Akash Bhatt is a mixed media artist whose sketchbook practice is at the core of his work. Here, Akash describes his variety of different sketchbooks, including custom made books, designed for drawing at the different locations and situations he finds himself in, as an unrelenting observer of the world.
Akash Bhatt Takes Us Through His Sketchbook Practice
The importance of sketchbooks in an artist’s everyday life was something that was instilled in me by my tutors when I was studying A level Art. This proved to be one of the best pieces of advice I would receive during any of my formal Art education. Sketchbook work has since become the central point of all my work.
It remains the one constant, a companion to turn to. A place to record ideas, especially the fleeting ones which otherwise would fly away forever. Generally I have a couple of sketchbooks that are in use at any one time.
These are small to medium sized sketchbooks, used daily when I am able to sit and draw in public places like on trains (small books) and coffee shops (slightly larger but still discreet). This part of my work has been on hold during the last two years naturally due to the pandemic but I am gradually finding small windows of opportunity to re-establish this. Both the sets of books are numbered in sequence. These drawings do not necessarily go any further than the book but form a very important part of my understanding of the human figure. Having said that they can on occasion inform a work in progress when least expected.
This section of my sketchbook work is as important and relevant as that of working on a very specific subject as it makes me free of any constraints, and gives space for ideas to develop. It is also one of the ways I have found to unwind especially on those occasions when I have hit a brick wall during studio work. Therefore it proves to be a way to indirectly problem solve things going on in the studio and quite often in other areas of life. For me it has similar health properties also to be found in going on a long run during which I can find a solution to otherwise difficult obstacles.
There are also travel sketchbooks that are of varying sizes. These are specifically for when I am setting out on an overseas journey. Usually two or three small/medium ready made books and one big handmade ‘bible’ sized one that is made up of a variety of different quality papers. In the early 90’s my uncle from India came to visit us and he taught me how to do bookbinding and this invaluable lesson meant that from here on I was able to make a book specifically tailored to my needs.
The handmade books, due to the variety of different papers incorporated means I am able to use a wide range of materials on them from traditional drawing tools and paint to mixed media. I generally use water based media due to its quicker drying time when on location. The papers in the book as such have to be of a sufficient weight in order to be able to withstand quite a heavy handed use of mixed media.
As my career progressed and travel gradually became an important part of my practice I found it necessary to be able to work quickly due to time and financial constraints when on location so a book in which I was able to work in different mediums became crucial.
The reference material collected in the sketchbooks is solely about gathering as much information as is possible in the limited time I have. Quite a lot of which will normally go unused. Also in these books it is easy to lose yourself in the process of working out ideas as you are less precious about what is being done and this spontaneity can hopefully be transferred to any finished piece that may develop as a result.
The purpose of the sketchbook for me is to put everything into it and later sift through and take the bits that are reusable. Often a series of different drawings have parts that can be chopped and made into something new in the studio.
Drawing Board Drawings
Together with these sketchbooks I also carry a homemade drawing board on location which holds different papers. Together with the sketchbooks this gives me a good cross-section of material from which I can pick, choose and chop. These loose drawings are all done on location and can take a few hours to complete. They usually indicate a general composition for later studio work.
Another important part of my practice that is closely connected to the sketchbook work are these drawings done from my studio window. Again they offer me some light relief from painting while still providing ideas for new projects.
At home, especially during the pandemic, my daily sketchbooks are really a diary, a place for myself primarily, which on some occasions may be of use for other work. While the act of drawing is my main interest, within the space of a sketchbook I can stick, paint over and explore a wide range of material mostly for my own enjoyment.
I think this is the most important aspect of any sketchbook work – use it as a place that gives you space and allows you to feel free.
Getting into the regular habit of using a sketchbook is key in the development of ideas which is why I always carry a small sketchbook when I am going out. Drawing is the foundation of all my work and is every bit as important as any painting produced as a result of it. That is why the advice I received as a student is still relevant today. I would say to anyone starting out to try and incorporate drawing and sketchbook work into their everyday practice to the point it becomes second nature as this benefits the mind as well as the work in my experience.
Sketchbooks have always provided me with a comfort zone, a place to retreat to during good times and bad. Their importance in my daily life cannot be overly stressed.
About Akash Bhatt
Akash Bhatt was born in Leicester and studied at Loughborough College of Art, the University of Westminster and St Martin’s School of Art. He has exhibited widely in many group exhibitions including The BP Portrait Award, The Sunday Times Watercolour exhibition and the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize.
He says of his practice, ‘My interest lies in people and their habitats. I have often travelled extensively researching for new projects; however I am equally comfortable gathering inspiration from in and around where I live.’
Bhatt’s work and process are informed by his sketchbooks and notebooks filled with notes and drawings from observations and drawings of everyday imagery and objects.
Further Reading on the Jackson’s Art Blog