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I'm always amazed when I see other artists perfectly ordered sketchbooks full of ideas, all neatly laid out with annotations, points of interest and other arty scribbles. Amazed because it's all a bit of an unknown quantity for me as my method of preserving ideas has always been less structured apart from when I was really boring and a bit too traditional in 2005.

Today I work at speed when structuring ideas, firing off in several directions at once on multiple pieces of paper, in sketchbooks, on bits of card or receipts and more recently on anything digital too until I find a thread of an idea I can work with. It means it's tricky to tie things together but it also allows your head to free itself from working within the constrains of a blank page, then I gather up all the little bits and work on one complete sketch.

It's not always been the case though as I said. Take a quick look at the simple image of three Impossimals above. It was sketched in 2006, in a proper sketchbook like a real artist and was entitled 'Domino Effect' but the thing that stands out is it's lack of 'anything', it's sterile and just a routine in composition done as I expected an artist to do it. This one sketch took up half of an A4 page and whilst it worked at the time it shows my inexperience at that time in pulling together complex elements or 'anything' other than composition.


Let me explain myself, the 'anything' I'm referring to is a hook, a familiarity, something to pull you in that hides behind the composition. As a sketch 'Domino Effect' is just a basic set of poses, the title helps conjure up the image of a line of dominos falling but the sketch stops there. It lacks anything in particular and that's why it remained a sketch and nothing else.

I've learned a lot since then, over the period 2010-2015 out when the conforming, in came the chaotic and it worked a whole lot better.

Some sketches are more surprising than others, below you will find an Impossimal with arms. A single sketch way back in 2007 that resurfaced as a single painting a year or so later. The idea worked but the arms added to the Impossimal felt a little awkward, even though it gave a good focus for holding things I've never returned to them since.
To Have And To Hold Initial sketch
To Have And To Hold Final Oil
Above is a collection page from 2014. When putting together collections I used to re-sketch little thumbnails of my favourite doodles to see how they would all work together. You can see a small star on the top left of some of them, that was a secondary shortlist indicator to show it had moved on to a more complete sketch elsewhere in the sketchpad.

Below should be a charcoal sketch. Most collectors don't realise I produced a lot of charcoal sketches early on in my career and even though this is from 2007 it still looks pretty fresh today. The title is 'Romeos' if you're interested and the final painting featured in a calendar around 2009.


Now take a look at the images above and to the left, these are pages from the sketchbooks between 2019-22. Very different, more chaotic, more energy and movement as I try to nail a joke or pin an image on a title. There is less reliance on composition, more on storytelling, complexity and visual punch but with the addition of accuracy.

Below is 'The Pour Relations' a perfect example of a fully formed sketch created from the chaos and refined into a finished product before moving on to the next stage of sketching which is colour. You'll find examples of those in the 'oil sketches' section

Many years ago I used to go overboard when sketching ideas to make them accurate. 'Bad Boys' shown above was an example of that, really I should have sketched the pose quite loosely but by trying to get the right look I made it all rather stiff to look at, spending far too long refining it. It was still a nice original sketch but looking back now I should have done five or six versions on the same page and experimented a little. The resulting painting was published and sold out quite quickly so it wasn't that bad, hindsight can sometimes make you over critical on your past skills and you forget that being an artist is a constant learning process.


A common question and the easy answer is obsessive title hoarding. Above is a 'titles' page from the sketchbooks, quite often you will find two or three pages like this in a row as I bang down title after title following the avenues of my mind as it slowly unwinds down twisty little mental paths. It's probably not conventional but as you can see, I'm never short of titles!