Johanna Basford's sabbatical diary, week 3: My book has arrived

Johanna Basford is on a four-month sabbatical from paid work to concentrate on making herself a better artist, illustrator and all-round creative person.

Every week Johanna aims to publish a diary entry, which we'll be running on Digital Arts so you can follow the ups and downs – hopefully mainly ups – as she pushes her creativity and vision into new areas.

If you've missed previous entries, you can read from the beginning here.

Week 3

This is swiftly becoming the project formerly known as a Sabbatical.  When I first posted about this sabbatical, I think people – perhaps even myself included – anticipated a whimsical, four-month meander through galleries and gardens. Long blissful days spent in the studio, penning mission statements, sketching barefoot, learning meditation and sipping green tea…

The reality is it’s been blooming chaotic – so much so, I’m not even sure ‘sabbatical’ is the appropriate title.

Despite not taking on paid commission work for 4 months, there’s still lots to do. My caffeine-fuelled, list-laden, inky days are just as frantic as before. Except there’s no invoicing and less emailing. Maybe this is just a re-focusing of energies?

Terminology quibbles aside, Week Three was eventful. Two days of building work in the studio forced Studio Pup and I to decamp to the kitchen.

This was awful. Bad light, wrong desk, pens in disarray, messy and noisy – I struggled to focus and the drawings I created were lacklustre at best.

It did however highlight the impact of environment on my work. Clearly I need tidy, quiet spaces with lots of light, no other people and a borderline obsessive level of organization to be most productive.

Back in the comfort of the studio (above) work on the inky forest is almost complete. These drawings will form screen prints each three-four metres tall.

I’m apprehensive about printing by hand at this scale. It’s physically challenging when you’re 5ft 3” to wield a super-sized squeegee – not to mention exposing massive screens, lining up multiple images and keeping big rolls of paper pristine.

But I do like a challenge…


Part of my grand plan is to learn four new skills during the sabbatical. This month, it was Japanese brush calligraphy with Campbell Sandilands. From meditative ink grinding, to materials, brush strokes and the culture of calligraphy in Japan – it was a super enlightening day.

The migration from pen to brush intrigues me. I’ve always delighted in the control and precision of a fineliner, but the freedom and spontaneity of a brush brought a new character and energy to my inking. It's definitely something I want to develop into my practice.

I also delighted in the little red signature stamps that complete each piece. That little shot of colour on the black and white… ideas are a-percolating.

Over the weekend I had a visit from Blazej Marczak, a Polish portrait and documentary photographer based here in Aberdeen.

Brought together by Twitter last week, we arranged for Blazej to come to the studio to take a few shots. I love his work, particularly his Neighbours project capturing people of different ethnic backgrounds in their homes (examples of which are below and are copyright Blazej Marczak).


Props to Blazej for indulging my request to try and have Studio Pup in some of the shots.

The relative freedom of the sabbatical has allowed me to meet-up with amazing Creatives like him that are right on my door step. The usual whirlwind of client deadlines can be bad for networking. I’m always inspired and energized after even a short time in the company of someone else who makes things. I should prioritise it, if for no other reason than to avoid becoming a hermit. 

Lastly, the first copies of my book, Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book arrived early Saturday morning from Laurence King.

Queue much excitement and Insta-spamming. I literally danced around the kitchen in my PJs waving it above my head – I’ve never been able to pull off cool, least of all when tremendously happy.

The book project almost killed me last spring but I’m very glad we powered through. It’s out in March but pre-orders are being taking on Amazon now.

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