Scattergun Strategy – The Only Approach For Me
I do a lot of different things, professionally speaking. I always have done. If it involves sketching, drawing or broadcasting, I’ve probably tried it, with greater or lesser degrees of success.
Some years ago, my husband referred to my “scattergun” approach, and it wasn’t intended as a compliment, but as a means for me to see the error of my ways. It really hit hard, because I knew it was true. But I didn’t change my erroneous ways – because I don’t think I knew any other way to be. In the end most of the things I tried paid off, and now I embrace the scattergun approach. It’s just the way some people are – they get a whim and they follow it. For a while, I thought that once I became established as a teacher I would calm down and roll along in one lane, but I get these creative urges and I can’t resist them. They get me out of bed in the morning – I can’t wait to get to my studio and scattergun the heck out of the place.
As well as sketching, drawing and broadcasting, I sew stuff, with or without a pattern. I have done this since I was old enough to use my mother’s sewing machine – about ten years old or so, but it took a long time for me to make anything that was properly finished, something I could wear with confidence, or give as a gift with pride.
A Sketching Bag Can Be As Useful As A Small Pot – Or Not
Over the last ten years, I have owned plenty of sketching bags. Some were better than others, but they were usually too heavy, too small, had too few compartments (one had too many) or were just plain inconvenient. One of them stood out for its toughness and versatility, and I brought it everywhere for years, but it was too small to contain a sketchbook and I couldn’t use it standing up. So I decided to design my own. I scribbled out a few designs, went to YouTube for help with sewing patterns, and off I set.
Here are just SOME of the early versions, that all had something wrong with them:
- The very first. Far too small – you’ll see the inside in the next diagram.
- Still too small.
- I made a few more or less the same, thinking everything was about right…
- …but there was something I didn’t like about this style.
- This one never even made it to the finishing line. You can see pins if you peer closely.
- I didn’t like the white stitching in this one – and I felt the back pocket wasn’t roomy enough.
- Getting better, with the addition of an outside pocket for my phone – but I wasn’t sure about the fold-over design…
I put out a call to my students to give me advice, and they answered, giving me their time and opinions about what they thought would be nice elements in the bag. One of them suggested the layout I now have; someone suggested a better position for the D-rings; they were unanimous that I should use branded fabric. Luckily I had lots of a beautiful linen cotton canvas covered in my own design, left over from some simple sketch pouches I made, at the start of the pandemic.
Here are two early versions: on the left, no.1 is the very first one I made, and nothing fits properly anywhere, really. It’s well sewn, because I followed someone’s pattern on YouTube (she’s called Erica Arndt and she does exquisite sewing tutorials). But it was not fit for purpose, even though the ink stain on the left tells you I gave it a good whirl before I admitted defeat. So I made the one on the right, using roughly the same pattern, but increasing the dimensions. Actually, No.2 here is about five designs later, but I hadn’t yet made the significant change that was to come…
The Significant Change
One evening I was at my parents’ house on the east coast of Ireland, and an old friend of theirs was visiting. He used to be a big player in an Irish government business support agency, supporting various companies in various ways. I value his opinion, so I asked him what he would do differently.
“It’s very heavy,” he said (he was due for back surgery shortly afterwards, which was successful, and now thinks he never thought it was heavy. But I took it on board nonetheless). “And I don’t like the zip tail sticking out.”
I didn’t like the latter either, so he was only confirming what I knew I must do. I went back to square one and redesigned the bag to be made of two separate pieces on the outside, rather than one foldover piece, which meant the zip went in a different way. It was better, but required hand-sewing at the end, and many times I came very close to pricking my finger and getting blood on the fabric. That’s just not attractive. Added to that was the fact that my eyesight isn’t what it was, so I have trouble threading a needle. Then I went to a hen party last June, after which there was a trip to a nightclub, at which I decided to forget the 55 years of wear and tear that my body carries, and danced like a fool, damaging my neck in the process. So now sewing is a little trying for me. It was frustrating, because I loved the bag, which had a few names before I settled on one that I loved the minute I thought of it.
Meet the SketchPocket.
Before we get onto the next part of the story, let me tell you how the bag performs for an urban- or on-location sketching session.
Here are all the stages of sketching with a SketchPocket:
- I put the strap over my shoulder and lean the bag against my hip.
- I unzip the bag with its chunky zip and leather zip-pull, and the bag flaps open, and everything is secure inside.
- I take out the sketchbook (top half pocket) and use the magnetic clips (bottom half pocket) to hold down the pages.
- Then I can take a fude pen (elastic strip on top half) and sketch.
- If I need to refill, I take the vial of ink and do an ink pit-stop from the vial (elastic strip in centre aisle).
- When I’m ready to paint, I put the pen back, having used the white gel pen to fix any mistakes. It’s right there next to the pens.
- Then I take out one of the paint boxes (in pocket on lower half of the bag) and attach it to one of the magnetic-faced clips.
- I choose one of two waterbrushes (elastic strip on top half, next to pens) and paint.
- I dab excess water on the wristband that comes in the bag (back pocket, top half).
- I take a pic of the finished sketch, with the phone that’s in the exterior pocket (lower half).
- All of this is done without changing position or bending down to reach water.
Lady Luck Pays Me A Visit
So I knew the bag did what I had hoped it would do, but I also knew I needed help. Someone who would make the bags for me. A person who was young, who could see holes in needles well and who had a good neck. Many such people would be even better, each sewing just one small piece of the cotton canvas jigsaw that my bag had become. But I had no idea where I would find someone like this, so I stopped thinking about it, and there the project would have lain, if it were not for a series of lucky occurences…
The first was in August last year, when I held one of my in-person workshops. (I do these every August, only in Galway City, and only for six people, because I like small groups and anyway it rains too much for big groups in Galway.) I always meet the nicest people in my workshops, and in this one I met the wonderful Lorraine, a lady from Belfast who has many years working in and teaching textile design, and had a few contacts in the industry. Lucky strike number one.
She gave me the name of two leads: one was a collective in Dublin making textile products, sewn by women who had experienced difficulties of one form or another, and the other was a guy she knew from Belfast, called Stephen, and I got in touch with both parties. The Dublin factory had no availability for the forthcoming period, but Stephen in Belfast was very helpful indeed, and by the middle of autumn things were well underway. I had to (reluctantly) send my only existing SketchPocket to the factory Stephen works with, as they would need to take it apart and poke it about in order to know how to make it. Meanwhile, the people in Dublin gave me the name of a professional pattern drafter, who turned out to be excellent. All I had to do was send this lady a sample of the bag (I couldn’t sew fast enough for all these bags I had to send around) and a few diagrams more or less like the ones in this article, but with dimensions, and she’d take care of the rest. Lucky strike number two.
Getting the computer-designed image back from the pattern drafter was one of those “chills” moments: not a scrap of fabric had been cut by anyone but me, but once this professional in the field had modelled the bag on a screen I felt things were in motion. When I had tweaked it a little I paid her and she sent me a file that could be read by anyone with the right sort of package on their computer, something bag and clothes manufacturers would all have. It’s a .dxf file, in case you’re interested, whatever one of those is. All I know is I can’t open it.
The pattern was sent to Lorraine’s contact in Belfast, who had samples made, and last week they arrived in my home. That was another of those chills-down-the-spine moments, and the factory had done a beautiful job, albeit with a few tweaks necessary. I had this amazing feeling that you’re not alone: after an entire lifetime of doing whimsical things all on my own (such is the nature of being an artist) I now know that if you want something to go a little further, you’re not alone. This is a beautiful and heady thing to realise. It feels wonderful.
I am going to save the big reveal for next week’s instalment, as I have a lot to tell you, and you probably want to get on with things. I have thoughts on the fabric I want to use, too, and I will share those thoughts with you…hint: I am going to go a little premium with the fabric choice! I have a meeting with Stephen at the end of the week, and I can hardly wait to see what the next step is.
Join me, same time, same place, next week!