"I like the way time disappears" - Marion Cheung talks us through the creative process behind her beautiful sketchbooks - and how you could do it, too. 

How it all began

"I got into the habit of using a sketchbook when I was about 15 - I still have that book! I always have several on the go. They are places to collect ideas, try out new materials and they're also spaces to play – especially when time is short.

A simple idea can later become something much bigger, when you have more time to develop it. Having limited amounts of time is a strength because it keeps your drawing fresh, not over-worked. A5 (approx.15cm x 10cm) suits me when I’m outside. I’m used to drawing around people, it used to bother me at first, but now I don’t mind at all."

What to draw?

"Drawing from life is the starting point for me – I draw anything and everything, from discarded shoes on the floor, to cats, flowers, and houseplants . . . the list is endless. There is no end goal in mind. I like the way time disappears and the practice keeps me creative. I feel much better afterwards - I can’t explain why!

I like to cut and paste images from magazines and print pictures from my phone, using them as starting points. I take one element from an image, doodle, re-create and expand it. Often these scribbles generate new ideas that I would never have thought of doing. I also love looking at interior design, graphics (for music and fashion), textiles and clothing. I’m especially inspired by how designers curate moodboards to gather inspiration for a collection. It’s important to feed your practice with images. The more you do it, the more your style and taste develop."

Picking paper

"Handling materials gives me ideas. I like folding paper into concertina books or folding a page into a double-page spread and stitching a few of them together. I like mixed media paper and I’ve got loads of cheap ones from The Range or Tiger. This is useful because when the paper is too nice it can be intimidating! To get over that, sometimes I stain the page with tea and stick other papers on (like pages from an old dictionary) and paint a thin layer of watered-down paint on top so that you can still see the print through the page. I might spend a morning stitching different papers together on my machine and layer these with paint. The drawing becomes more interesting and has a kind of history to it."

Materials for outings

"On weekends I plan trips out – living in Wales has many advantages! I’m lucky to live in a city that’s minutes away from stunning landscapes. I’ll pare down what comes with me, taking a chunky graphite stick, a few coloured pencils and a pen. You don’t need expensive materials and having only a few cuts down the decision-making.

When it’s not practical to take a lot of colour, I write and it turns into ‘painting by numbers’ which isn’t a bad thing. Trying to tackle a landscape can be overwhelming! Start by looking, not doing - just find what interests you and begin there, building a picture around it. Don’t worry about composition or running out of space. Just put some marks down and see where it takes you . . . "

Four things to try

"1) To get started, look at a picture that you like and see if you can mix the same colours with your favourite paint. Then test which pencils/oil sticks/pens work well on top of that paint.

2) Copy an element from a picture that you’ve taken, on to an old envelope or a piece of brown cardboard. Doodle around and turn it into something new.

3) Choose small objects around your home that you love. Pick whatever you have around to draw with and put a timer on. We used to do this at college because it limits your sketching into three or five-minute bursts which stops you over-thinking it or criticizing yourself.

4) Get into the habit of taking a tiny book out with you and something to draw with, to make use of unexpected pockets of time – instead of going on your phone, waiting at a station or waiting for Netflix to load! It's amazing what you can do in 15 minutes. Don’t ever think you’ve got nothing to say or draw – no-one else has had your life experiences or lives the life that you have!"

Books for inspiration and sketching

Drawing serves many purposes – it can be relaxing, but also challenging. Here are a few of my favourite authors on sketchbooking:

David Gentleman ‘My Town, an Artist’s life in London’
Shelley Rhodes – ‘Sketchbook Explorations’
Andrew Marr – ‘A Short Book About Drawing’
Rachel Hazell - Bound

And here are some of my favourite sketchbooks:

Faber Castell mixed media pads
The Range/Tiger – (really cheap)
Arches (for a treat!)
Somerset printmaking paper – lovely and soft – it makes great concertina format books.

Over to you!

I hope that I’ve inspired you to take up sketching. Who knows where it might lead - you might create a character and write a story! Most importantly, it will help you connect with the world around you and see beauty in the smallest things.

For more information about Marion and her work, visit www.marioncheung-artist.com and www.arting.wales