Artists Mining Their Sketchbooks for Inspiration

January 12, 2009

JanBeaneyLeft: Book 16 in the stitch and embroidery series of Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn. (image ©Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn) Click on the image to see an enlargement.  

I love looking at the sketchbooks and journals of other artists. I enjoy seeing how their art materials choices make differences in their art. I always learn something from their use of the page, page spread, or negative space. I am curious to see how some artists go totally visual and others lay on the words. Pattern, color, texture (of collage) all draws me in. I have a sense that I am watching the artist work his way to a conclusion in a very personal dialog. I am intrigued by process.

Attraction to this material causes me to seek out sketchbook facsimilies and other published records. I was thrilled to find the fabric artists Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn.

I don't know the nomenclature of the fabric art world but this is definitely modern stitchery, not your grandmother's sampler, that these two women create. In this series of books they cover all sorts of new materials and techniques (like melted fabrics and mold-able materials). But they retain a strong basis in traditional approaches (it's just that they are pushing those traditions). 

I have about 20 of these short books, each about 24 pages long and all full color. It seems to me that starting in about book 5 their sketchbooks started to make more and more appearances. In fact, I purchased some of these books purely because I liked a sketchbook image and had no intention of even trying their fabric approach! (Also books 7, 8, 10, 11, 13–18 contain some sketchbook images; I don't have books 19 and 20.)

Books 12, 15, and 21 are sketchbook jackpots. If you are interested in how artists in one field use their sketchbooks for idea generation and memory prompting, and simply capturing their lives, you'll enjoy the eye-candy in these books.

The artists work with watersoluble crayons, ink, and gouache in a heavy, dense, lush fashion that matches their stitchery. I could never work with watersoluble crayons like this as I'm too fussy about smudges on the facing pages. I don't know whether these artists use spray fixative or interleave glassine sheets between their journal pages when traveling, but I think not. I think they are just fearless about smudges. Regardless of our own working methods in our journals we can all be inspired by and learn from these fabric artists. And there is the added joy of seeing how they translate their sketches into their more abstract fabric works.

Attention—Give Away
While checking out my stack of these books I found that while I was missing a couple "issues" I had two copies of Book 3—Bonding and Beyond. Sadly it is one of the few books that has no journal pages in it! However, it does talk about bonding methods and materials and this will be of interest to fabric artists and collage and abstract artists too. So here's the deal:

1. Send me a note ( with "Fabric book give away" as the subject line. (Only send me one note each please.)

2. In the body of the message say whatever you want: "I want that book, please."

3. DO INCLUDE your name and POSTAL address in the body of the post.

4. Email me BEFORE 1 p.m. (CST) Tuesday, January 13, 2009.

I will do a drawing from the received entries and send out my duplicate book to that lucky reader. You won't see samples of the authors' journals, but you will have a nifty book on "Bonding and Beyond"!

    • Roz
    • January 12, 2009

    Sydney Harper from Alabama won the drawing for this book and it is going out in the mail tomorrow (if I’m not snowed in!).


  1. Reply

    You might want to look for their hardcover embroidery books too, Roz. Modern embroiderers use sketchbooks a LOT. The new book from the recently deceased Julia Caprara is one you will love. See or you can probably get it from by now.

    • Roz
    • January 18, 2009

    Marilyn, thanks for this lead on a new book. I will look for it!

    • KarinH
    • May 28, 2009

    Hi Roz,
    Jan & Jean are also really good teachers – I took a 4 day class on “sketchbooks for textile work” and they made me actually use my sketchbook – not just buying book after book for the shelf ! We had a lot of fun during the class, tried a number of different approaches (pencil, pen, crayon, water, stamping, printing, cutting etc), messy, quick – great ! I can only recommend their classes and have registered for the next one in 2010 already…

    • Roz
    • May 28, 2009

    Karin, this is good news indeed. I always supposed from their books that it would be so. I hope you have a great workshop in 2010!

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