Elinor Brass is an artist. She also happens to be an art teacher, who found it hard to fit her own practice around her teaching duties.
This is why she set up Sketchbook Circle, a monthly sketchbook exchange between Artist Educators across the UK. We interview Elinor about how it works, why it's important to have that creative conversation, and why other artist educators should sign up for 2016.
What inspired you to start Sketchbook Circle?
I did my masters part-time whilst teaching full-time early on in my career, and I learnt to become quite disciplined in my making, keeping my skills and my ideas moving. Once that was completed, I missed the chance to connect with other makers and also found it tough to keep up my practice alongside a busy life as a teacher. With another friend, who is also an artist educator, we decided we would seek a new way to commit to our practice and brought together a group of people we knew in education, who were also committed to making work, and arranged them into our first sketchbook circle. The idea being that we would collaborate, exchange and inspire one another.
How does the project work?
The circle is organised at the beginning of the year. This year we have 175 artist educators from around the country involved. Everyone buys a sketchbook, small enough to fit through a letterbox, which they then make some work in (or record larger work in.) They then post it to the person next to them in the circle (everyone posts in the same direction.) So everyone sends a book and everyone receives a book. The person receiving the book has one month to make work in response to what they have received, and then posts it back to the original sender. It means that the members are having an in-depth conversation with two artists over a year, but everyone is connected via a large circle. We use Facebook to post snippets of work to share and it is a really active and supportive group. We also have events that happen across the country. For example, currently Sketchbook Circle have an exhibition at The Baltic in the North East and in February there will be an exhibition of the 2015 circle at Gerald Moore Gallery in London. Alongside this there will be workshops, the chance for people to meet their sketchbook partners and to make connections with other artist educators from all over the country. This year we have developed a monthly mailout which is curated by a different artist educator each time. We have sent out fun art materials or posted some exciting resources and these have been really well received by participants.
Why do you think these kind of collaborative projects are so successful?
I suppose part of it is that there is never enough time to make when you are a teacher, as there is always something else that you should be doing! But by committing to the project you are actually saying that you are going to commit to your own practice and your own well-being. And if you don't make something - however small - you are letting your partner down too, which helps people to find time. The supportive nature of the group is very powerful too; many of those involved have indicated how important it has been to them both as artists and as teachers. The sketchbooks are used in lessons, and teachers have set up circles for their students, and for other teachers in their school (non-artists too). With creative subjects very much under threat in schools it has kept people connected to others who can offer advice and encouragement.
Do you have a favourite kind of sketchbook?
I am a bit of a kraft paper fan and so often that is what I choose to start with for sketchbook circle.
Why should someone join Sketchbook Circle for 2016?
I find that it's exciting to receive something that you have to react to. It means that you don't only make what is comfortable or obvious. I think it is about investing in your own making, connecting with others and it is so lovely to get exciting things through the post each month!
Visit the Sketchbook Circle website to join for 2016. To register your interest, email firstname.lastname@example.org before the end of 2015.
Shop for sketchbooks and sketch pads online at Cass Art.
If you too are an Artist Educator, you can sign up for a Viridian Card at Cass Art, which gives artist educators discount for life and contributes to The Sorrell Foundation.