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

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 .

Journaling fun – back to our roots!

The Water Replies

SEVEN are really excited to be involved in Metal’s public participation project for this year’s Estuary Festival 2020. It’s right up our street, a journaling project!

Metal and Cement Fields are asking members of the public living and working on the Thames Estuary in South Essex and North Kent, to create a journal responding to ‘The Water Replies’ and providing free workshops in journaling and poetry writing.

We attended the first journaling workshop led by artist Heidi Wigmore, our mentor and champion and we’re delighted that we got a special mention on the night!

Chalkwell Hall was buzzing with activity, groups of people gathered around tables ready to create!

Loved the first prompt, the opening page of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness ready for us to alter. There are no rules here, we were given these ideas and asked to think about the flow of the water:

  • Highlight words, circle words, cross out text
  • Make a new thread or sentence
  • Stream of consciousness, see what words pop out at you!
  • Cover the rest of the page with paint, collage, marker pens whatever you like

Here’s my page added to the journal, and we’re off!

Amanda’s first page exploring Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

We were each then given a small section of map that included sections of the Thames to stick into a page of the journal – look at the lines and marks on the map:

  • Add to them
  • Extend the lines
  • Extend lines of the river across other pages or the whole journal
Amanda’s page – extending lines on a map

All in all a great start to this project. We will fill our journals and return them to Metal for display in a library/reading room.  It will be exciting to see everyone’s responses in September!

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.

Getting Creative With School Kids at Village Green – again!

One of the Next Generation budding artists’ creation

This year’s Village Green Next Generation event was not as hot the last one. I mean that in a good way. Because the first year (2017) SEVEN hosted a drop-in art stall for the local school kids attending Metal’s pre-weekend festival we nearly melted.

Whether we were almost overcome by the merciless midday sun or a relentless confusion of children coming to cut, collage and create is debatable:

“As wave after wave of primary school kids and their teachers came to check out our art tables – think: mandala collage, collective doodling, and swing tag-making – it was all we could do to just muck in and make the most of it.

More gems you say? Certainly. Lost your prized sunglasses? We’ll help you find them. Want pictures of cars for your mandala collage? Coming up.”

Errgh! I’m feeling exhausted just thinking about it! But the upshot was we made note of what not to do next time…

Wish You Were Here?

For starters, this year, we had a theme: Wish You Were Here.

  • Postcards and luggage tags were the starting points for 2019’s miniature masterpieces
  • Our medium? Mostly collage. Think: animals, oceans, cars, stickers, old postage stamps – and, just the odd bit of bling!
  • While a huge roll of paper provided the backdrop for collective doodling – resulting in a kind of journey through stream of consciousness!

Boundaries v Boredom

Providing a starting point – however loose – definitely proved beneficial. The children were inspired to:

  • Remember journeys they’d taken
  • Imagine trips they’d love to go on
  • While others focused on the transport that would take them there
  • Or, wondered about the animals they might see …

One satisfied participant even commented:

“We thought it was going to be really boring, but it’s been really great!”

You can’t ask for much more than that, right?
Balloons, Breeze & Crawling on the Grass
Now we just have to fathom:

  • How to blow up numerous balloons without expiring – what seemed like an easy decorative addition soon became a lesson in breath control and our lack of lung capacity (apparently some tips on just how to blow up a balloon can be found here)
  • How to control Pritt stick usage – kids seem to be compelled to wind the glue up to the max, which results in mushed and broken glue sticks galore!
  • How to better manage breezy conditions – paperweights didn’t do much for our teensier collage cut outs which saw Kim crawling all over the grass to reclaim them!

All in All

Thanks to Metal Southend for the opportunity to share a few of SEVEN’s creative processes with some of our local kids. It’s always a pleasure and we take away so much in the form of memories and ideas!