Where I’m sitting right now in my home studio, these are the three things that are capturing my attention right now:
- The view outside my window
- A stack of books on this table
- An old desk.
I often challenge myself to treat one object or image as the only source of inspiration available to me on that day. If I only had these three photos, what could I make that’s inspired by them?
Start by drawing. Scribble. Doodle. Make marks on paper. That’s all that “sketching” entails! The marks you make are unique to you. No one else can make them in quite the same way.
Many of my sketch book pages are covered in doodles that only make sense to me. All that’s important at this stage is that you have a visual record of what you see in your environment. I find it really helpful to give myself a time limit for capturing the details that interest me in my photos. Twenty seconds. One minute. Five minutes. Smaller amounts of time that don’t allow you time to think will bring out more instinctive lines and shapes. Longer amounts of time allow you to ponder, and let your mind wander alongside your eyes, to capture more detail, to explore the structure of what you’re looking at, and to start imagining what sort of stitch, shape, or colours you might use in a project based on this image.
This is a five-minute page of sketches of the view outside my window.
Some of the lines are quick wisps. Others are more concrete and detailed shapes that show the structure of the branches against the trunk. I’ve even explored the shapes that the negative space between the branches make, to explore not only the shapes themselves, but what would happen if I put them together as colourwork or the structure of a garment.
These are 30 seconds’ worth of sketches based on the stack of books and the old desk.
Often, when I sketch and when I make, I feel that my brain is wordlessly communicating with my hands, without conscious thought playing a part. The inner critic steps out for a lunch break, and magical things happen. This is exactly what’s happened here. My conscious mind was thinking about whether it’s lunch time, while my hands worked on the page. The result was unexpected.
I expected the pile of books to inspire stripes. Instead, when I look at these sketches, I see shapes. I see uneven strips of fabric stacked with raw edges. I see a knit or crocheted scarf with extra stitches cast on or bound off on each edge. I see stripes of texture in a sea of stockinette. I see the centre panel of a pullover or dress. In short, you can expand the range of an inspirational object or view by interpreting it through your hands!
With the sketches of my photo of the old desk, I found more interesting discoveries. The most prominent sketch is a giant shape, as I was clearly thinking of shawls. The shape of the very top of the desk gave me more shapes to play with, and as I sketched a variation on that shape and tried to perfect it my hands have shown me potential for pattern. Further observation showed me shadows in the woodgrain that could be a neckline or a hemline.
Sketch. Then look at your sketches and think about what they could become.
Do you see pattern? Pattern can reveal itself as one motif that you wish to explore. Pattern in your sketchbooks can be compared to patterns in stitch dictionaries or can be created by you in a colourwork or cross stitch chart, or by graphing your own stitch patterns. You can create pattern on fabric with block printing or screen printing. Try adapting a weaving pattern to mimic your sketches.
Do you see shape? Shape can be applied to a garment or accessory, like a shawl or a scarf. It can evoke a sculptural form for a vessel, bag, sculptural work, or wall piece. Shape can transform a neckline or hemline. It can influence the shape of a collar or sleeve.
Do you see texture? Texture can be conveyed through stitches: knit, crochet, sewn, or embroidered. Texture can be spun into yarn and then woven or knit to create a unique surface. Texture can be tactile, but it can also be visual. Dyeing, painting, and printing techniques can create visual texture on the surface of yarn or fabric, adding another layer of possibilities to be derived from your observations.
The trees outside my window have been a long-time source of inspiration. This sculptural wall piece is made of fallen branches that have been dyed, block printed, discharged—a process that removes dye in uneven ways—then embroidered with tree shapes and textures, and hand stitched together.
My Twigonometry mitts use an original stitch pattern based on that view.
There are many different reasons to build your creative muscles with exercises like these. Perhaps you’re a designer, looking for a new way to share your view of the world through your designs. You could be thinking about making a unique piece of clothing for yourself or someone you love. Or maybe you just feel the burning desire to create something that didn’t exist before you made it.
Now it’s your turn. Go forth and look around you. Be inspired to sketch and make based on your everyday surroundings. Then come and show us what you’ve done!
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All images by Kim McBrien Evans.