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.

No Art Trail, No Art Journal? – Creativity + Lockdown

Now the Leigh Art Trail has a 2021 date SEVEN looks back at losing and finding creative motivation over Lockdown. In a year without our key event to work towards what happened to our productivity when the 2020 Trail was cancelled?

Creative Goals

The first thing SEVEN did when we formed was set ourselves a goal – we applied to show at Leigh Art Trail (LAT). As a creative sketchbook collective we were the first group to be accepted onto the popular Trail – yay!  But we didn’t just enjoy sharing our sketchbook creations with interested Trailers. The yearly Trail gave us something to aim for (Kim made countdown calendars and everything!).

Then there was 2020…

Our Pre-Covid Plan

So, pre-Covid, every September we’d reconvene after the summer break, decide on a project and work steadfastly towards it. And September 2019 was no different. What was different, however, was our 2020 venue. We were excited to be moving to a more central LAT location, The Refill Room – a waste-free, eco-friendly grocery store.

Taking the store’s zero-waste ethos as our starting point we agreed altered books – aka books no-one wants anymore – would make the perfect art journal to work in. What’s more, we had a project title we could all get behind: Reclamation. (Check out this blog post for more on our plans for this altered book project…)

We were ready to art journal our way to LAT 2020!  Until the Trail had to be cancelled due to a global pandemic that was. 

The Pros + Cons of Zoom Creativity 

Of course, Covid meant no in-person meet-ups, so along with the rest of the nation we got Zooming.  Which, while better than nothing, meant we were often catching up rather than doing. Plus, there’s often something lost in translation online – a lagging wi-fi connection, screen fatigue, or just plain blahness, to name a few issues we experienced.

Ultimately, we lost our Reclamation art journaling thread. And, with no new date in sight, our altered books got put on the back burner.

Banana Bread + More

I mean, it’s not that we were just baking banana bread between then and now. We actually completed two SEVEN art journals, and started another:

But these had more imminent deadlines and so, inevitably, they’ve taken precedent. 

Reclaiming Our 2020 Art Journals

Now we have a 2021 date for the Leigh Art Trail – September 2021! – we’re dusting off our altered books and reminding ourselves just where we were when we left off. Some of us were already immersed, others were just feeling their way into their creative flow, but all of us need to reclaim – call back, rediscover – our creative selves with regards to this SEVEN project. 

Turns out Reclamation was a more apt project title than we had first imagined…
Check out our current projects over on our SEVEN Instagram .

Altered Books: Is destroying books ever ok?

We mentioned a few posts ago that for Leigh Art Trail 2020 SEVEN will be showing our creative journals at Leigh’s first zero waste grocery store The Refill Room. And, because The Refill Room is all about, well, zero waste, we thought working in reclaimed books, aka altered books, would be a perfect fit. 

The thing is, some people think working in printed books is sacrilege – but is it?

Let’s take a look at the controversial topic of destroying books, for example. Because, let’s face it, this tends to conjure up images of Nazi book burnings and the idea that books are more than just things. As John Milton wrote:

“Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature… but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself…”

Book Bonfires

In May 1933, at their book-burning peak, over 25,000 books were burned by the Nazis. According to Cambridge University:

“The aim was to remove undesirable professors from their posts, to blacklist “un-German” books and to purify libraries according to National Socialist principles.

Whether performed as a way to control the availability of information or as a means of consolidating governmental power, “the symbolic weight of burning books is heavy” says the Smithsonian in their article A Brief History of Book Burning.

And, this idea continues to be expressed through popular culture, like Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, which imagines a future where television reigns supreme and books are illegal:

“‘A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon.’”

So far, so deplorable, but what if the good guys get in on the act?

Destroying to preserve

It’s tempting to blame the destruction of books on the bad guys, but since the 1950s, when the microfilm industry became the fad du jour, libraries themselves got in on book destroying. Big time.

Yep, Nicholson Baker’s book Double Fold tells the tale of a controversial practice called ‘reformatting’, which was embraced by the likes of the Library of Congress in Washington and even – wince – the British Library. While some volumes were sold to dealers, it transpired that many were simply pulped. Eeek!

Of course, the difference between library pulping and Nazi book burning is that the libraries actually preserved the information contained within the books – well, mostly. Apparently microfilm wasn’t as durable as was first thought – technology, eh!?

But, it wasn’t just another evolution in technology that was to blame for the demise of so many books, it was also that old chestnut: a lack of space…

Drowning books

Writing during the first world war a certain Sir John Collings Squire went on a bit of a rant about how the public were sending rubbish books to their lads on the front line:

“…[I]t was publicly stated the other day that some people were sending the oddest things, such as magazines twenty years old, guides to the Lake District, Bradshaws, and back numbers of Whitaker’s Almanack.”

Why were people sending these indigestible tomes all the way to Flanders? Well, Sir John reckoned it was because:

 “[I]t is likely that there are those who jump at the opportunity of getting rid of books they don’t want.”

This, he reasoned, was because people very often held onto books simply because they were, well, books:

“In reality it is not merely absurd to keep rubbish merely because it is printed: it is positively a public duty to destroy it. Destruction not merely makes more room for new books and saves one’s heirs the trouble of sorting out the rubbish or storing it: it may also prevent posterity from making a fool of itself.”

Maybe Sir John was the Marie Kondo of his era? Of course, KonMari has been blamed for a whole lot of book slinging in recent years – she recommends keeping around 30 max. But numbers aside her point, is this:

“Books are the reflection of our thoughts and values…”

But reasoning doesn’t stop Sir John feeling guilty for essentially ‘drowning’ his big bag of bad poetry in the Thames. Yes, the little blighters might’ve been taking over his tiny flat, but now he’s some kind of book murderer:

“Odes to Diana, Sonnets to Ethel, Dramas on the Love of Lancelot, Stanzas on a First Glimpse of Venice, you lie there in a living death, and your fate is perhaps worse than you deserved. I was harsh with you. I am sorry I did it. But even if I had kept you, I will certainly say this: I should not have sent you to the soldiers.”

Don’t judge a book…

So, it turns out both book lovers and book haters destroy books. The reasons are as varied as making space to live to controlling the lives of others. But at the end of day like people, it’s really what’s inside that counts, as Ray Bradbury writes in Fahrenheit 451:

“It is not books you need, it’s some of the things that are in books.”

The grown-up guide to creative adventure – our first adult workshop

Now, SEVEN have hosted a few creative workshops aimed at kids – from Metal Southend’s Village Green to Disco Doodling for the The Big Draw – but this November we wanted to share some of our art journalling tips with, yes, grown ups!

While it’s great to see kids cut and paste with wild abandon, SEVEN believe many adults are in dire need of creative adventure. So, we devised a jam-packed, fun-sized event where attendees could dip their toe into the world of creative art journaling and get lost in some of our favourite creative processes.

Our Inspiration Generating Menu

  • Disco doodling – Yep, dancing and drawing to music works for kids and adults alike, it’s a great way to warm up and break the ice. Plus, if you do it collaboratively, as we did, you get to scribble on other people’s work – what’s not to like!?
  • Play in your sketchbook – Kim’s handmade sketchbooks may have looked too good to ever make a mark in, but we encouraged participants to get over blank page block and just start sticking stuff (in this case, a small piece of the giant disco doodle) in. It’s all about progress NOT perfection!
  • One minute sketches – Grab a magazine, open anywhere and draw what catches your eye. We did this ten times. For one minute. Cue a kind drawing frenzy. But, if you get over yourself and go with the flow you can make some beautiful lines and come away with some creative jumping off points…
  • Miniature collages -A random word is used as the catalyst for a quick (20 minutes) playing card-sized collage. Remember: Boundaries can be everything!
Kim’s handmade sketchbooks in progress

These are a few photos from the evening:

Collaborative doodling to music
Cutting and sticking (with biscuits of course)
Everyone getting stuck in with collage


The moral of this workshop story? Well, it was just a real pleasure to watch people relax, have fun, and become immersed in their creations. Coming together to create is, as SEVEN knows only too well, a powerful thing. Not only does the room take on a kind of artistic buzz as people beaver away, but when we share the results it helps to inspire and motivate others too.

Remember: If you’re feeling the creative urge but don’t know where to start, just do it! Dance, doodle, sketch really fast, anything which helps you take the first step. Then keep going. Check out our SEVEN manifesto for inspiration.