Sunday, May 13, 2007

Readers' Questions: Should I sketch back to back in my sketchbook?

Valeria's Palm, Baga Beach (1993)
8.5" x 11.5", coloured pencil in Daler Rowney Sketch Book
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I get asked a lot whether or not I sketch on the reverse of sketches already completed. The following is the latest example.
I see lots of sketchbooks in art books and websites (including yours) where they sketch across the binding of the sketchbook to fill two pages. But since I have not actually seen the sketchbook, I always wondered if they sketch back to back throughout the whole book or do you leave two pages blank and then do another set of two? Because if you draw or paint on the back of a painted on page, then it could bleed and ruin the artwork behind it.
The answer is "Yes" - I sketch on the back of sketches. Let me explain why - but do remember that I tend to sketch with pencils, coloured pencils and pen and ink and very rarely use watercolour these days. Another caveat is that those who have watched me work say I apparently have an incredibly light touch so what works for me might not work for others.

Let's start with the issue of what a sketch and a sketchbook is about. This is the definition I gave in the Drawing Class on Sketching that I led in the Wet Canvas Drawing and Sketching Forum last year.
A sketch, in art terms can be
  • a way of practising and refining your skills in drawing and mark marking
  • an exploratory drawing – exploring how something works/might work
  • a quick drawing – e.g. sketching in public tends to be time-limited rather than open-ended
  • a rough description – it’s OK if they lack detail; don’t fill the page or are not even completed
  • a record of something you’ve seen
  • a record of one or more aspects of something you want to develop into a painting e.g. a colour study
  • a preliminary study – for a later painting (done before you start to check how your painting will work rather than as an underdrawing on your final support)
In other words, the aim when sketching is not to make a finished work of art - although your sketch might be a stage in the process of producing one. So since it's very unlikely that you'll be hanging anything in your sketchbook on the wall my feelings are that there is no need to be bothered about what's on the other side of the page - unless a 'ghost' of it can be seen.

I don't take my sketchbooks apart at all. When I work from my sketches I use them as they are in the sketchbook. So my only concern when starting a new drawing is whether or not the previous sketch shows through the paper enough to distract me. If it does then I'll keep a double page spread blank and start on the next but one.

In practice, if I'm using my Moleskine Sketchbook I never have any worries at all. All my double page spreads in my USA travel sketchbooks are back to back. The reason for this concerns the quality of the paper which is good quality 250gsm and . This means that it feels like a standard piece of hot press watercolour paper (but this is not the watercolour Moleskine - which has different paper!). If I draw on it the only reason I'm going to be concerned is if I indent the surface - and that's not at all easy as it's a very robust and very smooth paper which can take an awful lot of working with coloured pencils.

My Daler Rowney black hardback sketchbook which I also use a lot has perforated sheets of acid free Ivory Cartridge paper 85g/m - like a bond type paper. I have to be a bit more careful with this sketchbook. If a sketch is going to have very dark colours or any heavy working then it can show through and it is best to skip a double page spread before starting a new sketch. However if the next sketch you're doing just needs a single page then I only skip the reverse side of the right hand side of the double page spread. If you see what I mean!

Contemplating Baga Beach (1993)
8.5" x 11.5", coloured pencil in Daler Rowney Sketch Book
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

However, having said that, the two examples of sketches I did in Goa in India in 1993 (at the top and bottom of this post) were done back to back in an A5 size Daler Rowney black sketchbook! There's a slight indication of the palm fronds on the right hand page of the above sketch and after this I started to be a bit more careful about the impact on previous sketches. I now place a piece of card underneath the page when scanning sketches from on paper under 100gsm to avoid picking up the two sides of the next double page spread! I also have to be careful when I use pen and ink. Lots of hatching to produce a dark tone definitely has an impact on the reverse of the page.

MY ADVICE: Remember what a sketchbook is about and use your common sense. Experiment and find a sketchbook which works well for you and your style and type of sketching and then stick to it and sketch back to back whenever possible.

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  1. a good topic :)

    If I really like a double page spread then I'll sometimes put a light, large pencil cross on the reverse side so I don't do anything 'messy' with it that might show through - my sketchbooks are much messier and more mixed media :) as you know!

    Then I may stick something in on that page later, lightly with masking tape.

    occasionally with single page sketches I remove a page and frame it - so I put a pencil cross on the back of those pages as well, while it remains in the book.

    am off for a shower and to hang this exhibition - labelling and listing and pricing and not feeling like it!

  2. I love seeing your drawings and these two sketches are wonderful. I can imagine how enjoyable it would be to sit with a pile of your sketchbooks and leisurely go through them. I also wanted to mention how much I like the layout and design of your blog. The colors and the callout boxes are really effective.

  3. Thanks Vivien and Jana.

    Those are excellent tips Vivien!

    I love going through my sketcbooks too! :D The sketchbooks live in a rigid basket with handles so I can carry them round. Except I now need a new one as there are too many to get into one.

    Jana - making the changes to the template are not that difficult. It's just a question of copying the background colour code across from the main body text area and then adjusting the colour until you're happy with it. For me I just felt it helped people with the navigation of what has become a rather large blog. It felt tighter and neater as soon as I added in the colour. In fact it made me feel a bit like I usually do when I brush my hair in the morning - neat and tidy and ready for anything!


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