I first became aware of the value and use of the sketchbook when at the Nottingham College of Art many years ago. After a life in the commercial world of graphics and photography but always needing to draw.  I then started using a sketchbook again in the 1990s.

In my possession was a large thread sewn hard cover book, this had been produced for a book design project that I had been working on.  The book was made up of high gloss art paper, the surface being unsuitable for pencil or watercolour. But I found it ideal for fine liners and marker pens.

Markers proved excellent for working outdoors and I could blend them with the use of hairspray. I used ‘Tippex’ as an opaque white. After a few years this book became full.  I then started using concertina cartridge sketchbooks. I have now completed eight of these. Apart from recording what I see they are used for the development of ideas. Most of my paintings and linocuts start as an image worked up in my sketchbook.  Composition, colour, tone and detail are explored in my sketchbooks.

After Sunrise

These sketches were part of a demonstration article for the Artist Magazine. The initial pencil composition resulted from seeing sail craft on their way to Paimpol in Brittany. The colour composition then followed. I wanted the sky to have the colouration seen after sunrise. Additionally studies of the rigging were necessary. Care was needed in devising the order of the  colourful bunting, making sure not to spell out anything offensive.

Sketches at Cowes Week

Marker pens heightened with white ‘Tippex’.  Quickly capturing colour and action. Resulting from these small beginnings, I created three linocuts and two small paintings.

At the Dartmouth Regatta

Drawn from onboard a yacht having just completed the ‘Parade of Sail’. Was happy with the composition showing the castle in the background. I did some more work on this sketch in the evening below deck. Eventually this sketch inspired a gouache painting.

Faversham Creek

A pencil sketch of Thames Barges on their way down river.  I particularly wanted to record the cloud patterns in the sky. Back in my studio the drawing was developed into the colour sketch. It later became the design for a linocut.


One evening before an early sail to Brittany on the following morning. Sitting with my sketchbook capturing the soft light and the impressive large thunder cloud. I think I was able to successfully portray the atmosphere of time and place.

L’Aber Wrac’h Brittany

Provident moored up in the harbour after a night sail from Plymouth. Recording this busy sky sometimes not easy using markers. But I had plenty of time to work on this sketch. I often support a sketch with a photo for detail just in case it becomes a painting.

John shares more pages from his sketchbooks in Part 2 and Part 3

View John's works in the Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition

The Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition runs until 10 October.