I saw the film Fantastical Beasts recently. Overall, I thought it a rather patchy film, not having the depth of the other Harry Potter films. BUT, BUT, BUT, there was one scene which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, feel excited and tearful at the same time.  In it, two of the characters climb into a small, battered suitcase which becomes a portal to a magical space without boundaries, full of fantastical beasts. This struck an absolute chord for me of entering my own internal space of my imagination. Without getting too autobiographical, I am the product of a rather sad childhood. Once I learned to read however, I found an escape, a portal, via books which took me to a very rich, vivid imaginary world. As an adult I stopped entering this space, firstly, because adult books did not spark that same escapism and secondly, I recognised that disappearing into an imaginary world, in response to difficulties, was not always appropriate behaviour as an adult!

When I took up painting some years ago I started to experience a sense of frustration. I took  painting Very Seriously and my tutor suggested that I could be more playful. This was a light bulb moment and it dawned on me that I was seeking a way back in to that creative, playful place, but the “painting” door was locked. In response to this I moved sideways to the Visual Communications course which has helped act as a portal back to this space.

In my last feedback, my tutor had asked for sight of my sketchbooks and in considering these and the film, it dawned on me that my sketchbooks are my own Fantastical Beasts.

At the present time my sketchbooks have diverged down two different paths.


working book

Firstly there are my working books. They are basic, thin black sketchbooks for thinking and quick sketches.  They are rough working books. They are goal-directed, working out ideas visually or verbally on the page. They also always have some rough observational drawings of people. I work in fine black or brown Castell and Faber drawing pens. The books are light and portable, ideal for fitting in a bag, wherever I go.


my Fantastical Beasts

Secondly are  the hardback, better quality, thicker, bigger books, often in a square format. In writing about the film Fantastic Creatures I realised that these books are my very own Fantastical Creatures. They are still recognisable as sketch books but are heavier, distorted, splitting their own skins.  They are too  bulky and fragile to carry around in a bag. They don’t have a beginning, end or a right way up. There is no linear direction although I do enjoy building  sequences of pages. They are built up over long periods of time (years) so it is hard to remember when they began and their end point is usually unclear, although I will eventually stop adding to a book and put it away on the shelf.  They include collage, fabrics, printed patterns, paint, marker pen and have holes cut through to the next page. They are mute, with nothing written in them. They also include cannibalised previous sketchbooks and work scraps. I work on them in bursts. I can go months without touching them and then work on them every night for a couple of weeks.  They are definitely not beautiful, or polished, in fact they are scruffy, awkward and cack handed, I rarely feel completely satisfied with any page although I enjoy turning the pages, especially if I like a sequence.  I feel slightly awkward showing them to people, especially non-artists, they are like the rather unattractive pet which you care for and love, but other people can fail to see the charm of. I like the fact that I can’t plan them and have to let them evolve on their own.They are not goal-directed in any way.

Although at the moment my 2 sorts of sketchbooks have gone off in different directions but I think they may well start to cross over again.


some 4 page sequences


2 thoughts on “Random thoughts: Sketchbooks, Magical Spaces and Fantastical Beasts

  1. I’ve seen some of your sketchbooks before, but never noticed that they are without notes, entirely “mute” as you say. So they must be works of art and free-ranging in their imagination – unlike the two annotated sketches that you show in this post.

    My husband has been given a beautiful leather bound notebook for Christmas, which he has passed onto me. Unfortunately, it has this inscription gilded onto the leather – “Random Crap”. The giver must have thought this amusing, but it devalues anything that could be put into it. I’ve glued card over the title and rendered it innocuous.


  2. I hear what you are saying but they don’t “feel” like works of art. If anything I would see them as “work in progress”. They are way stations on a road, not final destinations.

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