Sketchbooks: a view from art school

A Level Sketchbook

A Level Sketchbook

Art Foundation Diploma tutors at Loughborough University have produced a really interesting report describing the way they encourage students to use sketchbooks. It is also a critique of the way that they feel sketchbooks are used in schools. Their expectations are presented as a contrast to the ‘A’ Level sketchbook.

I am not sure it is as simple as that but it is interesting to hear the views of the next set of teachers to encounter our students and to hear what they think about school practice.  It is hard to disagree with the approach that they adopt and most teachers would have a very similar attitude. The paper is an opportunity to reflect, yet again, on the way that examinations tend to define and constrain practice in class rooms. It is surely the case that the subject is grossly over assessed with every page of every sketchbook being used as evidence for grading rather than as an opportunity to  think and reflect.

“Many students come to us with sketchbooks which are more like “presentation books” rather than a real record of their exploration, or a source of personal visual reference. The emphasis on good presentation means that students often have to un-learn habits they have developed before coming to university, such as decorating pages, making elaborate backgrounds and titles, rather than focusing on first-hand visual research, developing and working up their ideas, which is what is required on a foundation course. The sketchbooks which we see at interview for are often superficially attractive and colourful, but this can be at the expense of real content and substance. The expectations of annotation at A level often lead to students writing at length in these books, but the writing is often too descriptive, rather than analytical or evaluative.”

Carl Silvester, Course coordinator – foundation diploma course.

The Paper is an Ofsted good practice publication  ‘Individual and exploratory sketchbooks: Loughborough University’. It was published in February 2014. Click here for a copy of the paper.

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About Dan

Senior Advisor, Art Inspector, Member of the Expert Advisory Group for Art, Consultant working with NSEAD, IOE, QCA, UCE, UOG. Currently lecturer at UCL working on a project in Kazakhstan to develop text books for a new art curriculum.
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