Sketching through a pandemic

I am very fond of Instagram for all the connections it has allowed me — with makers, their work and their thought processes. I love my sketchbook for how it has allowed me to re-examine my connections within the world I inhabit.

It’s but natural that a sketchbook collaboration with an Instagram friend was bound to happen.

Looking for a creative connection to keep us buoyant through the pandemic, Tara and I thought we should have a go at creating a sketchbook together.

Tara’s work is influenced by the beautiful coast of Cornwall which is essentially her backyard. While I don’t have anything quite so naturally majestic surrounding me I do have the Hampstead Heath 一 a large ancient London heath to which I have formed a strong connection over the last five years.

The idea behind the collaboration was to weave these land, sky and sea elements in and out of a single sketchbook, allowing us to share with each other our love for these places.

The shared process

Although we had a theme for our project we didn’t have rules. We started in two separate sketchbooks that we regularly exchanged till they were complete. Quite naturally we settled into a prompt and response style of working. At every exchange Tara’s work in the sketchbook pages provided me with prompts to further investigate and discover my landscape.

For example – 

In the images below, all the flower line drawings were done by Tara and the backgrounds by me. I received one of the line drawings during summer when the grasses and wildflower meadows on the heath were at their peak and hence I chose to give the flowers a meadow! The other one I received during autumn when the heath was glowing yellow and that’s what I transferred into the sketchbook

There’s a certain degree of trust and openness required for a collaborative project. Although Tara and I have never met in person and our friendship and creative connection has all been online we brought that genuine interest in sharing our landscapes to this project. It was this interest that drove the project and not any predefined end result.

My process

Starting a new project is always challenging with white paper staring at you.

I remember, for my first pass in the brand new sketchbook all I took to the heath with me was an ArtGraf pencil and a green neo colour crayon. The landscape was still woody and brown with some pops of bright spring green and these two tools were enough to capture that spirit.

Keeping things simple can be a good way to start.

While working on the sketchbook I realised that looking at a landscape with a view to sharing it with someone changes how you view the landscape.

I started combing the landscape for more nuances. I started identifying different and contrasting areas of interest in the heath. I looked more closely at varying textures available in the landscape. I asked myself what was special that I wanted to choose and share it in the sketchbook.

There was also the element of responding to the prompts in the sketchbook. An opportunity to respond with similar or contrasting aspects of the landscape or with a touch of whimsy!

I spent quite a lot of time on Hampstead Heath with the sketchbook. Drawing and painting outdoors or sometimes just holding Tara’s work against different parts of the heath in an attempt to figure out my response. Since there were no rules we were free to experiment with all kinds of media and techniques. I’ve used collage, thumbnails, impressions along with good old watercolour, ink and pencil.

I’ve even stuck in a paper weaving inspired by the wildflowers on the heath.

We started the project in April 2020 and finished at the end of the year. It was a wonderful opportunity to spend time observing a landscape as it changed through different seasons and to share the observations with a creative partner. With so many things in upheaval because of the pandemic, this project provided a sense of continuity and connection.

Many years into the future when someone asks me about what I was doing during the pandemic, I will gladly reply – “Why, I was sketching!”

You can see more of the sketchbook on Tara’s website


Find out more about Tara via her website and follow her on Instagram @taraleaver

  • Tara
    Posted at 09:17h, 30 June Reply

    Shilpa it was such a pleasure to do this project with you and I’m so glad you suggested it! This is a beautiful post sharing our collaboration.

  • Gina Axlund
    Posted at 21:18h, 02 July Reply

    I’d really love to try something similar. It’s such an inspiring idea! I’ll just have to find someone to share it with first 🤔

  • Suchitra Herwadkar
    Posted at 02:32h, 03 July Reply

    This is such a great concept Shilps. Loved every bit

  • Tim Hamons
    Posted at 22:40h, 12 December Reply

    wonderful collaborative process and love how it highlights your contrasting styles and subjects. I agree, sketching is a way to keep us sane 🙂 sketching + collaboration = you could be starting a movement

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