LAT theme 2023 — how we’re exploring the seasons SEVEN style

Every autumn SEVEN gets back to (art) school with a fresh theme to take us through to our collective goal that is the Leigh Art Trail.  And, for 2023 the theme is — yes! — The Seasons. 

Beginning back in October with a small concertina sketchbook each and a jumble-sale meets-nature-table crammed with leaves, branches, and even an owl pellet, to get the juices flowing, we began our art journal adventures.

Wondering how we did that? Read on…

Make Your Mark

Making marks inspired by an object, feeling, or even music, can be a great way to overcome overthinking when it comes to beginning a project. Paint or ink are a good choice to get you going — no temptation to erase so-called mistakes, you see. Then, simply let your hand lead the way.

The next step is to play with those marks. Will they become a backdrop? Will the shapes or lines inspire a certain exploration? Will most of it be concealed with collage, drawing, more paint? Or revealed? Emphasised? And on…


Another way to get your creative juices flowing is to play with words. We often look at poetry or fiction writing for inspiration because the metaphors are so meaty.  When Faith Baldwin writes this, for example, it evokes all sorts of images:

“Autumn burned brightly, a running flame through the mountains, a torch flung to the trees.” 

But don’t just look to the words of others for our inspiration. We’ll also dabble in a bit of expressive poetry or wordplay crafted from a random selection of words snipped from magazines or old books.  That way you create unexpected connections which are yet another source of arty fuel.

The cut-up method has long-been used by creatives like David Bowie for its unexpected juxtapositions and memorable images — so you’re in good company if you choose to embrace it.

Transferring Images

As SEVEN always emphasise, playing in a creative sketchbook or art journal doesn’t require artistic prowess. 

Believe you can’t draw? Then how about playing with printing? That’s what we did in the initial weeks of this Leigh Art Trail project, and the results are usually pretty effective, providing plenty of collage fodder to play with.

No printing equipment? Hate the mess?  Then a box of crayons could be your best friend. Frottage, as it’s known, has been used by everyone from school kids to the Surrealist Max Ernst to create intriguing images.  No drawing required.  Unless you want to of course!

Springing into Action

So, those are some of the prompts and processes we’ve been playing with for our current Leigh Art Trail project.  What’s always so fascinating about working in a group like SEVEN is the multitude of ways a single theme, like The Seasons, can be interpreted on the page. 

Be sure to follow our creative concertina books as they unfold from autumn, through winter, spring and summer, over on Instagram.

SEVEN rides again – we welcome two new(ish) members

One of the most frequent questions we get asked when exhibiting our creative sketchbooks is: Why are you called SEVEN? And, in recent years the answer’s gotten a bit convoluted. But, now that’s all about to change, as we become SEVEN, not just in name, once again…


There are two reasons for the name:

The group was formed around table seven of the now closed Railway Hotel in Southend. And, there were seven of us around that table.  

Et voila! SEVEN seemed the obvious choice.

Five Get Familiar 

Thing is, in recent years there have been just five of us. So, that question — why are you called SEVEN? — hasn’t been so easy to answer.

At first, we were keen to make up our numbers. SEVEN was our magic number in a way. Thing is, we’re a closed group, and the dynamic works pretty well. Would a new face or two add to that? Shake things up in a good way? Or would it upset the apple cart?

Who knows!?

SEVEN Went to Leigh Art Trail

Anyway! We’ve bitten the bullet and for Leigh Art Trail 2023 there will be seven of us once more. 

Who are these curious new members, you ask? *Drumroll, opens envelope, clears throat. So, the SEVEN gals are glad to welcome:

Karen Christensen — A brand spanking new member, who is well known around town for her wonderful mixed media artwork, Karen came to try us out back in January and decided she quite enjoyed being gently nudged out of her comfort zones while chatting and eating biscuits.  You can find out more about Karen here.

Nicola Watts — A mixed media artist with a penchant for layering like no other — expect ultra thick,crusty, sparkly journals, people! — Nicola is a returning member.  She took a bit of a sabbatical from SEVEN when life had other plans, but was welcomed back with open arms and a concertina sketchbook when she felt ready to return. Discover more about Nicola here.

Never Wonder About SEVEN Again!

Lucky for you, you’ll never have to wonder why we’re called SEVEN. Nor wonder what we do when we get together in our cosy little collective.  Why? 

Because we’re on Instagram. Yay! Yep there, we share insights into our creative explorations, inspirations and other arty, creative sketchbook type things — come and chat with us.

Leigh Art Trail 2022

Join us for our exhibition of handmade art books at this year’s Leigh Art Trail 2022.

Come, take a peek and discover how one theme – in this case, silver – has been explored and expressed in five very different ways.

Why Silver?

2022 marks 25 creativity-crammed years of the Leigh Art Trail, so for this year’s theme we chose silver.

“Silver (Ag), chemical element, a white lustrous metal valued for its decorative beauty and electrical conductivity.”

Slick. Stylish. Modern. Shimmering. Reflective.

From silver screens to silver bullets, silver is brimming with uses and associations — as you’ll see, each SEVEN member has picked a particular silver thread and run with it.

How to find us

Where: Venue 13, The Refill Room, 15 Elm Road SS9 1SW

When: Sat 3 September to Sun 11 September 2022

Visit for opening times and full details.

We look forward to seeing you!

Audience Feedback – Sharing Our Altered Books At Leigh Art Trail

While for some artists exhibiting their work is partly motivated by making a sale, for SEVEN it’s simply about sharing our books. So after the pandemic hiatus a return to the real life Leigh Art Trail was pretty exciting – what would people say?

Our comments book

Spreading the Sketchbook Love

“I love this[.] Would prefer to have a sketchbook than a piece on the wall. Beautiful, ever changing work – I love it!!!” – B Dred

Mention selling the books to Jo and she turns all shades of white.

For us the Trail marks the culmination of our yearly project – individual explorations based around a central theme. This is the end of the journey, a point to pause, reflect on, share our work and hear what you have to say.

A visitor quote

From Confusion to Curiosity

This year Trailers were invited to zero-waste grocery store The Refill Room to peruse our altered books. And, because our host venue is all about, well, zero-waste our group theme was Reclamation and we used altered (or reclaimed) books – find out more about that here.

Being old pros at this LAT exhibiting lark, nowadays we know to expect a variety of responses from backing out the door in befuddlement to Trailers who come specifically to see our books:

“Wonderful work – each one is so individual. A joy to finally be able to handle work again – especially such joyful, tactile pieces. Love what you did with my mum’s book Juliet!” – Anne L

Provoking People

We aren’t trying to be Bansky or Tracy Emin or anything…

Yes, our 2020 project began with the oh-so-serious zero-waste theme – really it’s shocking how much we waste! – but our yearly theme is simply a launchpad for creative exploration. That’s why we called our project Reclamation – the word gave us something beyond issues of waste to play with.

But, still, the very act of reusing old books proved provocative:

“Really liked what you’ve done with the Girl annual, but I struggled with it as well. If it had been done in an Eagle annual it would have annoyed me intensely, but maybe that’s a (small) part of the point…?” – Anon

And, if you haven’t checked it out already, find out more about books and landfill here.

A visitor quote

Words Matter

So some Trailers come specifically to see us (colour us honoured!). Some stumble upon us. Others back away looking a little bemused. While some stop and pour over the pages with a kind of child-like wonder.  Whatever the response – well, sort of! – we love to hear what you have to say.

Thank you to everyone who came along to Leigh Art Trail (2020) 2021 and took a look at our SEVEN art books, we can’t wait to see you again!

Pages from our comments book

Do Our Art Journals Have Better Adventures Than Us Now? – The Estuary Festival

We might not have been going anywhere much over the last year or so, but our SEVEN journals have been. First it was New York with The Brooklyn Sketchbook Project then it was much closer to home with Estuary 2021.

Collective Journaling Inspired By The Thames

One of the last things we did in real life, before Lockdown 1.0, was attend an introduction to The Water Replies art journal project, led by Heidi Wigmore at Metal Southend – back where SEVEN all began. 

Part of the larger Estuary 2021 festival, The Water Replies, aimed to create “…a collective response to life living and working by the Thames Estuary”. So, in between renovating houses and doing PE With Joe, SEVEN and hundreds of other Estuary dwellers were dabbling in their A5 sketchbooks.

A selection of sketchbooks for The Water Replies exhibition, on display at Chalkwell Hall

The Journals Go Online

Fortunately much of Estuary 2021 had the potential to be a fresh air festival, featuring a range of art works situated within the very landscape that had inspired them.

But by spring 2021 we were in Lockdown 3.0, or something, and book handling en masse was deemed a no-no. So, The Water Replies journaling project was reimagined as largely an online affair.

While, the real-life journals have been showcased (throughout summer 2021) in the windows of Chalkwell Hall, in a kind of carousel scheme, which sees books moved and pages turned intermittently by invisible hands. Here are some of our pages:

Helen’s journal
Kim’s journal
Jo’s journal
Juliet’s journal
Amanda’s journal

Memory Lanes + Murals

At the start The Water Replies project seemed a little like treading over familiar territory for SEVEN. We’d shown Estuary-themed journals at The Leigh Art Trail and we often look to the local area for inspiration. Yet, 2020 provided this project with an unexpected backdrop and more space for deeper exploration.

So, alongside a kind of visual record of our (then present) Lockdown experiences, more and more memories resurfaced. For me, the stories my mum told me about escaping the grey East London streets for the magic of a seaside town, and the flashes of glamour offered by the yearly carnival and the accompanying torchlight procession seemed particularly poignant.

Curiously, some of my words even managed to break loose the confines of my book, taking on a life of their own. First they became a mural on the wall of Chalkwell Hall, before leaping all the way to London – they were last glimpsed at London Bridge train station (really) making their way to some exotic place – I like to think anyway…

Helen’s poster

The journals will be on display at Chalkwell Hall until the end of August 2021.