Keeping A Sketchbook

The contents of your sketchbook should reflect your personality and your interests. It is your place to record and research your chosen plants and study topics. 


I actually keep several sketchbooks, some have random subject material, whereas others are more specific project based books, I also have one for leaves as it helps me to focus on learning about different leaf subjects. you can decide on your content. 


I suggest that you keep a sketchbook for your study work in this course, so you could dedicate a small books to dissections or leaves or you may just prefer to have a generic book. The whole point of a sketchbook is that it is your  way of recording preparatory work. 


John Ruskin's diary 1848 -49 Crested Leaves: Lettuce Thistle 

What to Include in a Sketchbook?

There is no set formula for keeping a sketchbook and I have just developed my own approach based on what seems sensible. You should ALWAYS include the date and name of the plant in Latin, the plant family as well as any common names, also location and any other information that might be of interest. I love to read back through old sketchbooks to rediscover things documented on my travels and in my garden.  


If I'm preparing studies for a botanical illustration my entries are quite comprehensive and can span several pages. They include measured drawings and all parts of the plant including dissections - in addition I make observations and make notes describing what I see. I also carry out other research and may make notes about interesting points such as whether a plant has medicinal properties, is poisonous or about he pollination mechanism. researching this information helps to broaden your knowledge of plants. 

Other entries are more informal in terns of content and might only illustrate one aspect of a plant. 

What's the Purpose of a Sketchbook?

The purpose of a sketchbook is recording visual and written information about plants as reference. It could be that you simply want to document any plant that grabs your attention and a sketchbook is a great way of doing this without the pressure of producing a finished painting or drawing. Or it may be the case that you want to record plants from a specific location or habitat oe to record plants from a trip overseas..


Whatever your interest, one thing is certain - if you organise your sketchbook it can provide great reference for future paintings, particularly for plants in the wild that we can't take home and in this case the more you record the better and  when you combined with your photographs it is possible to complete paintings when the plant is gone. 



Looking forward to taking my sketchbook

Detail from my sketchbook from a visit to Perth, Australia, Sturt's Desert Pea 2016

What Type of Sketchbook? 

The type of sketchbook that you choose is also personal, but also dictated by availability.  I suggest a good quality book suitable for wet media.


My preferred book is the Stillman and Birn Zeta Series, the 8.5 x 5.5 inch version is a good size, although I also use the larger 8 x 10 and the pocket sized book for convenience 3.5 x 5 inches . Theres also a square format book. .

The Zeta is a heavyweight wet media paper and is available in hard and soft back versions, I recommend the soft back version and its easier to open fully. If don't like spiral bound books as the bound book allows me to maximise the space with a double page spread. 

You can of course make your own sketchbook out of your preferred watercolour paper. There are lots of good tutorials on Youtube that show you how to do it.  

Larger study page
Larger study page

Same format as a sketchbook on a larger sheet. Here a cultivated plant, David Austin's Olivia Rose Austin which I filled my garden with!

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Erythrina vespertilio
Erythrina vespertilio

Research for a painting for the Sydney Florilegium

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Erythrina vespertilio
Erythrina vespertilio

Sketches of seedpods of the plant, the pods were provided by Mount Annan Botanic garden during my time in Australia

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