A look at a very creative example of combining digital and traditional techniques to get a rich, textured and hand-made look in a sketchbook.

Combining digital and traditional processes

Digital processes give a fantastic flexibility to working, but they can often leave out the beautiful handmade feel of creative work. So how can students working with digital media put back the raw and textured feel of traditional media? This case study explores the work of Sarah Allen. On some levels it traces the current trends toward illustration, but most importantly it demonstrates some of the benefits of crossing the digital and traditional divide in creative ways to develop unique processes that can support innovative outcomes.

Combining Traditional and Digital Methods

At first it appears quite brutal, untidy and paired down. But then it becomes clear it has undergone a very deliberate process. Rather than just sticking things into the sketchbook, Sarah puts everything through a process involving scanning, adding typography and then printing. Sometimes each page even puts everything through the process twice.

A photograph might do just as well as a scan, but the point is to show forethought of a process and to demonstrate a high level understanding of textures.  On closer inspection, the whole portfolio shows multiple applications and variations on this theme.

For the first few months of teaching Sarah I thought something was wrong. Sketchbooks took some time to take shape and she was always timid about sharing the work she had produced. Moreover, she would comment on being able to do more at home than in class. These were worrying signs. Only when I really got to know her did I realise that she was relying on her inkjet (or what was left of it) and scanner at home. It was also clear that at the start of the course she was developing skills as opposed to work and that these were going to set her off on a steep productivity curve.

Some interesting techniques for combining the digital and traditional

Sarah’s work demonstrates many subtleties and high level skills. We hope you can take some of these and use any number of them in combination or variation. Some of the processes:


  • Photographing three dimensional objects and printing them on the page as if they are there
  • Scanning and layering traditional techniques like stitch and then printing on a page
  • Using worn and distressed images as surfaces to print clean and clear for contrast
  • Combining hand written annotation with digital type
  • Scanning handwritten annotation and printing it over images
  • Sending different types of paper through an inkjet printer
  • Placing real stitch next to images of stitch to confuse the viewer

Combining Traditional and Digital Methods

Avoid decorating the sketchbook page

Because of Sarah’s engagement with both digital and traditional processes the production and presentation process of the sketchbook contributes to her work. They aren’t laborious exercises for the sake of evidence. What she did so well was to avoid an urge to decorate the page unnecessarily to make a ‘pretty’ sketchbook. Rather, most pages are individual works in themselves.

Combining Traditional and Digital Methods

Learning through doing a different sketchbook style with each project

Here the idea is to make sure the skills used to produce a sketchbook and develop a portfolio of work based on experimentation aren’t just forgotten. Rather than doing the same style and type of sketchbook each time, it would be great if each project provided a new opportunity to try out different approaches. For example:
  • Traditional blank with white pages
  • All pages made of a different type of paper
  • All pages a single colour
  • Pages made of surfaces that relate to the project, e.g. graph paper for a science related project
  • Handmade sketchbook with unusual shape
  • Prescanned images that relate to the project, printed on to random pages
  • All digital sketchbook using scans of traditional work.
Daniel Freaker Daniel Freaker Educational Consultant, Painter, Writer, Designer danfreaker@processfreaks.com