Drawing together: 18 years at the kitchen table and beyond

I’m a big fan of using a sketchbook, or as a student once admirably called theirs, ‘a book of mistakes from which I  learn’. But having a personal sketchbook is one thing, using it to document learning – and ultimately to submit for assessment – can be something quite different, unfortunately.

Between the gaps of work and family life, my sketchbook gets dusted off for grabbed moments, which mostly consist of views whilst waiting (teenage daughter) and of others sleeping (wife, toddler, dog, occasional train passengers). The summer holidays often bring a spike in productivity (nicer views, nappers in slightly more exotic locations) but the pattern is familiar. And this is fine; my collection of insignificant moments still adds up to something meaningful, albeit only to me.

At this time of year, art rooms will often host small piles of uncollected GCSE and A Level work. Sketchbooks that were once loved and nurtured are – often surprisingly – cast aside by their owners, having been traded for that sought after grade.

It’s a shame. I know that students move on, yet whilst it’s nice for teachers to hang on to those precious examples – to inspire others, to pimp up open evenings etc. – I’d much rather the owners were fighting for them back. That would mean something too.

(A mischievous idea: Could we have an alternative assessment model? Students only just willing to walk through a puddle to collect their work: Grade E. Students willing to pluck it from a burning building: A*.  Might need fine-tuning, but it’s a thought. Imagine the work meaning more than the grade).


Drawing together: a personal project

Alongside my own sketchbooks, I’m certainly pleased my daughter, Hope, has kept all of hers too.  I’ve recently been busy going through both sets, with a book idea – and an 18th birthday present – in mind. It was a notion inspired by Louise Clazey (@creativenorton) whose playful #DrawingAugust partnership with her daughter got me thinking.


So, book now completed and handed over (appreciatively received, if not quite a car), I thought I’d share some insights below (with Hope’s approval, obviously). I’ve written before about timelines of drawing development and in many ways this extends on that.

Bringing together our different sets of drawings has been a treat. They both have different stories to tell – mine mostly show how she has grown, although the accuracy at times is questionable, and then Hope’s, which offer much more, not least an impressive timeline of growing expertise. The combined story is most precious – that of time spent drawing together, at the kitchen table and beyond, over a period of 18 years.

If you can’t tell, I’m very proud.

Here’s a selection of spreads:


 Early scribbles, age 1


One of her first recognisable drawings – a car, obviously.


Love this self-portrait on sugar paper, age 3. (Pre-schematic stage)


A growing attention to detail in Hope’s drawings is now emerging, age 7. And dolls, lots of dolls…


Drawings from this time increasingly show personal expression, emotion, and humour


Commencing textiles at secondary school had a big influence on Hope’s creative interests. The painting is of a day out at the NewArtCentre, Roche Court  (dragged around so many galleries, poor kid!)


Early entry GCSE encouraged some big leaps in technical skill (as shown above) but also in conceptual understanding. I do have reservations about early entries for students, but it worked out here


A significant stage on the journey to expertise: having developed an ability to record accurately, a looser quality of line emerges – one not constrained by a desire for realism but liberated by confidence and creative maturity.

Whilst this is just a selection of pages, I think – from a teacher’s perspective – it’s fascinating how the stages of drawing development really do shine through. Mostly though, as proud Dad, they just represent lovely moments. Happy days!

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