Sketchbook/Notebook methodology

Sketch­books and note­books are one and the same when you are an artist. Sketch­es are notes and notes illus­tra­tions of moments of inspi­ra­tion and enquiry.  The most impor­tant part of any sys­tem is to stay out of the way of cre­ativ­i­ty and spark that lights our fire. Pages of draw­ings can be free con­ven­tions unless deserv­ing of cat­e­go­riza­tion. 

Note­books will have pages num­bered before start­ing so as to allow for greater flex­i­bil­i­ty. This way, any page can be used day to day. 

Each page should be dat­ed, have a head­ing and list atten­dees where applic­a­ble.

Index may be a use­ful addi­tion if it does­n’t waste pages. Index could be a list of projects and rel­a­tive page num­bers list­ed in a row.

Daily list

Note­book is a per­fect place for dai­ly list man­age­ment and lists should be rewrit­ten at the end of each day.  TO-DO items can be gen­er­at­ed organ­i­cal­ly or come from anoth­er sys­tem. Dai­ly goals, tar­gets and to-dos should be achiev­able in the time avail­able, with new items being added organ­i­cal­ly through­out the day.  

Daily sweep

Lists and notes from the day should be reviewed and reor­ga­nized into a new dai­ly list for the next day. Items rolling over should be assessed and or trans­ferred into anoth­er sys­tem. 


Projects can be fleshed out and ideat­ed in a note­book but should ulti­mate­ly live in a more robust sys­tem where they can be man­aged and assigned effec­tive­ly.

Notes are blocks of text with­out actions and can be of any length and can end in a page num­ber at a lat­er time to expand on an idea. p 22

Lists start with a bul­let “•”. List items are assumed tasks that can be assigned or esca­lat­ed to a project on anoth­er page. Events are denot­ed with an “o” URGENT items “[]” should be han­dled imme­di­ate­ly or placed in a system/page bet­ter equipped to get it done. 

•     item one
•     item two
>    assigned — Fred
<    esca­lat­ed to project p3
O   Meet­ing with Bob­by
[]   URGENT to pri­or­i­ty page or oth­er sys­tem
✓  com­plet­ed tasks get a tick
X   can­celled tasks get an x
-    wait­ing for oth­ers tasks to com­plete

List cap­ture should be organ­ic and free flow­ing with items being reprocessed, recon­struct­ed or can­celled on the fly. As with a sketch it is vital that thoughts be able to flow rather than seek­ing per­fec­tion in either tone, struc­ture or clar­i­ty.  


Post-its, nap­kins and oth­er scraps of paper are an inevitable and valu­able part of any func­tion­ing sys­tem and should be includ­ed in the dai­ly sweep where the can become more per­ma­nent in nature and part of the broad­er sys­tem. 



Original Post from 2011

When work­ing with new teams it should be assumed that par­tic­i­pants have lit­tle or no expe­ri­ence with project man­age­ment and task del­e­ga­tion with­in a team envi­ron­ment. A brief intro­duc­tion to agile and scrum sys­tems is ben­e­fi­cial.

Each of the new teams takes time to famil­iarise them­selves with their final con­cept and the brief to which it must ful­fil. A detailed work plan is devel­oped, break­ing down every ele­ment that can be iden­ti­fied: timescales for deliv­ery, pri­or­i­ties and depen­den­cies. These project lists and their assign­ment need to be agreed by the team before being put into action.

Facil­i­ta­tors need to over­see this process to ensure that the aims are real­is­tic and can be achieved with­in the scope of the pro­gramme.

After note: Fiver years on. 

One of the dif­fi­cul­ties in mov­ing this mod­el of work into a degree type pro­gramme is the lack of facil­i­ta­tion time. There­fore, plan­ning demon­stra­tion becomes a lec­ture and leave mod­el instead of a more gran­u­lar approach, where stu­dents and staff sit and break down a project togeth­er. The lack of time is a prod­uct of the prob­lem and the prob­lem is a prod­uct of man­age­ment and process. It can also be a prod­uct of design.

In a per­fect world, hours could be spent between small teams and facil­i­ta­tors, in the devel­op­ment of an ade­quate method­ol­o­gy and under­stand­ing of the plan­ning of each project. How­ev­er in the hier­ar­chy of desir­able inputs and out­puts, how to man­age comes with the bur­den of what to man­age, who is for, when is it for and most often for­got­ten by all involved, what is the point.

Trouble spots: Facebook

There are a huge num­ber of free and pow­er­ful tools for man­ag­ing projects, Asana, Trel­lo, Todoist or Wun­derlist are pop­u­lar. Each of which come with a very small learn­ing curve in order to get the most out of them. How­ev­er these prod­ucts have the same mil­len­ni­al prob­lem as email. If it is off the habit trail it will require rep­e­ti­tion and rou­tine to acquire suf­fi­cient mas­tery to extract val­ue. 

There­for stu­dents like to com­mu­ni­cate in ded­i­cat­ed Face­book groups shar­ing thoughts, images, ques­tions and feed­back. Unfa­mil­iar with projects of a larg­er scope, this process leads ini­tial feel­ings of grat­i­fi­ca­tion through pop­u­la­tion close­ly fol­lowed by unbe­liev­able lev­els of stress. Posts get lost in the water­fall, com­ments lose their con­text and nobody can find what they are look­ing for effi­cient­ly. The per­va­sive and inva­sive nature of Face­book leaves stu­dents unable to focus due to con­stant inter­rup­tions, dis­tract­ing each team­mate from the work at hand and giv­ing them a greater sense of falling behind, being over­whelmed and increas­ing­ly inse­cure. This inse­cu­ri­ty is com­pound­ed by an induced inabil­i­ty to make sim­ple deci­sions, defer­ring the sim­plest of choic­es to the team in-turn, increas­ing the team’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion traf­fic and cog­ni­tive load.

Pretty soon this spiral leads to a breaking point

Sce­nario One: Some­one snaps. The team feel­ing a great sense of empa­thy and respon­si­bil­i­ty jumps in to fill the gap. Not work­ing with­in an appro­pri­ate project man­age­ment sys­tem leaves the team at a loss as to what exact­ly the per­son was work­ing on or what was actu­al­ly done.

Sce­nario Two: Ten­sions with­in the team lead to infight­ing and a break­down of com­mu­ni­ca­tion begins. Visions sep­a­rate and egos get tram­pled. Team mem­bers may begin to feel dis­en­fran­chised and work away from the team. Miss­ing meet­ings and vital com­mu­ni­ca­tions around tech­ni­cal issues where their input may be crit­i­cal. As this pro­gress­es, griev­ances esca­late even­tu­al­ly requir­ing inter­ven­tion.

Sce­nario Three: Pas­sive team mem­bers are unable to keep up with the con­stant stream of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.  And/Or has had a com­mu­ni­ca­tion or com­ment ignored. Shoul­ders shrug, frus­tra­tion leads per­haps to a feel­ing of why both­er or just a sense of being ignored or left out. “Well some­one knows what’s going on… I’ll just sit here and wait until some­one tells me what to do”.

Process development

When things appear hard or get dif­fi­cult famil­iar­i­ty beats advan­tage every time. It is only after expe­ri­enc­ing the pain of fail­ure will a group of stu­dents adopt a new man­age­ment process. This runs con­trary to tech­ni­cal skills where stu­dents dis­play a high lev­el of adapt­abil­i­ty and per­se­ver­ance is abun­dant­ly evi­dent. The man­age­ment of the project is not ini­tial­ly seen as a valu­able com­po­nent on a par with the tech­nique, design or nar­ra­tive.  Fun­ni­ly enough, sim­i­lar­i­ties with this approach is also evi­dent when it comes draw­ing. Plan­ning, per­spec­tive, form struc­ture are often skipped in favour of shad­ing or colour, lead­ing to ade­quate results which are dif­fi­cult to redi­rect. 

As we grad­u­ate our first final year, the teams that have adopt­ed the most struc­tured mod­els for project man­age­ment have by far the most cre­ative, ambi­tious and suc­cess­ful out­comes. Cracks appear because of process more often than artis­tic or tech­ni­cal abil­i­ty. Some are unavoid­able results of per­son­al feel­ings about work hours and avail­abil­i­ty or matu­ri­ty but almost all prob­lems that impact a project or staff time are a direct result of inef­fec­tive plan­ning. 

Plan — Produce — Update Plan — Repeat

Inspire, Con­cep­tu­alise, Refine, Eval­u­ate, Plan & Pro­duce. They are the orig­i­nal six steps for the design think­ing mod­el I’ve been work­ing with for quite a few years now. A huge part of the prob­lem in devel­op­ing an under­stand­ing of design think­ing or cre­ative prob­lem solv­ing or what­ev­er we want to call it, is the real­i­sa­tion that it is a five step mod­el in exe­cu­tion and a six step mod­el in expla­na­tion. Plan­ning and pro­duc­tion are inter­twined in a nev­er end­ing dance of com­pro­mise and promise. 





Playing with some HP5 and Tri‑X

Over the past few months I’ve been using film again, after about fif­teen years of being sole­ly dig­i­tal in most of my image mak­ing. A few months ago I was reunit­ed with the Nikon FM that I learned on and caught the film bug again. That said, I was nev­er much of a fan of the FM as a gen­er­al walk around town cam­era. It is a great cam­era and beau­ti­ful to use but not far enough removed from my Canon 6D, which I real­ly love. The light meter in the FM is also quite good for the time, but I’m total­ly lazy. Even though as a kid I had learned how to think about light and cre­ate an expo­sure, I’m more like­ly to trust the dot and snap than pause and think.

Sies­ta in Orense, Spain.

A cou­ple of months ago while trolling eBay I came across an old Leica M2 with a Leitz Sum­mar lens for £200. Bar­gain of all bar­gains I imag­ined know­ing it must be a bit of a wreck. Turned out it was. Shut­ter was full of holes, tim­ing was off and the body was leak­ing light.

Repairs of this nature are beyond my novice skills, so I sent it off to Red Dot Cam­eras in Lon­don for an over­haul. Weeks lat­er I got an email to let me know that this one was beyond repair. Dis­ap­point­ed I said thanks and that I’d try myself as this cam­era would be used and not put in a case like most of its gen­er­a­tion. Hours lat­er I got a call say­ing they would do their best and only charge me about 30% of the orig­i­nal esti­mate, only the work would not be guar­an­teed.

Ire­land’s Eye

The Sum­mar that was with the M2 has a beau­ti­ful dreamy qual­i­ty sim­i­lar to putting a bunch of vase­line on the fil­ter.  While beau­ti­ful, I can get the same effect in pho­to­shop with a lit­tle more con­trol. Since then, I was able to get a Sum­mi­cron 50mm from about the same peri­od in the 1950’s and have been delight­ed with the results. I blew off a few rolls of colour film wing­ing expo­sures and at times pulling out the dig­i­tal cam­era when I was unsure. The Canon 6D is a pret­ty incred­i­ble light meter… even gives a stun­ning pre­view. 

The Kid

Pre­vi­ous­ly, the clos­est I’d come to a rangefind­er was a Con­tax T2 which isn’t one at all but is clos­er than my SLR cam­eras. The M2 is old and the patch is dim. Focus­ing is work. So much so that you slow down. You find your­self think­ing about the image, the light, the expo­sure, the com­po­si­tion and that light sound­ing click and but­tery Leica wind-on which is sur­pris­ing­ly sat­is­fy­ing. Tak­ing pic­tures of the kids is best done when they are exhaust­ed, unable to move and in excep­tion­al­ly good light.

 Paper tiger. Sutton. Dublin.

Paper tiger. Sut­ton. Dublin.

Work­ing dig­i­tal­ly for so many years has been amaz­ing. Not only are the rewards quick and acces­si­ble. So is the learn­ing. There is a great sense of “got the shot”, it’s there on the screen. The mas­sive res­o­lu­tion and tonal range of raw makes tun­ing all but the worst exposed images a dream. We read about 20 megapix­els and won­der if that is enough. 

Then you load up a roll of film like HP5 or Tri‑X. The smell gives me flash­backs to being a kid, it’s unmis­take­able. For quite a few shots I’d look at the back of the M2 after click­ing, for­get­ting that there was no bright full colour screen and laugh to myself. “See you in a few weeks, I guess”. Bet­ter make sure I got the F’n shot? More impor­tant­ly, what do I want the shot to look like? Where are my darks, lights and mid­points? What film do I have loaded?  

Belfast School of Art

Weeks lat­er when the prints arrive it’s quite excit­ing and refresh­ing­ly retro. “oOhs”, “Uhs” and “Mms” fol­lowed by a slight sense of sat­is­fac­tion. Pass­ing around prints is nice, more per­son­al than Face­book, 500px or What­sapp and sparks a much more inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion that reminds me that we now have two dif­fer­ent types of shar­ing. One that is real, per­son­al and inti­mate. The oth­er is a whole oth­er con­ver­sa­tion, for anoth­er time. 

Ori­fice, Orpheus

Get­ting scans at the same time as pro­cess­ing is also great. A great reminder of how far we have come. None of that depth of tonal range or res­o­lu­tion found in a RAW file. It just is what it is. You either got or you did­n’t. Or got some­thing unex­pect­ed that will work out just fine. Hav­ing less depth in tonal range isn’t a bad thing. The whites are there, the blacks are there as are the mid tones but there is a greater degree of sep­a­ra­tion between them, mak­ing the image more graph­ic, stronger in com­po­si­tion. 

Then, there is that grain. The world of dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy obsess­es about noise and loss of depth at high­er ISOs. Sel­dom is there a dis­cus­sion about the char­ac­ter of that noise. Tri‑X and HP5 are beau­ti­ful films both with unique char­ac­ters. They are tonal­ly dif­fer­ent. Their grain pat­terns are dif­fer­ent. Like an old friend, they are sur­pris­ing­ly for­giv­ing and great fun. 

Dad and his island. Sut­ton, Dublin. 

Will I give up dig­i­tal and just use film? Hell no. I’m a geek. I love new tech­nolo­gies and all the oppor­tu­ni­ties they bring. My phone is an amaz­ing cam­era. Using old film and cam­eras is like a cre­ative sav­ings account that pays over time. 

Enjoying Film.

It was a cold wet Jan­u­ary in Ourense, Spain, but it was still absolute­ly beau­ti­ful. It nev­er seems to get that cold but boy did it rain. And rain. And rain. Non­stop for days. Wan­der­ing around the town with an umbrel­la was nice. The rain was warm, the mood was good and the atmos­phere in the city was beau­ti­ful as usu­al. 

 Ourense, Spain.
Ourense, Spain.

It was only a cou­ple of weeks since my M2 returned from Red Dot Cam­era and I was just try­ing to get used to it and had zero con­fi­dence in my abil­i­ty to get any results at all. Armed with my trusty light meter app for android I wan­dered around snap­ping ner­vous­ly.

 Framer. Ourense, Spain.
Framer. Ourense, Spain.

Over the last 20 years I’ve become incred­i­bly used to bounc­ing around in frac­tions of stops to get the “right” expo­sure with a mod­ern Nikon or Canon DSLR. It is easy to for­get how much light does­n’t change. Espe­cial­ly when it is over­cast. Film is very for­giv­ing, even when I know I was total­ly wing­ing it, the prints looked OK. The fuji film I was using cre­at­ed real­ly nice con­trasty tones which con­vert­ed to black and white extreme­ly well.

 Fabric & Crafts. Ourense Spain
Fab­ric & Crafts. Ourense Spain

The old town part of Ourense is per­fect place to walk around. The build­ings and streets are lined with cafe’s and inter­est­ing faces and places. 

 Chestnut Roaster. Ourense, Spain
Chest­nut Roast­er. Ourense, Spain

Walk­ing around with an old Leica, with no meter is much more fun than I expect­ed. 

 Old town. Ourense Spain.
Old town. Ourense Spain.

Orense, Spain

Heading home

After a much need­ed break from work and life back at home it was time to go home. While giv­ing Estrel­la some time to say Adios to her Famil­ia, I took anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty to wan­der around the train sta­tion and get a few more pix. 

Just back from a few amaz­ing days in Orense, Spain. 

Kids & the Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM EX lens

Sev­en. For me this is about the time you want to let your kids know that they have com­plete con­trol over how they look in pho­tos. They can always feel awk­ward, shy, uncom­fort­able, But they can make it look they way they want. Con­fi­dence is an illu­sion. 

On anoth­er point pure­ly tech­ni­cal and pho­to­graph­ic. I have a love/hate rela­tion­ship with this Sig­ma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM EX lens. There are times when I take pho­tos and I hate how hor­ri­bly out of focus it is. It front focus­es by more than my canon 6D can cor­rect for and the results are ter­ri­ble. That said if I do the right thing and take my time. I can’t imag­ine a bet­ter lens for tak­ing por­traits. Switch to man­u­al focus, rock back and for­ward a few cen­time­tres, until the eye high­lights are in focus and it’s per­fect in every way. At F/1.4 there is lots of colour shift but the results are com­plete­ly pleas­ing.