Sketchbook Circle is a year-long collaborative project established to encourage artists and artist educators to make time for their own personal work. Sketchbook Circle began seven years ago when Elinor Brass and fellow artist educator Tanya Paget brought together friends using sketchbooks as a vehicle for collaboration. They were looking for a way to commit time to their own making around their busy lives working in education and wanted to develop a community of practitioners. By 2013 TEA Sketchbook Circle was established with the support and encouragement of Susan Coles, who at the time was the President of NSEAD. This circle was set up in support of TEA (Thinking Expression Action) an initiative established by the NSEAD, Big Draw and NADFAS to develop the use of drawing in art education. Alongside artist educator Georgia Naish, Elinor has continued to run the circle and has seen it grow significantly with around 300 artists taking part across the United Kingdom and Europe.
Each January a circle is established and every artist makes work in a book of their choice. They post their books to the person next to them in the circle by the end of January, then every artist makes work in response to the work they have received and posts the book back to where it came from. This means that there are two in-depth artistic conversations occurring over the course of a year (it goes back and forth like a pendulum). Artists work in any medium and on any scale, sometimes working outside the book and using it just as place to record their making. The structure of having a deadline ensures artist educators make time for their own practice. It means a commitment to yourself and your own wellbeing and development but it can also build your confidence in what you deliver in the classroom. It is a demanding project as it is stretching to respond to someone else's artwork, but it is also incredibly rewarding.
This year there has been a digital circle, which has proven to be popular and has seen the participants combining different approaches. There are also a monthly postal and a digital mail-out that provide a little bit of inspiration and to encourage participants to be creative perhaps even sharing their artwork and ideas with others in the Circle community. Some of the mail-outs offer interesting materials to work with or unusual techniques and others are focused on ideas.
This year we have even more contributions from members of the circle through blog posts and a monthly e-newsletter. The Sketchbook Circle community is very important with a lively and supportive Facebook group sharing their work and ideas. As well as this the Sketchbook Circle offers a number of affordable and accessible workshops, allowing participants to try out new methods and materials.