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Themes/Identity: What’s in your sketchbook?

Playful drawings from a sketchbook
Playful drawings from a sketchbook
Page from Jean Julien's sketchbook. Photograph: courtesy of Jean Julien.
Written by
Oliver O'Keeffe
Published date
23 November 2018

Stuck on what to fill your sketchbook with? Oliver has some ideas to get you thinking.

Sketchbooks are a space where you can express yourself! From my experience as an artist and a teacher we can get so worked up about how a sketchbook looks or hating particular work inside that we lose sight of why we have them in the first place.

This post will look at 4 sketchbooks from people who graduated from a graphic design degree. We will see how they use them for recording their life, experimenting with their craft, drawing on location or as a form of therapy.

Jean Jullien: Recording your life

Jean Jullien is a French illustrator living and working in London. His work is very illustrative and due to his innate understanding of design he knows how to make an image communicate and resonate with his audience. While Jean was studying in London he embarked on a personal project where his sketchbooks became a visual record of his life- he still continues this today.

Jean’s sketchbooks during this time were very narrative based. He used everyday events as material to draw upon. He recorded the people he met and the places he visited. Running alongside the images are often humorous and insightful observations. There are ideas for future commissions scrawled in-between pages of lazy days in the park with friends. You could say that Jean feels free to talk about anything in his sketchbook.

In this gallery we see a page from Jean’s sketchbook. On the left hand page he’s talking to his brother Nico Jullien (AKA Niwouinwouin) about his new album release and on the other page we see a drawing done by Jean Jullien of a monster for his brothers album. This image of the monster became one of the central images for his brother’s album ‘Catastrophe’ released in 2010, also featured in the gallery. What’s striking about Jean’s work at this period is how his everyday life feeds into his work!

Explore more pages from Jean Jullien’s visual diary
Follow Jean Jullien on Instagram

Jeremy Tankard: Experimenting with your craft

Jeremy Tankard studied graphic design and has gone on to be one of Britain’s foremost typographers.

What I find so intriguing about Jeremy is not only the beautiful typefaces he creates but also the volumes of sketchbooks he produces for each project. Tankard’s sketchbooks reinforce the fact that everything made by humans, no matter how small has been ‘designed’. There is a wonderful feeling of experimentation that permeates each page of Jeremy’s sketchbooks.

Explore more of Jeremy Tankard's  work on studiotype

a page from a sketchbook which analyses a typeface letter structure
Excerpt from sketchbook, Photograph:
In this page of his sketchbook for his typeface Fenland, Jeremy’s trying to express the way metal tubes collapse on themselves when bent. You can see through observing and drawing this phenomenon Jeremy has managed to capture this essence with the typeface. The sketchbook becomes a space for experimenting with his craft.

Explore more of Jeremy Tankard’s work on studiotype

Ignacia Ruiz: Drawing on location

Ignacia is a Chilean Illustrator living and working in London. She has a very distinctive illustration style that is characterised by an erratic and explosive use of line and a vivid use of colour.

two images of illustrations in a sketchbook, depicting a beach and a grassy hill scene
‘Travel Drawings’, Photograph: Ignacia Ruiz
Ignacia says that, “I draw a lot on location in order to experience a place. I like drawing from busy city scenes to serene landscapes.” She uses her sketchbook to “focus and pay attention to a place and a moment”, she is “convinced it is the best thing [drawing on location] to develop your memory.” For Ignacia, her sketchbook allows her to connect to a space.

Explore more of Ignacia’s work on her website

Follow Ignacia on Instagram

My Sketchbooks: A form of therapy

As well as being a teacher I am also an illustrator. A large part of my development happens inside my sketchbooks. As of 2016 I have been making and numbering all of my sketchbooks. As an illustrator my sketchbook becomes a space of defining who I am as an image- maker.

Oliver O'Keeffe. Images from sketchbook. Photograph: Oliver O'Keefe.
I never leave the house without my sketchbook and if I am at a loss of what to do I tend to draw. My sketchbooks have become a form of creative therapy. For me the point of a sketchbook is to be creative. When you are working for a client to need to pay attention and respond to feedback and can’t always do what you want. The sketchbook is your space to have total creative freedom.

Before you start your sketchbook!

As you can see from the examples above, sketchbooks can be approached and used in a whole variety of ways. The most important thing to remember is that you feel your sketchbook reflects who you are.

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