from the book:


International Artist Publishing, Inc. 2003


If you really plan to make use of your pen-and-wash sketches back in the studio, follow Anthony J. Batten’s guide to putting the most into your sketchbooks so you can get the most out of them.

I often feel intimidated when I see other artists’ sketchbooks. Their permanent bindings and careful neat entries look more like a diary created for posterity and a biographer than for real use in the workshop. That’s not how I approach on-site sketching at all.

St Lawrence Hall from the South East, 14" x 11"/sheet

My sketchbook is very much a personal information bank compiled to trigger my memory when I am in the studio. As such, I include far more than just line drawing enhanced with color washes. I take written notes, draw close-ups, match up other references and so much more. While my methods may not be as “pretty” as some artists’, they pay off in the long run when I’m ready to work by providing all the information I need conveniently enclosed in a single package.

Visualizing my ideas
When it comes to using pen-and-wash to sketch on location, my works are rarely 100 percent accurate renderings of the site. They are very much my reaction to that particular location. In the sketches as well as the final works. I will freely move trees, lamp standards and even take liberties with structure as long as the essential mood is retained. I don’t necessarily include every detail of the subjects either.

For example, I might move two important buildings so that they appear closer together than they actually are. This allows me to create a well-framed composition that encapsulates a collective memory of the area. In fact, I once turned an equestrian statue 180 degrees so that the horse and rider would lead the eye into the composition. It was reproduced on a widely distributed greeting card, and no one noticed the change until I brought it up!

Such changes must appear to be totally natural to be convincing, and the preparatory sketch is the ideal place to experiment with various options. Several concepts can be drawn on a single page, which can look a bit messy or confusing, but that’s what sketchbooks are all about – the visualization of the thought process behind the finished painting.

Making fast work of the thing
Another reason my sketchbook pages aren’t always as neat as some is that I need to work fast. As a painter of architectural studies and urban scenes, it is vital to get down the essentials of a view quickly. In the urban-scape, a wonderful view can vanish with the arrival of a newly parked truck!

St Lawrence Hall, King St. Facade, 14" x 11"/sheet
I utilize a camera a lot to record my views. I often allow or even encourage local people to be a part of my photographs as they add a much-needed human reference for the scale of nearby structures.

Likewise, cars and other vehicles add life and local flavor to finished work. For years, I have preferred to use slide film, as the ability to project the image in my studio gives me yet another chance to edit my view and carefully review details that I may have missed on the site. The ability to change the size of the projected image, by using the enlarging feature in the projector frequently has turned an “okay” view into a great small-scale work or an extensive panoramic piece. This advantage over regular prints is now being equaled by digital cameras and their accompanying technology.

Whether I’ve shot slides or digital photographs – or perhaps even found some other visual reference such as a newspaper cutting – these, too, get attached or pasted into my sketchbook, preferably on or near the corresponding sketches. In this way, I have all my references together in one handy location.

Adding on to the book
I’ve also developed a few other habits that, again, may look a bit crude but provide me with vital information when doing my studio work. Right on top of my pen-and-wash sketches, I usually take down brief notes regarding colors, textures, details and the like. Thanks to my background in art history, some of my cryptic notes are probably unintelligible to others. For example, a classic sash-window in my sketchbook will simply show “3/3 over 3/3/3” to denote 3 wide by 5 deep with a sash-divider 2 panes from the top. All artists, however, can develop their own type of shorthand based on their personal experience and take whatever notes they deem necessary.

I sometimes carry with me sheets of tracing paper cut to the size of the sketchbook. Taped over existing sketches, these transparent “overlays” allow me to quickly explore alterations to the composition without destroying the sketch. I leave the best of my ideas taped into the sketchbook.

And finally, as I enjoy creating horizontal, panoramic sketches, I often extend the format of my sketchbook by taping on a third piece of watercolor paper cut to the same size as the book’s pages. It doesn’t matter if the papers don’t match exactly. The important thing is to record my composition and the necessary details.

Putting sketchbooks in their place
To me, sketchbooks are the workhorse of the painting process. They are where the hard work, thinking and creativity take place, where concepts and essential information get recorded for future use. Thus, sketchbooks don’t need to be pristine or neat, just functional and chock-full of great ideas waiting to come to life.