How to create a collaborative sketchbook with tips for making your own with a friend

Earlier this year, my friend Shilpa approached me with an idea to create a collaborative sketchbook together.

She lives up in North London, while I’m 300 miles away on the coast of Cornwall.

We live in very different landscapes, but both feel drawn {no pun intended ;) } to express our environments in our art.

I thought it was a great idea, and we spent some time in our Instagram DMs hashing out how it would work.

In the end we settled on two sketchbooks, so we could pass them back and forth between each other and always have something to work on. A truly ongoing conversation.

I suggested concertina sketchbooks, partly because they’re my favourite kind, and partly because they lend themselves well to layering and overlapping in a continuous flow.

I’d never done anything like this before, although I’d seen others do it, and it seemed a lovely meaningful way to be creative and connect with a fellow artist.

It’s also a low pressure way to stay creative during busy or challenging times – ours began in the early days of the coronavirus lockdown.

Collaborative sketchbook

Getting Started

Starting the first pages in the sketchbook was easy. I don’t really have a fear of the blank page, and I knew that because Shilpa and I would each be working in both sketchbooks, our work would tangle together and undulate through the pages. This made everything a lot less precious.

When we did our first swap, initially I did have some trepidation about working over and amongst Shilpa’s lovely drawings. It brought up some interesting ideas and beliefs I hadn’t known I’d carried about the value of others’ work, and whether or not it was ok to mess with it!

A quick check in affirmed that we were both very relaxed about what the other did – after all, this was all simply a playful experiment, for pleasure and connection and the novelty of working in a new way for both of us.

After that, we settled into a lovely easy rhythm of swapping the sketchbooks back and forth every few weeks.

I always relish receiving the latest one, opening it up to see what Shilpa has done with my previous work, and how she’s progressed it.

It’s interesting too, to see the two very different landscapes unfold {literally}, and a challenge to see how they might be blended to flow from page to page.

 

Tips for creating your own collaborative sketchbook

A good rapport with your sketchbook buddy really helps with keeping things smooth, easy and fun

Shilpa and I had been slowly building a friendship on Instagram and had the good vibes about each other, even though we’ve never met in person.

Work out beforehand how it’ll work

Do you want more than one sketchbook? What kind would you both enjoy using? Would you like to collaborate with more than one friend? What will the theme be, if any? Will you use a hashtag if you’re sharing on Instagram?

Hashtags

Not a requirement obviously, but if you’re sharing your progress on Instagram you might like to consider choosing one that you can both use.

Shilpa and I ended up choosing two; one specific to our combined landscapes theme, and one more general, in case we wanted to do more in future. Check that the one you choose isn’t already in use!

Keep ‘rules’ to a minimum.

Our guidelines were essentially, do what you like! It’s helpful to have a bit of a shape to it – ours being the theme of ‘land, sea and sky’ – but putting too much pressure on having it turn out a certain way can be inhibiting. The whole point is to let it unfold.

Consider having a theme

Not a requirement of course, but can be helpful to create a container within which to work so you’re not always wondering what to do! I just take mine down to the beach with some supplies and go from there.

Check in now and then to make sure you’re both ‘on the same page’

  • Are you both fine with working over each other’s art?
  • Are you in agreement about when you’ll swap the sketchbooks?
  • Are you working at roughly the same pace?
  • Does one of you need a bit more time before the next swap?

Remember you’re working ‘together’, and the conversation can expand beyond the pages of the sketchbook.

It’s a commitment

But it doesn’t have to take a ton of time, so it’s also a lovely way to ‘keep your eye in’ with your art, while connecting and sharing too.

Shilpa and I didn’t discuss it initially, but I think the assumption was we’d continue till both sketchbooks were full. You might want to put a time limit on that, or keep it open ended like we have.

It’s an opportunity to experiment

You might have some things you want to try that don’t fit into your regular art practice; a sketchbook is always a great place for this, and working with someone else can expand the ideas even further.

I have been trying out making my own inks and pigments, and used some red cabbage ink I’d made in ours.

~~~

If you’d like to see Shilpa’s and my collaborative sketchbook project over on Instagram, these are the hashtags we use:

I’ve shared most of my posts in stories, which I saved to a highlight here. This includes Shilpa‘s photos and videos, as well as me talking about the process and working on the beach.

I’m planning to share another post when we’ve completed the sketchbooks, hopefully involving a video of each.

Have you ever done a collaborative sketchbook project? Got any tips? Tell us about it in the comments!

 

 

 

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