I think we have all seen it happen. Students that are always working with digital media can easily lose or never develop some of those wonderful sketchbook skills that help them gain an understanding of a variety of textures, processing and mixed media. In a worst case scenario, very little is produced, sketchbooks are vast polar spaces and outcomes show little quantity of processing.

Combining Processes

At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who never develop many computer skills. Sometimes their sketchbooks demonstrate mixed media skills, but could benefit so much from a little typography here or a layer blend there.

So how can we make sure students working with digital media get valuable experimental sketchbook skills and those working in traditional media make the most of digital processes?

Part of the answer is simple, whatever the course, there should be an element toward the start that cements underpinning sketchbook and digital skills. Of course, there are as many ways to do a sketchbook as there are students and we value the individuality of them so much that we don’t want there to be a factory of sketchbook production.

Here the idea is to make sure the skills used to produce a sketchbook and develop a portfolio of work based on experimentation aren’t just forgotten. Rather than seeing a student produce similar sketchbooks from day one of a two year program up to their final project, it would be fantastic if the actual production of the sketchbook contributed to their work. It would be even better if this worked for students working in both digital and traditional ways.

This case study explores the work of Sarah Allen, a Foundation Diploma Art and Design student. On some levels it traces the current trends toward illustration, but most importantly it demonstrates some of the benefits of crossing the digital and traditional divide in creative ways to develop unique processes that can support innovative outcomes.

At first it appears quite brutal, untidy and paired down. But then it becomes clear it has undergone a very deliberate process. Rather than just sticking things into the sketchbook, Sarah puts everything through a process involving scanning, adding typography and then printing. Sometimes each page even puts everything through the process twice.

A photograph might do just as well as a scan, but the point is to show forethought of a process and to demonstrate a high level understanding of textures.  On closer inspection, the whole portfolio shows multiple applications and variations on this theme.

For the first few months of teaching Sarah I thought something was wrong. Sketchbooks took some time to take shape and she was always scared to share the work she had produced. Moreover, she would comment on being able to do more at home than in class. These were worrying signs. Only when I really got to know her did I realise that she was addicted to her inkjet (or what was left of it) and scanner at home. It was also clear that at the start of the course she was developing skills as opposed to work and that these were going to set her off on a steep learning curve.

Sarah’s work demonstrates many subtleties and high level skills. We hope you can take some of these and use any number of them in combination or variation with your students. More importantly though, we would like you to consider the particular learning behaviour and whether applying it in your learning environment might support the same kind of skills development and level of independence.

Because of Sarah’s engagement with both digital and traditional processes and the space to experiment with these in, sometimes, radical ways, her learning curve shows a really steep transition. Not only is she aware of these particular skills, but the production and presentation process of the sketchbook contributes to her work. They aren’t laborious exercises for the sake of evidence.

Daniel Freaker Daniel Freaker Educational Consultant, Editor for Pearson Portfolio. danfreaker@pearsonportfolio.co.uk