, but with slight variations each time.


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

Before I started the Artist Teacher Scheme, I was a bit stuck in a place where I felt my parental and financial responsibilities had to take precedence over my art practice. One of the workshop facilitators at an artist educators’ event at Birmingham City University said to me, “Give yourself permission to do it”. I think I really needed to hear that! Another of the facilitators, who is now my course tutor, Elena, listened patiently to my excuses and wittering and then told me, “Just do it anyway.” Both pieces of advice have stuck with me this year, and I’ve not looked back!


Practitioner Focus: Elinor Brass

Elinor Brass is an artist, researcher and teacher, Head of Art at a school in South East London, Director of Gerald Moore Gallery and founder of Sketchbook Circle. 

How would you describe your work?

I am interested in surface, layer, colour, history.  My work has tended to be responding somehow to the urban world and to places that show the traces of human life.  But not the figure.  I am interested in implied stories of what might have gone on, but mostly about the beauty in the overlooked - the everyday.  Over the years I have taken so many photos of old walls and abandoned or forgotten spaces that I continue to return to for inspiration.  And I do like a good building site.  I suppose I would call myself a painter but I work with a mixture of media and methods and often into 3D.  Whatever feels right.  I draw a lot.  I use my camera too.  I stitch and I use printmaking as a way to create layers.  I didn't study art at as an undergrad nor do a foundation mostly because my experience of art at school wasn't good and at the time I didn't understand what art could be.  So I ended up studying History of Art and History before my PGCE in Art and then did a Masters in painting once I was teaching.  It has meant that I have had to learn a lot of techniques through teaching myself.  

In recent years I have often collaborated with another artist, Emily Orley who is a lecturer at Roehampton University.  We are both interested in the history of spaces and have explored ways to respond through developing installations in places we found around London.  We begin the projects with the idea that 'places remember events' (words that James Joyce scribbled in the margin of his notes for Ulysses) to investigate and document the sites.  We spend time researching the place and then develop artwork back into the space responding to the history of the site.  

Sketchbook Circle enables me to keep my making processes constantly moving and I am lucky enough to have a space at home which acts as a small studio.  It means that the lines between life and art are blurred but that is the way I prefer it.  At the moment, I am in the forth year of an Educational Doctorate and so I have not been making big work or working on big projects as much of my time is committed to my research.   However, I continue to make every week somehow as it keeps me well.  I also consider my role as Director of Gerald Moore Gallery as a kind of artwork.  The gallery opened in 2012 and since then I have been leading the programme of exhibitions and events.  It has allowed me to commission work, to work with artists, galleries and curators and to explore different ways to use the gallery spaces and most importantly to place learning at the centre of everything we do.  

Hampstead Road

How does your process work?

I was lucky enough to do my Masters in painting on an artist teacher course at the beginning of my teaching career that meant I could still work full-time.  Studying and teaching forced me to develop a discipline towards making work that I have managed to sustain and is kind of where the idea for Sketchbook Circle came from.  There isn't ever enough time!  But I find the more that I make the more that I am thinking about making and the easier it is to dip in and out of making.  I don't wait for inspiration or to be in the mood, but just book in time to make sure that I keep things moving.

In my little studio space I have lots of materials that I like using and to which I often return.  I tend to get ideas moving through working small initially and using materials that I am confident with and then I build from there.  I am always telling my students that they need to see what emerges and I suppose I would say that this is what I like most about making work.  In life generally I am quite organised and I like a plan!  But I also like to be flexible and reactive which I suppose comes through in my work.  I like the way that Sketchbook Circle throws new things into the mix so that I am always developing as an artist and not only doing what I know.

I absolutely always carry a notebook.

I have lots of art books and a few favourite to which I regularly return. 

I draw a lot.

I love going on courses that push me around a bit and make me reflect more deeply on my practice.

I use my camera to collect ideas.

What tools and materials could you not live without?

I have a folder of collected papers to which I am constantly adding and which comes on all of my travels.  It is made up of old work, coloured tracing paper, scraps of vinyls, graph paper...  I really love drawing when I am travelling and so I also have plenty of different pens that allow me to build up surface as well as to work in line.  I love working with Posca Pens and have recently bought some more deliciously coloured Liquitex paint pens.  I also have a stock of washi tapes that I take with me.

Over the years I have stockpiled tester pots of emulsion which I use a lot in my work but recently have been using alongside lots of vivid drawing inks, bright acrylics and a range of fabulous Liquitex spray-paint.   I have also been working a lot with Gelli plates in order to develop surfaces and like the immediacy of that and the fact I can work quickly and be reactive.

I have lots of brown paper sandwich ties from Italy that I always get when I go to visit! I love using them as a way of drawing and I move into 3D playing with sticks and card and a glue gun. 

Tiger is my favourite place to visit for quirky materials but I am always checking what is in the stationary section of Poundland!  And I love a good wander around B and Q...  

What projects are you currently working on?

With my doctorate coming towards the end, most of my energy is devoted to that when I am not at work.  I chose to do it in order to make the most of my role in the gallery as it was such a big project and I felt quite isolated setting it up.  I wanted to make sure that it was a success and had to learn very quickly how to run a business, to develop a vision for the space, to programme events and to get as many people on side as possible!  I have benefited enormously from the support of my supervisor, Claire Robins at the Institute of Education.  She has given me a great deal of moral support, as well as given me the confidence to try new things and to stand up for what I believe in. 

At the moment I am exploring being an artist, researcher and teacher within my own institution and considering the impact of the galley on the students I teach.  I am hoping that I can complete my thesis by the end of 2017.

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

I went on a creativity course at The School of Life in London which was led by Michael Atavar, who wrote 'How to be an Artist'.  I love going on courses like that as I am a bit greedy to learn new things and to carve out time to think about being creative.   One thing that he said was to not use the fact that you haven't got the space, time or money to do what you want, but instead to use what you have.  To turn it into a positive.  I think we are always doing this in schools anyway with the limits of time and funds, but I really like the idea of applying it to my own practice and I find it pushes me harder and I think I am a better artist as a result.  It kind of cuts out the opportunity to make an excuse about not making.  At the moment I am working small as that is what my space allows for, but in a way I think the work is more developed than it would be if I was painting large canvases.  It also suits my life at the moment.

The other thing Michael says is 'The only way to start is to start'.  Which I am often telling my students.  I am an advocate of using your body and creating energy to enable the work.  The most perfectly formed idea isn't going to emerge from nowhere.  Making work involves the right sort of energy.

What would your dream project be?

I am thoroughly enjoying running the Sketchbook Circle and would love for that to become an even bigger movement.  It would be wonderful to have the funding to work with more of those involved to run the circle: developing resources and a publication, offering on-line courses, more CPD, more support generally.  I really care about the circle but want it to be the best it could possible be. 

I am definitely going to write a book about the circle.  I have always wanted to write a book... Not an ordinary book, but something visual and which celebrates the circle community.  But I must finish my doctorate thesis first...

What are you reading at the moment?

No light reading for me at the moment!  I have been using a book called: 'Teaching Art in the Neoliberal Realm.  Realism versus Cynicism' edited by Gielen and De Bruyne, which is really satisfying to read as it gives such a clear account of the challenges we are all facing in school over the last few years.  But I am also using 'The Wander Society' by Keri Smith quite a lot at school and love Stephen Fowler's beautiful book on rubber stamps!  Oh and the 'Photographers Playbook'.