Monday, 26th October 2015

Every creative swears by their notebook, even in these days of technology and smartphones. We know we do! It’s somewhere to capture ideas, to take notes when inspiration strikes and make a quick sketch if there’s no sketchbook handy. We noticed a growing number of artists taking this one step further, using the humble notebook to create beautiful pieces of art. Beyond just doodles or scribbles, these artworks are striking and boldly stand up against art on canvas.

We are featuring a different ‘notebook artist’ each month. This month we talk to the illustrator, Kaj Toroto. Kaj found his way to the world of visual art after a serious injury put his musical adventures on hold. His beautiful but eerie works are a perfect accompaniment to the notebooks surface. The simplicity of black ink on paper has never looked more complex.

Below is a small selection of his favourite works and an interview with Kaj about his favourite notebooks and what inspired him to use notebooks to create works of art.


What is your favourite notebook?
I like notebooks that have a tactile feel. I bought a bunch of notebooks in India that had recycled paper inside them and just loved them. Ever since then I look for notebooks that have recycled paper in them. Sometimes there are leaves still infused in the paper from the recycling process and it can add another layer to the image. I can’t name a particular brand because all of my notebooks are handmade and each one is usually unique. I love notebooks that are bound well and have string to wrap around them. This adds to the mystique when you open them up to show people your work.


Why do you use a notebook over canvas or other mediums?
Initially I was using notebooks to write prose and then started adding illustrations to some of my writing. At some point the illustrations took on their own story and my pages started to fill up with more images than prose; it became an extension of my other visual art projects which consisted mostly of light boxes and installations. The portability of the notebook is great; it’s not just a convenient way to work, it’s also an excellent way to show people your work. I think there’s also something about flipping through the pages of a notebook that is intriguing to people. It definitely takes on the feel of a personal diary. When people look through your notebook it’s quite an intimate experience.

How have notebooks helped your brand as an artist?
The notebook has a mystique about it. “What’s inside?” I have enlarged images from my notebooks and made prints as large as two metres squared. At my second exhibition I exhibited just the enlarged prints from a notebook series and sold almost everything. And when a few buyers discovered the originals were from these little bespoke notebooks they were interested in purchasing the originals. In a few cases I removed some images from the notebook for this reason. But lately I have been treating the notebook as a complete artwork rather than a ‘body’ of work. This may lead into theme based collections rather than randomly selected subjects.

Why are notebooks are more than just a jot pad?
I think that Leonardo Di Vinci’s notebooks, now available digitally, express perfectly why the notebook can be so much more than the mere jottings of the creative mind. The books themselves are priceless and probably some of the most sort after objects available. Di Vinci expressed ideas and inventions; in his notebooks the artwork, as exquisite and masterfully executed as they were, was secondary to the information. But without the illustrations his ideas would not have been understood and digested properly. Can we imagine the notebooks of Leonardo Di Vinci without illustrations? Probably not. So perhaps the notebook as a medium for expression should include ideas as well as art? I’m not sure it it matters. Art is an idea. The notebook can give the artwork within its pages an entirely new context. Are these the rough sketches of a larger project or has it become the finished piece? This can sometimes even be dictated by the type of notebook being used. The notebook itself becomes a complete art-piece and even has the potential to rival single illustrated works on canvas, or some other medium, primarily because of the volume of work inside, but also because the notebook demands a visceral response to those who turn through its pages.



Why should people customise their notebooks – is it an expression, identity or something quite personal, therefore should it be personalised?
In my opinion the notebook is by definition a personal object. And when it is used for art I think it’s impossible not to personalise it in some way. It can be likened to a diary which is very personal. But the notebook is also an adventure. Because of its portability the artist will take it with them rather than keeping it in their studio like a canvas. As you turn the pages of a notebook you are traveling with the artist, through time and to places; whether it be a month or a year, you are visiting these places; the parties, the landscapes and the people the artist came into contact with while its pages were filled. I don’t know whether or not the notebook “should” be personalised, but I do know that by filling the pages of a notebook it undergoes a transformation that is personal, intimate and an insight into the life of the artist. “Look, there’s a coffee stain”.

You can see more of Kaj’s amazing work at

Tell us what you think of notebook art? Do you create notebook art, If so we would love to see your works!