Sketchbooks by Grayson Perry

I wasn’t sure about buying this one when I have so many photography books on my Wordery list but found I couldn’t leave the shop without it. It’s about the size, and heft, of one of the old phone books. The paper is thick creamy cartridge, compellingly touchable. It really does feel like a sketchbook. There are glossy pages at the end showing some of the final works made from the sketches in the book.

The book provides us with a selection from Perry’s sketchbooks starting with his student days at art college in Portsmouth, to the sketches for his House for Essex which welcomed its first guests in 2015. I would have loved to have seen sketches for his self portrait “Map of Days” but these weren’t included. There were however sketches for other work based around imaginary maps.  There are sketches, collage, felt pens, inks and washes, technical drawings… I never knew what would be on the next page and suspended all other reading as I worked my way through this book. It is so interesting that no matter what format the final work – tapestry, ceramic, clothing, etching, motorbike, furniture, house – they all start out as a sketch. Large or small, 2d or 3d, traditional art media or the blinking enormous and unexpected, they all start as sketches and this blows me away.

I was introduced to his work via the OCA who referenced his Reith lectures in an introductory course. I found these both engaging and accessible. What I find possibly even more compelling than his work is his creative process, and this book shines a massive detailed spotlight onto that process. His introduction is the best reason yet I’ve seen for keeping a sketchbook (ie not just a blog or a notebook full of lines and words).

A sketchbook is a place where I can discuss ideas with myself, a place I work through and refine an idea […] before I will let it run around the studio and then the world. A sketchbook is an airlock for visual thoughts. […] The sketchbook is the place to make mistakes – they are cheap in time and materials. The sketchbook is where I download my visual ideas for the first time.

(Perry, 2016)

Reading this book made me think about all the things I “kept meaning to do” with my own sketchbook. I owned up to both a Fine Art friend and the wider OCA community that my sketching is crap and I want to improve (I am the sketching equivalent of illiterate). So now I sketch one thing every day and send it to my friend. I’m going to have a few lessons with her too, in between finishing this course and starting whatever the next one will be. I went to the stationers and tried to explain what I needed to secure photos in my sketchbook in such a way that they could be seen and removed/replaced.


Perry, G. (2016). Sketchbooks. 1st ed. UK: Particular Books.


3 thoughts on “Sketchbooks by Grayson Perry

  1. Catherine March 28, 2017 / 5:47 pm

    You’ve made it sound so interesting that I think that’s one I’m going to have to look at when I’m in a well-equipped bookshop in London.

    I think it’s a great idea to have an arrangement like that with a friend who practises art in a different way. I’m pretty poor at sketching as well, despite having two sets of lessons and Betty Edwards’ drawing workbook. I’ve been thinking what I really need is to have a day where I’m in a room somewhere else with nothing to distract me so I can only concentrate on what Iv’e said I’d like to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kate March 29, 2017 / 12:53 pm

      It’s definitely worth a look. I’ve said to Holly that I want to attend the next Thames Valley OCA meet, so can bring it with me then if you want. My copy came from an independent book shop in Bath that has a very well chosen arts section.
      Empty rooms all the way! Apparently daily practice helps too, or so I’m told. Yes, I’m very fortunate to be able to work with Clare.


  2. Catherine March 29, 2017 / 1:05 pm

    Oh, I’d love to see the book. It would be lovely to meet you as well.

    I know that daily practice helps but there are so many distractions at home. I keep thinking I should go on a residential course and then I really will have to focus.


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