Sonia Brittain -- a Sketchbook Conversation

Today I'm chatting with Sonia Brittain and I'm delighted to have her here sharing her sketchbook story:

So Sketchbooks, where do I start - they are one of my favorite things. I have been fascinated with them since a child. I loved looking through other peoples, and always enjoyed keeping them for school. However, looking back I was always a bit precious about them, and almost reluctant to use them as art supplies seemed really expensive when I was a child. I felt happier to draw on the cheap sugar paper we given at school or in a low cost notebook. I always loved viewing the sketchbooks of artists such as Van Gogh, or Turner and sometimes prefer the quick sketches to the finished pieces.

Sonia Brittain, Sketchbooks, nature drawings, plants, flowers, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

While people throughout history have always experienced recorded events in sketch form, I guess I am thinking about sketches from artists in the trenches in the First World War, botanists, explorers etc, I think the internet has really opened up the huge variety and ways that anyone can get involved in starting or keeping up a sketchbook practice. I have always loved those art books that let you look through peoples sketchbooks, I'm thinking Julia Rothmans one here, though I have several on my shelves. 

Sonia Brittain, Sketchbooks, people sketches, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

It was though flicking through artist and illustrators blogs on the internet while I was pregnant with my first child that I really got inspired to start keeping one again of my own. I loved in particular looking through the sketchbooks of Jennifer Orkin Lewis and her daily drawing project. Initially I was still quite timid with my early small sketchbooks, they tended to be small ones I was given as gift, I used pencil and ink and I was mainly sketching my babies. I wasn't very consistent as I had my first two boys quite close together and my day to day life was a blur of babies, toddlers and not much sleep.

Sonia Brittain, Sketchbooks, people sketching, children, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

For me, the change in how I grew more confident and regular in my sketchbook use came when we moved as a family from London to Basel Switzerland in 2014 for my husband's job, when the youngest of my three boys was 3 months old. As a stay at home mum in a new country I initially felt quite isolated and homesick. I missed family and friends and I didn't go out as much with my new baby as I did not feel as confident nursing in public as I did back in London. Spending so much more time indoors I decided to start sketching every day while my baby napped. 

Sonia Brittain, Sketchbooks, children, people sketches, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

I started in an old cheap notebook and this time round I decided to use watercolour as well. I started to really enjoy drawing and painting again, and once we moved to our permanent accommodation I decided to really commit to a daily practice by signing up to instagram and posting daily. I also hoped to find a community of people doing the same, and to get inspiration. I completed this year long challenge and it was amazing for me. I became more confident in how I used my sketchbooks. I really got into gouache paint, basically because you can use it on the cheapest paper, and I really like the opaque effect. I was fairly organized, and had weekly themes during the first year, basically because I had more time as my baby napped a lot. 

Sonia Brittain, Sketchbooks, plates, china, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

It was great fun, and I loved interacting with other artists on instagram who had a similar interest to me. My family really aren't that into art, or the sort of art I am into, so I actually kept it a secret for ages from family and friends. It was great to have something outside of the stresses of family life. For me, parenting is the hardest thing ever, there is a lot of testosterone in my house, and there is some quirky and lively wiring going on. 

Sonia Brittain, Sketchbooks, children, people sketches, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

I think my daily art making is a kind of therapy for me, I think I'm more crabby and reactive if I don't do a little drawing or doodling. Drawing and running have helped me get through moving, broken bones, emotional dramas, and getting melancholy or anxious about stuff going on in the world. There are so many things that are out of our control, but what I draw, when I draw is something I can control, even if it's just a quick five minute sketch after everyones gone to sleep.

Sonia Brittain, Sketchbooks, Iris Flowers, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

I think I realized pretty early on that year that I wasn't going to want to stop, I have used and tried all sorts sketchbooks since then. One of my favorites is a vintage one my dad gave me years ago but I was too scared to use. I like the moleskine ones too, but I still feel a little inhibited in them because they are more pricey.

Sonia Brittain, Sketchbooks, landscapes, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

The last year has been more challenging because we've moved again, from Switzerland to California, and it was a more complicated move involving 4 months of living with my very understanding and kind parents. I drew a lot but I did lapse at times and having all the kids off meant I didn't get to do the detailed gouache sketches I previously enjoyed doing. 

Sonia Brittain, Sketchbooks, Nature Sketching, plants, flowers, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

Now we are getting more settled and I'm getting back into drawing and painting again. I've got several sketchbooks on the go, and I draw and doodle a lot in my journal too. I keep varying how I use sketchbooks at the moment. At one point I grouped sketchbooks into themes and subjects, i.e, the 100 day project of drawing my clothes as I decluttered my wardrobe. With all the moving , and the concern I was getting a bit precious again, I started just sketching whatever I wanted to, so recent ones are full of quick sketches of the kids, food, flowers, urban sketches etc.

Sonia Brittain, Sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

The great thing about sketchbooks is that they are your space to play. When I look back at a page I can often recall clearly where I was, what was going on, even my mood at the time, because, I think you are more engaged in the moment, than perhaps you would be by taking a photo. 

Sonia Brittain, Sketchbooks, portrait, people drawings, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

Thanks to the internet and blogs like yours Anne, I now know, that I am far from being alone and there are loads of other people the world over who love drawing as much as I do, and that is motivating in itself.

Sonia Brittain, Sketchbooks, figs, food illustration, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

Thank you, Sonia, for sharing your sketchbooks with us today!

Dear reader you can connect with Sonia on Instagram and purchase her art on Society6.

Missed the other Sketchbook Conversations posts? It's easy to catch up at the series web page.

And for even more inspiration, check out my Artist Interviews

*Photos in this post ©Sonia Brittain. Used with permission.


  1. I loved reading this! It's so good to get to know another artist a bit better. I'm in a bit of a rut creatively and think I really need to use my sketchbook to get through it, without feeling restricted.

    1. Hi, Bekki, so glad you enjoyed this post. Sketchbooks are great for working through creative ruts.

      Hope you find your way. Take your time doing it and enjoy it!

  2. Sonia you have a great talent for capturing movement in the human form! Your work is diverse and energetic and you have got yourself a fan! Anne, thanks again for bringing to light another talented sketchbook artist. :)

    1. Glad you enjoyed this Sketchbook Conversation, too, Simone. Sonia is always an inspiration and I'm glad you now count yourself as a fan! :)

  3. Such an inspiring interview.

    1. Thanks, Dana! Sonia is such an inspiration, isn't she?!


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