Sketchbooks in the Classroom
I believe sketchbooks are a critical component of art education and every effort should be made to implement sketchbooks into the curriculum.
The Case in Favour of Sketchbooks:
- Sketchbooks provide crucial insight into a student’s creative process.
- They are a collaborative project where materials and ideas can be shared.
- Peers inspire and teach each other through sketchbooks.
- The teacher can also keep a sketchbook, students can inspire/teach the teacher.
- Class maintained “materials box” great for encouraging sharing and community (students bring in ‘stuff’ for the box, peers can make use of it).
- No formulas, no right or wrong answers.
- “Sketchbook time” warms up the creative process at the start of class.
- Excellent tool for visual learners. Encourages students to interact with their environment.
- They provide a place to “play” and experiment. Builds confidence.
- Portability of sketchbooks encourages art making outside the class room.
While you are explaining why your students are doing sketchbooks don’t forget to define “sketchbook”. The concept is quite difficult for many students, especially the more formulaic and rigid ones. Taken to the abstract, sketchbooks can take infinite shapes and serve endless purposes. See my links for online examples and a list of books.
Topics to discuss:
- Choosing a book
- Designate an area of the class room to inspire sketchbook work. Include materials, posters, a display board, examples, etc.
- Mistakes are okay! Discourage tearing out pages. Alternative: rework, overlap, cover over, layer. Tearing out pages ruins the book’s binding and stifles creativity. There are no “right” or “wrongs” in sketchbooks.
- Encourage sketchbook use as a warm up to start class or cool down to end it.
- Use the books for gesture drawings, contour line activities, character sketches, paint colour testing, testing new materials, collecting ideas for future projects, thumbnail sketches, specific small assignments, handouts, etc.
- Students with special needs should be included as well. Depending on the student’s abilities, these activities work well: tearing or cutting shapes out of paper and assembling into designs, stamping, texture rubbings, stencils, drawing, watercolours over top of b/w photocopies, paint washes, folding, creating patterns, complimentary colour exercises, resists (drawing with wax candle, wax crayons or oil pastels then brushing over with watercolour paints), juxtaposition (find magazine pictures of opposites and combine to create ‘weird’ image), self portraits, and comics.
- Collaborate with other teachers to inspire sketchbook pages. Examples: students reading the Diaries of Anne Frank may take one of her written journal pages and combine with or reinterpret as a visual journal. If reading The Lord of the Flies, what might a journal look like if kept by one of the characters? What materials would they use to make a journal? Science students working on plants can do rubbings or prints of leaves and include notes in their sketchbooks. History/social study students can apply their course work to develop a sketchbook theme. Geometric shapes and mathematical formulae make great additions to the chaos of collage. This is all a crucial component of visual literacy. Many students, myself included, are visual learners and need projects like this to understand and retain course work.
- Insert waxed/tracing paper between pages when using charcoal, graphite, chalk, etc to prevent smudging. Also try workable fixative sprays or spray varnish (brushing varnish will smear the drawing).
- Offer thematic assignments as well as traditional sketchbook assignments. For example, require one full page for each principle of design, a two page exploration of personal identity, one page of peace to contrast one page of war, etc.
- Observe and collect for progress, mark any specific assignments at your natural pace. I avoid writing marks/comments in books in favour of sticky notes (I don’t like when people write on my work, so I respect theirs).
- Allow students to choose pages for marking (portfolio method). Ask them to indicate their best 5 of 7 assignments and mark those. The other 2 can be included in process marks.
- To keep the books in class or send them home… that depends on your space and your students. They should have them every class. If not, they use scrap paper and glue it in when they bring their book next day. Not having a book in class shouldn’t be an excuse not to work.
- Class critique by laying books on tables, students walk around and flip through other books (don’t force this on shy students!). Ask them to do a reflection in their own book, such as a visual representation of something a classmate did that inspired them.
- Self evaluation: ask them to critique their own books, make list of goals (example: student who only works on pencil anime characters may make a goal of trying to experiment with adding mixed media to characters to go “outside the box”). Ask them to identify experiments they liked/didn’t like.
- Display journals if space is available (such as in display cases) or by mounting colour photocopies. An online collection is another possibility. Celebrating everyone’s efforts equally allows all students to be “art stars.”
Choosing a sketchbook
Avoid bindings using coil (spiral metal or plastic), tape or combs. These tend not to last as long. Binding of books is usually poor and spines may split. To avoid this don’t buy books with lots of pages (you can always glue in more later, but pulling out pages destroys the spine). Before starting your sketchbook: Re enforce by punching some holes in the spine (hammer and nail, small drill or an awl), stitch with waxed thread or dental floss. Bookbinding, athletic or Duct tape on outside and inside of covers prevents them from tearing off. I always glue every page to the one after it, doubling the strength or the paper and book.
Expensive is not always better and sketchbooks can come in all shapes and sizes.
An old binder filled with scrap paper works as well as an expensive store bought journal. Old magazines or books are great too. Use gesso or primer over areas you want white or work around/on top of the text.
Tricky topic…… I tell my students on day one that they can do anything they want in their books. However, I am legally and ethically bound to report anything illegal or that may be a threat to someone/something. I have therefore maintained a rule that anything my students wouldn’t want the police, councillors, administration or their parents to see must be covered up or clipped shut so that I don’t see it. If I have concerns I will talk to the student after class alone or with a councillor. This openness tends to have a self-censoring effect on the students, especially when peers are often keen to see each others books.
Encourage the Recycle, Reuse, Reduce concept. Keep a box for scraps and random bits. Encourage students to collect things, to interact with their environment, and bring stuff in for the box. This is one of the coolest aspects of sketchbooks! Kids from all sorts of different cultures bring stuff in and it really gets interesting as they share and teach their peers. It’s also neat to see students offer creative uses for another student’s materials.
Any left over paint should fill empty sketchbook pages, not get thrown out!
Ideas for Materials:
Solid: images from magazines/books/newspapers, maps, flyers, posters, wallpaper, packaging, recipe cards, grocery lists, receipts, coins, keys, fabric, string, dried leaves/flowers, metal, wood, bus transfers, movie tickets, greeting cards, paper samples, paint swatches, glitter, board game pieces, felt markers, pencil crayons, wax crayons, canvas, plastics, wire, circuit boards, postage stamps, postcards, foil, cellophane, leather, feathers, cut up T-shirts or jeans, beads, rice paper, photocopies, rubbings, ribbons, straw, plaster bandage, conte, charcoal, pastels, film, negatives, X-rays, instruction manuals, pages from phone books, photocopy transfers, coloured adhesive tapes, old book/magazine covers, business cards, candy wrappers, shopping bags, silk or plastic flowers, vinyl, wax, old CD’s, zippers, buckles, buttons, rubber stamps, coloured sand, flat stones/marbles/jewels, chains, studs, linoleum, costume jewellery, real or play cash, calendars, CD/DVD covers, dried seaweed (used in sushi making), moss, slides, microfiche, Popsicle sticks, dried beans/pulses/legumes/grains/seeds, decorative adhesive vinyl drawer liners, doilies, lace, chalk, keyboard keys, carbon paper (for mark making), tracing paper, toys, action figure/doll accessories, mirrors, concert tickets, sports trading cards, stickers, hair, airline baggage tags, envelopes, comic books, Polaroids, computer print outs, medical charts (ultrasounds, heart rate monitors, etc), blueprints, Zip-Lock bags, rub-on letters (Letraset, Geotype), flags, matchbooks, coasters, sewing patterns, mesh (fabric or metal), measuring tape, restaurant place mats, stencils, acetate, price tags, silk, bubble wrap, dried spices/teas/coffee to add scent, plaster bandage, frames, matt board, wool, hemp, vitamin tablets, notes, letters, rivets, snaps, iron on transfers, pigments, tissue papers, water soluble coloured pencils/crayons, oil paint sticks, sea shells, netting, crushed egg shells.
Liquid: gesso, acrylic paint, watercolours, India ink, spray paint, varnish, nail polish, makeup, glitter glue, house paints (stains, enamels), acrylic ink, PVA glue, metallic inks, natural dyes, perfumes/oils to add scent, printmaking inks, fabric dyes, crackle medium, faux finishes and patinas, gouache, egg/powdered tempera, primer, air-brush, wax encaustic paints, glazes, poster paint, chroma colour paints, matte/gloss/gel/etc mediums, masking agents.
Adhesives: PVA (Polyvinyl Acetate) white glue, cellulose based glues, double sided tape, epoxy, Goop brand glue (for plastics and other hard to glue items), heat-set dry mounting, fabric glue, carpenters glue, acid-free glue sticks (for paper on paper only), hot glue gun, stitching/sewing, duct/masking/scotch/painters tape (some lose adhesiveness over time).
Materials to Avoid:
- Rubber cement- toxic, turns art yellow over time due to high sulphur content.
- Food colouring- fades over time.
- Xylene, non archival markers- toxic, discolour and eat through artwork over time. Use acid-free pens.
- Acrylic medium- pages will stick together if painted on both sides. Use Varethane instead.
- Cheap clear packing tape- will turn “gummy” over time, ruin surfaces. Contains acids that will ruin whatever they are covering.
- Thermo-Printing- new receipts, movie/concert tickets, ultrasounds, etc use thermo-printing. Will fade quickly, turn black if heated/laminated or painted over with some products. Experiment to find a product that can protect them in your sketchbook (I found a high quality clear bookmaking tape that works well).
- Glue sticks- rarely very durable, poor for mounting photographs.
- Ink or bubble jet computer prints- will smear if wet or painted on. Use Laser prints or colour photocopies.
- Oil paints- oils bleed out and stain, very long drying times, noxious odour. Oil paint sticks or oil pastels are a better alternative if oils are desired.
Very subjective and teacher specific. I tend to keep evaluation simple (such as /10 at the end of the term but worth 20% of the term cumulative in some cases). Simple criteria cuts down on students trying to meet specifics, for example: insisting on 20 pages a term could result in 5 really great pages and 15 rushed, poor quality pages. This can also result in the student stopping at 20 pages. In my opinion it is quality, not quantity that matters. I have, however, had minimums or pages in the past.
Instead I evaluate based on experimentation (trying new materials, techniques, etc), participation (use of class time, clean up, interaction with others, etc), quality (how does it compare to the student’s other work, does it meet his/her potential)