Contemporary Practice – Week 6: Noticing the Ignored

Week 6 Lecture & Resources

Thoughts on Sketchbooks

I really related to Paulus M. Dreibholz’s comment in Sketchbooks; The Hidden Art of Designers, Illustrators and Creatives that his sketchbooks form a kind of personal visual history. I have been keeping sketchbooks since I first began studying art during my secondary school days. Many of them were just a place to experiment and try out ideas or just a doodle. A particular favourite is one I made on a study trip to Paris in 2001, which always brings back happy memories, and is a really unique souvenir of that time – in a very different way from photographs, because it has many ad-hoc sketches, words and collected ephemera such as metro tickets, which give a tangible aspect to the memories.

One of my old sketchbook pages filled with Paris Metro tickets.

Later, when I studied textile design for my undergraduate degree, the way I used sketchbooks became a bit more cohesive and I started to produce themed ones. During my textiles studies, I particularly loved a book called Christian LaCroix: The Diary of a Collection, which took the format of a sketchbook that documented fashion designer Christian LaCroix’s design process as he designed, planned and refined a haute couture fashion collection for a single season. It felt like a thrilling look behind the scenes of his creative genius and an interesting insight into how the ideas came to fruition, as well as showing how he recorded and developed his thoughts.

Image via Pinterest

I still enjoy filling sketchbooks with colour, texture and imagery. In the last few months, I have also started one which is purely typography-based. When I talk to my creative circle of friends, we often agree that a sketchbook can actually feel even more personal than a journal or diary. It’s also a nice way to revisit ideas that were maybe not fully developed at the time.

A few of my smaller sketchbooks I have kept over the years.

Sketchbooks are extremely useful tools, as Dreibholz rightly says. I liked the format of Sketchbooks: The Hidden Art of Designers, Illustrators and Creatives, because it provided an insight into how other designers use sketchbooks in different ways, as well as showing real extracts of those sketchbooks. I also found some of the uses mentioned (for example as a place to make lists and plan out/refine a project) made me consider that I could implement these in my own working practice to make the most of that “thinking space” – a place to figure something out without the need for judgment or a polished piece.

Another exploration of sketchbooks that has sparked off ideas is Keri Smith‘s Wreck this Journal. The concept is quite radical – it’s almost destruction as art – but it encourages creative people to not be too precious about their sketchbook, as well as encouraging and even challenging them to make a mess. It definitely makes you question materials and how they can be used in a creative way too.

Ways of Seeing

Watching John Berger’s Ways of Seeing documentary definitely made me think about how paintings, as well as images in general, can be seen in different ways. It’s definitely true that the meaning of an image can easily be manipulated, depending on the context, and how it is presented – including by the addition of words, movement or a soundtrack, as well as by cropping or zooming in. These days it is all too easy to reinterpret or “remix” something visually with tools like Photoshop and lose the original intended meaning.

I like the idea put forward by John Berger that a physical painting can hold silence and stillness – kind of a moment captured in time. When visiting a real painting in a gallery space, rather than looking at a modern reproduction, I do believe it’s still possible to feel that sense of reverence.

My notes from the lecture.
My notes on Sketchbooks + Ways of Seeing

Workshop Challenge

For the workshop challenge, I chose to look at the architectural quirks that are particular to the Scottish Borders town of Galashiels, and things which are unique to the place that are often overlooked.

My final piece representing Galashiels.

I walked around the town several times, at different times of day, observing local buildings, public art and street furniture, and photographed the ones I found most visually or historically interesting. A recurring motif in Gala is the town crest, which features two foxes and a plum tree, with the motto “soor plooms” (sour plums).

A first draft trying out initial ideas for a patchwork of images.

My intention was to create a visual patchwork of images showing aspects of the town from different perspectives. I decided to create a photographic collage which would evoke a patchworked fabric, as a nod to the long tradition of textiles in Galashiels. It has historic links with dyeing, weaving, as well as knitwear production, and will soon house the Great Tapestry of Scotland, so this is something I wanted to reference in my final design.

Some of the photographs I took, recording different details in the town of Galashiels.

Visual Inspiration

I particularly like these fragmented photographic “joiners” that David Hockney produced showing a single place from multiple views. They have a distorted appearance but show so much more than a single, flat image could and by building up from multiple images also give a sense of time and depth, resulting in a kaleidoscopic effect.

Pearlblossom Highway David Hockney. Image via The Delights of Seeing
Place Furstenburg by David Hockney. Image via The Delights of Seeing

Webinar Task – Crazy 8s

Monogram ideas for Graphic Design.

Reflection on the week

I enjoyed looking at my surroundings in a new way this week, making a point to observe little details that are often overlooked. It’s amazing when you start to notice what is hiding in plain sight!

Piotr Schifler shared a really useful resource on the Ideas Wall, about the influence of Cubism on the work of David Hockney and other artists. I hadn’t come across his photographic work before, so I found this really interesting as previously I had only been aware of his paintings.

If I had more time (and better weather!), I think it would have been interesting to attempt a photocollage where the final piece is made from multiple images of the same view. I also like the idea of creating a visual map, as opposed to one that’s 100% factually or geographically correct.


Brereton, R. 2009. Sketchbooks; The Hidden Art of Designers, Illustrators and Creatives. Lawrence King: London.

Hara, K. 2015. Ex-Formation. Lars Muller: Zurich.

Smith, K. 2017. Wreck this Journal. Penguin Random House: London.

John Berger. Ways of Seeing, Episode 1 (1972)