yellow pattern in sketchbook

Do you panic when your read “Bring your sketchbook to work from”?

Now the school summer holidays have ended, it’s time to think about learning new skills, perhaps finding a new hobby or exploring different ways to be creative. A book or blog post often triggers an attempt at something new but it can be frustrating when a vital piece of information is missing or the instructions aren’t clear. Online courses like the excellent Incremental Photographer are fun and instructive but some are a complete waste of money.

Ultimately, nothing beats being in a class with a group of like-minded people with the teacher at your shoulder making suggestions for improvement, gently pushing you out of your comfort zone.

Sketchbook pages

Before each class, there’s usually an email sent with directions, timings and hidden innocuously near the bottom an instruction to “bring along your sketchbook to work from.” I used to find this very daunting because I don’t keep a sketchbook and I didn’t know what sort of sketches were needed. Sometimes I wondered if they really meant it or if it was just to be a bit arty. Mainly, I suspected that I’d turn up with the wrong thing, totally under or over prepared. Over the years, I’ve discovered that I’m not the only person who panics a little when they read this instruction and have noticed a great variation in the way people prepare for their class.

At one extreme are the people who turn up without anything. They arrive without a sketchbook, notes or even the vaguest of ideas. They’re usually either eternal optimists convinced that something will suddenly spring into their heads or they simply want to be given a template that they can copy.

At the other extreme are those who know exactly what they want to do and sometimes have already made a stencil or plate. Their minds are made up and even if their plans are totally inappropriate, they plough on oblivious to the advice of their tutor.

In between are those that come with a variety of ideas in different formats, which is the best way to prepare for your class.

Here are a few ideas that you might use in the time before your class:

Find a way to record your thoughts and experiences. You might make notes, drawings or take photos or more likely, a mixture of all three. Pick up objects: leaves from a walk, postcards from an exhibition, a scrap of fabric that you love … Having a wide range of images and objects gives you the chance to choose different ways to develop these into a print. You might simplify some images or get the tiniest detail from something you’ve collected; colours or textures might inspire you; you may want to investigate a technique.

The more you have in your sketchbook, scrapbook or box, the greater your chance of finding something to inspire your printmaking.

But what if you’re still unsure? It’s a bit like packing for a holiday without knowing where you’re going, what you’re doing or for how long. Whereas, given a few guidelines, like you’re going to England for a weekend walking break and you immediately know to take some walking shoes and a rucksack packed with essentials. It’s easier to narrow down the possibilities to get started.

For many of us, a prompt or theme is an ideal way to kickstart our creative ideas. Sometimes, the class is themed around the scenery or cultural heritage of the place it’s taking place in or might use the resources of the surrounding area. If you have a passion for something, whether it’s architecture, food, dogs … then you probably have enough material to start you off. If not, you need to find a theme or prompt to set you on your way.

Here are twenty prompts to start you off:

BAKE BERRY COLLECT DOORWAY EVERYDAY HARVEST LANDSCAPE LEARN LINES MEND NATURAL PICK PICNIC PRESERVE RHYTHM SEASON STRING SUPPER TWIG WALK

Use the prompts in any way you choose. You could:

Work through the list to create a daily habit of sketching, writing, collecting, photographing or whatever creative activity you favour, though you’ll have to come up with a few of your own words if you want a new one daily (this is supposed to be about being creative after all).

Choose one or two words as a theme to explore and develop in detail. Try using a Mind Map to develop the theme and springboard ideas.

With luck, you can use them to produce a bank of ideas for your creative process so that you no longer panic at the words “Bring your sketchbook along to work from”.

You might also like to try the ideas in our FREE E-BOOK How to Find Creative Inspiration.

Have fun!

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