[photo: ‘Me’ from Sketchbook no. 7 (early 1970s)]

The 33 sketchbooks from Arkley’s studio collection (all now accessible in the Howard Arkley collection in the State Library of Victoria: SLV MS 14217, series 2) document a range of his ideas and projects from the late 1960s through to the year before his death.

Almost half of them date from his student years and early maturity, providing rich insights into his developing style (alongside his Visual Diaries): for comments on some of the early sketchbook material along these lines, see Carnival 161ff.

The following summary lists the books in the more or less chronological sequence in which they are catalogued by the SLV. The main features of each book are noted, together with reproductions and references published elsewhere, and key connections with other works by Arkley. The linked entries include further illustrations (where available – detailed photography of these books is still in process).

Sketchbook no. 1 (c.1968-71)

Large ‘Spirax’ brand notebook, labelled ‘Me Book in 1970’ (c.1968-71)

20 ruled pages, 33 x 20.3 cm (foolscap size), containing pen and pencil drawings and notes (in fact perhaps this book could equally be categorized as the artist’s earliest ‘visual diary’). Notable contents include:

– poems and stories dated 1968-70, including a story about ‘Logland’, a fantasy realm of Arkley’s own invention

– a page of notes on mysticism, signed ‘Howard Arkley (humble) admiration of Paul Klee’

– a page showing Arkley’s imaginary creatures with a ‘key’ to their meaning

– notes on Surrealism (quoted in part in Carnival 162)

– drawing of a cylinder-figure, signed and dated 1970

Sketchbook no. 2 (early 1970s?)

‘Ideal’ brand geometry exercise book with blue cover

34 squared pages, 26.2 x 21.7 cm, containing various drawings in blue ball-point and coloured fibre-tipped pens, mostly of the imaginary creatures typical of Arkley’s late 1960s/early 70s work (see now comments in Carnival 161-62). While only a few pages are of real quality, the whole book is interesting in relation to the artist’s early development.

Sketchbook no. 3 (early 1970s?)

Wide-format ‘Spirax’ brand sketchbook (early 1970s?)

34 pages, 24.5 x 27 cm. Various drawings of ‘critters’ in pen and pencil, some highly ‘finished’; and a few poems on inserted sheets, also apparently dating from the same period.

Sketchbook no. 4 (1970 and later)

Wide-format ‘Spirax’ brand sketchbook

26 pages, 24.5 x 27 cm. Same format as no. 3, and with similar contents; drawings of particular interest include a sketch of stylized seated figure (dated 1970), a page including ‘Arabic’ calligraphy, a drawing of a shoe with a buckle composed of imaginary creatures, and a pencil drawing entitled ‘Monumen(t) no.1’

Sketchbook no. 5 (early 1970s?)

Wide-format ‘Spirax’ brand sketchbook (early 1970s?)

22 pages, 24.5 x 27 cm. Same format as nos. 3 and 4, containing more drawings of ‘critters’, and painting ideas. The opening page includes several pencil sketches for a ‘4 ft canvas’, including the explanatory note ‘boxes in room perspective’, perhaps referring to Transpass 1972 or a related painting.

Sketchbook no. 6 (early 1970s, and later?)

‘Olympic’ brand school project scrapbook with blue/black cover

62 unruled pages, 34.7 x 24.5, containing sketches of critters, doodles, and compositional drawings (several comparable with Arkley’s early 1970s canvases). Arkley appears to have added details to some pages at a later date. Several pages are left blank.

Sketchbook no. 7 (early 1970s, and later?)

‘Olympic’ brand school project scrapbook with blue/black cover

89 unruled pages, 34.7 x 24.5 cm. Same format as no. 6. This book contains an engaging series of freely-drawn full-page drawings of ‘critters’ and other quasi-Surrealist figures, several with titles (added later?) in red fibre-tipped pen. Titles include ‘me’ (page reproduced above), ‘walking stick’, ‘table with long legs’, ‘King Male Head, ‘puppets for play (ice machines)’, and a landscape (signed and dated ‘Howard Arkley 71’).

Sketchbook no. 8 (c.1970)

‘Olympic’ brand school project scrapbook with orange/black cover

64 unruled pages, 34.7 x 24.5 cm. Same format as nos. 6-7, containing further drawings of imaginary creatures: a typical page is reproduced in Carnival Fig.6.3 (dated to 1970). Other notable pages include a figure titled ‘Strange Friend’, and an elaborate drawing of an architectural form dated 1970.

Sketchbook no. 9 (early 1970s?)

‘Olympic’ brand school project scrapbook with orange/black cover

65 unruled pages, 34.7 x 24.5 cm. Same format as nos. 6-8, with a series of sketches with titles (added later?) in red fibre-tipped pen. Particularly notable here is a page of sketches with an added note singling out a ‘dream image’ with the comment: ‘I think this is important.’

Sketchbook no. 10 (early 1970s?)

Scrapbook without front cover

60 unruled pages, 34.7 x 24.5 cm. Same format as nos. 6-9, with further doodled figures, some with added titles and notes in red fibre-tipped pen. Some pages are rather scribbly, but there are also several more resolved drawings, for instance of a surreal man-tap, and a full-page hybrid creature-woman.

Sketchbook no. 11 (early 1970s?)

Single sheet of notes and poems

Catalogued by the SLV as no.11 in the sequence of Arkley’s sketchbooks.

Sketchbook no. 12 (early 1970s)

Loose drawing mounts and backing

Listed by the State Library as no.12 in the sequence of Arkley’s sketchbooks, noting “from art student years”.

Sketchbook no. 13 (mid 1970s?) Recycled loose-leaf account-book with brown cover (mid 1970s?)

180 pages, printed with profit and loss columns, 19 x 23 cm.; mostly blank. The opening pages contain a number of small black air-brushed patterned areas, comparable with Arkley’s ‘white’ paintings and works on paper from c.1974ff.

Sketchbook no. 14 (1980)

“Diary de luxe 1980” (“The Greater 3UZ”)

Desk diary, 2 days per opening. Sketches and doodles from 2 May to 24 December.

Sketchbook no. 15 (c.1970-1980)

Portion of writing pad

19 pages, 25.5.x 20.5 cm, containing notes and drawings. Also contains two loose pages inserted, one with a ‘Zappo Head’ sketch, the other listing works with prices.

Sketchbook no.16 (early 1980s?)

Three bundles of notebook pages

28 pages in all, each 21 x 14.7 cm, including a series of figurative drawings in black fibre-tipped pen, some of significant quality. A representative double page is reproduced in Fitzpatrick & Lynn (2015), p.79.

Sketchbook no. 17 (1981)

Small notebook with red/black cover, dated 1981 (also used 1980/1982?)

168 lined pages, each 10 x 7.5 cm. The opening page is signed and dated 26/10/81, but other pages evidently date from 1980, 1981-2, and possibly also later. The book contains an extensive series of pen or fibre-tipped pen sketches, some on small taped-in squared sheets (compare also Sketchbook no. 22 a & b). Of particular note here are a page inscribed ‘Tram 384’ (see 1980), a sketch of a telephone (see Primitive [mural] (1981) [W/P]), and a sketch of a cactus.

Sketchbook no. 18 (1983)

Small ‘Spirax’ brand notebook, cover dated Dec.1983

44 ruled pages, 16.5 x 11.2 cm, with a series of pasted-in photographs of jewellery, furniture etc. (evidently clipped from magazines), with added Arkley doodles. For a representative page, see Carnival Fig.3.7 (bleach bottle + doodle). Some pages, now blank, include traces of images apparently removed.

Sketchbook no. 19 (1984)

‘Ritewell’ brand small-format note-book with blue cover, titled in black fibre-tipped pen ‘HA June 1984’

Contains 18 lined pages, 9.1 x 5.3 cm, including three cactoid sketches in black fibre-tipped pen, comparable with some sketches in Arkley’s Mills & Boon books from the same period. Other pages have apparently been removed from this sketch-book.

Sketchbook no. 20 (1984)

Sketchbook with black cloth cover, dated (inside) 1984 (also used later?)

Contains 124 pages (mostly blank), each 25.3 x 16.8 cm. (Pages numbered in grey lead pencil by SLV librarian). Notable contents include:

– a series of pencil and/or black air-brushed drawings of heads near the start (sequence of three sprayed examples reproduced in Carnival Fig.4.42)

– several cactoid compositions, one signed and dated ‘HA 84’ (p.47)

– black fibre-tipped pen sketch titled ‘Surburan Kitched Tables’ (sic) (p.79)

Sketchbook no. 21 (mid 1980s?)

Wide-format ‘Spirax’ brand sketchbook, titled on cover ‘Texta Heads 1’

24 pages, 24.5 x 27 cm: contains a significant series of sketches of stylized cactoid heads in black fibre-tipped pen, several ticked in pencil; datable to the mid 1980s by comparison with other cactus compositions by Arkley from c.1984-86.

Sketchbook no. 22 a & b (early 1980s?)

Miniature squared paper block, and envelope of loose sheets in same format

The block contains 120 pages, each 6 x 6 cm, including a series of black fibre-tipped pen doodles of skulls and the like. 16 further loose pages, apparently dating from the same time. Several sheets in the same format are taped into Sketchbook no. 17.

Sketchbook no. 23 (c.1985)

“Vana” science graph book

12 pages, 22 x 17.6 cm. Contains drawings in felt-tipped pen. Also drawings on back cover and inside back cover.

Sketchbook no. 24 (mid 1980s and later)

Small-format sketchbook with black cover labelled ‘pH Neutral Drawing Paper’

184 pages, 15.3 x 10.5 cm. The last part of this book is blank, but the opening section contains an excellent series of black fibre-tipped pen drawings, many noted as made in Chapel Street (Prahran). Most of the drawings show heads, some in the doubled-line technique Arkley explored particularly in 1985, and others are of cacti. Three drawings towards the end of the sequence, in lighter black/grey fibre-tipped pen, evidently date from later in Arkley’s career; one is signed and dated ‘HA 97’.

Sketchbook no. 25 (1987)

Recycled ‘Hyatt on Collins’ STD and ISD dialling booklet, dated (inside) 1987

16 pages, each 20 x 9 cm. This contains 5 doodled and collaged pages, mostly showing modified skulls, all signed and dated ‘HA 87’.

Sketchbook no. 26 (c.1987-88)

Portion of writing pad

23 pages, 29.4 x 21 cm. Contains notes, possibly about the Gertrude Street exhibition, c.1987-88.

Sketchbook no. 27 (1989)

Small-format notebook with red/black cover, dated (inside) 1989

Contains 202 ruled pages, each 11 x 8.5 cm, with drawings on the first 20 pages or so (the rest is blank). A note on the first page indicates: ‘This book was started in the first week of Jan.1989’. The remaining pages contain 5-6 sketches of cacti, and notes for ‘Gertrude St window’ (possibly related to Arkley’s ‘Casual Works’ exhibition of 1988).

Sketchbook no. 28 (late 1980s?)

Small-format notebook with black cover

Contains 200 pages (mostly blank), 16 x 10.8 cm. There are about 20 sketches here, mostly in black fibre-tipped pen; also some inserted pages, including two photocopied heads apparently related to the 1990 ‘Head Show’, and a British Paints colour sample with added doodle.

Sketchbook no. 29 (1990s)

Note-block with multi-coloured pages

Contains 60 pages, 15 x 10 cm., with numerous sketches, mostly in blue pen. A page near the start contains a scheme for a ‘Po[r]table Cross’ to be made with John Nixon: see now Abstract Painting in Dark Blue and Ochre (1991-3). Many pages contain sketches for furniture installations; there are evident parallels with Arkley’s 1998 ‘Sampling’ exhibition, but some of these ideas may date from the earlier 1990s. Some pages are annotated with references to Minimal Art, Scott Burton and Alchimia.

Sketchbook no. 30 (1995)

Small-format ruled pad dated Sat.7 Oct.1995

This contains 29 pages with black-fibre-tipped pen drawings of heads, cacti, etc., some inscribed ‘HA 95’

Sketchbook no. 31 (1996-98) Wide-format sketchbook with black cloth cover, dated (inside) 1996-98

Contains 188 pages, 14.8 x 21 cm. About half the book is blank, but the remainder contains an extensive series of black fibre-tipped pen and drawn and black air-brushed sketches, mostly cacti and other stylized figures; notable examples include:

– drawings of cacti labelled ‘Bad Day’ and ‘Christ / very bad shit day’

– heads titled ‘Father’ and ‘Mother / Gren’

– ‘jazz’ drawings, labelled ‘Black jazz player’ and ‘Jazz Sax’ (the latter, an elaborate example in black, grey and silver fibre-tipped pen, is reproduced in Carnival Fig.4.14)

– sketches of a stylized box on legs and a female nude, both signed and dated ‘HA.98’

Sketchbook no. 32 (1995 and 1998)

‘Daler-Rowney’ brand sketchbook with black cover, dated (inside) 1995 and 1998

Contains 124 pages (mostly blank), 29.5 x 21.3 cm. There are only 5 drawings here, in black fibre-tipped pen, including cacti dated 1995 and 1998, and a collaborative corset-head critter by Arkley and Alison Burton, signed ‘AB 98’ (reproduced in Carnival Fig.5.9).

Sketchbook no. 33 (1996)

Large sketchbook with black cover (Melbourne Artists Supplies label on cover), dated (inside) 1996

108 pages, 30.5 x 21.7 cm (A4 size), blank except for opening page, with a taped-in doctor’s note listing several drugs, and several cactoid shapes in black fibre-tipped pen, annotated ‘HA 96’ and ‘First Day’.