Whether it be to record their travels, keeping notes for paintings, changes in the weather or the effects of light – artists have always kept sketchbooks and these personal documents often reveal more about the painter than their finished works. Not intended for the public eye there is a sense of freedom and spontaneity that comes through for that reason; some are tiny like jewels, each page a facet, some contain written notes, others are filled with designs, thoughts and ideas more scientific than artistic. One only has to think of Leonardo da Vinci’s designs for flying machines, war machines and submarines, his studies of rock formations and the movement of water. Constable studied the weather and filled sketchbooks with cloud formations, architects have used them to record buildings seen on their travels and to explore ideas for their own projects. I marvelled at both Turner’s and Constable’s sketchbooks when first I saw them in the British Museum.

In the past it was not uncommon for an artist to make two or three ‘grand tours’ in his or her lifetime and the sketchbooks filled on these journeys could provide enough material for paintings for the rest of their lives. Worked and reworked, each sketchbook would earn its keep many times over and in some cases would become the basis for a series of engravings or a book.

Keeping a sketchbook was a habit I got into at art college and I was delighted to discover that the late Sir Hugh Casson, past president of the Royal Academy, carried one even on a short journey to the end of his life. Drawing is a wonderful discipline, its implementation forces one to analyse the structure of things and to understand how they are put together, the relationship of one thing to another and the positive and negative shapes so that the spaces between become as important as the thing itself. Buildings need to look as though they have foundations, boats should look as though they float, figures should be in proportion and not look as though they are about to fall over. In itself it is not a particularly clever thing to be able to do, just visual measurement, but its accomplishment enables one to interpret the things that make up our lives and make tangible thoughts and ideas in a visual form. The watercolour palette I use on my sketching trips measures just 8 x 6cm and fits in the palm of my hand. Although designed to take pans I use colour from tubes to fill the spaces as I use only a small number of colours and like to have fresh paint when I start. The brushes are collapsible and were purchased from Cornelissen’s in London. They are pure sable, expensive but wonderful. Little else is required, an HB pencil and sometimes a drawing pen. The sketchbooks vary in size, anything I can get my hands on, but prefer A4 landscape if available. Further reference can be found to my sketchbooks by following the link here to From My Sketchbooks No1
Top: Some of Tom's sketchbooks.
Paintings are taken from Between Two Rivers, Tom's sketchbook of France. Post published by Tom King 07 09 2009