Artist Perspective by Sian Bowman, Sketchbook Club

The Artist's Perspective - pictures and words provided by Illo artist, Sian Bowman. Sian is originally from Wales and currently resides in Herefordshire. Sian loves to work on projects with nature, imagination and inclusivity at heart...

I run a ‘Sketchbook Club ’ at my children's primary school. I am also a dinner lady part-time, which involves me helping the children to eat and then playing on the yard (think of the ‘Nativity’ film and a lady version of Mr Poppy - haha I’m not quite so fun but I’d like to be).

The idea for the Sketchbook Club came from thinking about how I could encourage children to not throw away the pictures that they felt unhappy with. The objective of the club is to have fun doing art and to not worry about mistakes, as our mistakes build our artistic bank and help create the pictures we love.

I share that I believe there are no rules in art (apart from one that is - When using watercolours; keep changing your water so it is clean at all times). There are so many things to learn and so many things to be inspired by, and I believe in having fun without the pressure of ‘rules'.  Being open to where your creativity might take you is so important and freeing.  I see children who have an incredible style and approach to a subject so naturally, and I want them to know that when they pick up a pencil and put it to paper they are creating art and can call themselves artists.

From week to week we play fun games, explore mark making, and talk about the shapes we can see and draw. I come up with themes and mood boards to spark ideas but I am open to the children’s ideas. It has been an incredible learning experience for me. I get to hear amazing stories and imaginative ideas and I love seeing how they often draw from memory without reference.

As grown ups, we can easily be scared of the blank paper. It is something I recall feeling very clearly after University. Early on a dear artist friend told me to keep a sketchbook that no one else could see and just draw. I did this and I started to draw again without so much expectation. I knew I didn’t have to share my sketchbook with anyone, that it can be private and that it’s a safe place to make mistakes, be silly, and play. This approach helps me at the start of each project I undertake. I get my Kraft sketchbook out which has good paper but is very low priced, and I start to draw. In the past I’d look at the beautiful sketchbook in front of me and find myself not drawing, as it felt like it needed to be kept for my best work, like a beautiful plate you might never use; so the cheaper ones are better for me. 

Sketchbooks are so useful for figuring things out, how to approach something and the marks you want to use.  For example, I might have pages and pages of faces and expressions in a book before I have settled on the expression I like. The benefit of keeping your drawings is when you look back you can see how you came to your decided face, and there may be another drawing with an element that's worth exploring again. I create many drawings that don’t get developed and I love to share my sketchbooks with the children, as I think it’s important to see the process. The journey is everything, it wouldn’t feel so rewarding if there wasn’t a challenge at times. A mistake one day may not feel like a mistake another and being able to refer back is wonderful.

Sketchbooks also allow for personal exploration. They can be used as a journal and kept private as a tool to explore feelings. A sketchbook can be used as a framework to tell a story through the pages. It is also a great place to scrapbook; collect postcards and inspirational images or patterns. I used my sketchbooks for all of the above whilst teaching in Japan after University. I collected inspirational cards, cycled around my locality, drawing the landscape and drawing the friends I met. It was a good way to reflect on my experience at the time and I enjoy looking back on them now.

When I consider the uses of sketchbooks, there is one more that I took for granted until recently. There have been many times when I’m working through a problem, planning or setting goals, and I would create an illustrative mind map in my sketchbook. I started creating visual aids like this in school for revision. I made posters for most subjects and carefully created each poster using various fonts for my notes, some illustrations, and highlighted notes with different colours. Even if it was a subject that I wasn’t so interested in - making the poster would interest me and would in turn help me to learn and memorise the information. I am excited about how creativity, playing, and storytelling can be used as a tool for learning and sparking our imaginations.

Here are a few of my sketchbooks over the years and also a few photos taken in sketchbook club and drawing events. 

- Sian Bowman 

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