High school art students often have to submit sketchbooks, art journals, or other preparatory material that includes writing as well as visual material. This annotation plays an important role in how examiners assess and respond to your work. Although each qualification has their own assessment criteria and requirements, almost all high school art programs have similar standards and expectations when it comes to annotation. This article sets out best practice when it comes to producing outstanding sketchbook annotation, and includes examples from students who achieved excellent results around the world. It is likely to be particularly helpful for students who are wondering how to annotate an A Level Art sketchbook, those wishing to conduct formal analysis for an IB Visual Arts Process Portfolio, or those looking for GCSE Art annotation examples.
Want more guidance? Some of this material and much more is in our new book: Outstanding High School Sketchbooks. This book has high-resolution images so that fine details and annotation are clear, making it an excellent resource for students and schools. Learn more!
It is helpful to begin a sketchbook by discussing your intentions, initial ideas, or design brief, including any requirements and restrictions set for the project. (Some students also include brainstorming and mind maps at this stage of their project).
Demonstrate subject-specific knowledge
Aim to communicate your thoughts in an informed, knowledgeable manner, using a range of art-related vocabulary and terminology. This knowledge may be the result of formal classroom lessons, individual research, or personal art-making experience.
Include personal responses
Aim to record personal reflections, evaluations, and judgments, rather than regurgitating facts or the views of others. The aim is to provide insights into your thinking and decision-making processes. Visual art examiners do not want to read long lists of facts, excessively detailed descriptions of technical processes, extensive artist biographies, or long-winded passages documenting broad periods of art history. Use research to inform your own responses. It is not acceptable to copy written information directly from other sources, although small portions may be quoted and referenced.
Avoid the obvious
Self-explanatory statements—such as ‘this is a drawing of a shoe’—are unnecessary. Such comments do not communicate any new information to the examiner.
Communicate with clarity
Write in a succinct and clear manner. A sketchbook should not contain endless pages of waffle; this wastes the examiner’s time as well as your own. You can record thoughts in any combination of legible formats: mind maps, questions, bulleted summaries, or complete sentences and paragraphs. Whichever format you choose, avoid ‘txt’ language and ensure that you proofread for spelling errors. These indicate carelessness and may suggest that the work belongs to a low-caliber student.
Don’t feel you have to write in full sentences. Noting key words or phrases can be just as effective.
Reference all images, text, and ideas from other sources
All content from other sources should be formally acknowledged and credited. This is true even when you are interpreting the content rather than directly copying it. It is helpful to cite the artist underneath the relevant image (artist name, artwork title, media, date, and image source). Also, provide brief details about any visits to studios, galleries, or museums, noting that you visited in person. Label any original photographs so that it is clear to the examiner which images are your own.
Critically analyze artwork
Art analysis is an integral component of most high school art programs. Make sure you also analyze your own artwork, appraising the outcomes against your original intentions and the assessment objectives. These insights should inform and influence subsequent work.
For further assistance with sketchbook annotation, please read our guide to analyzing artwork. This is a comprehensive art annotation help sheet, with art annotation vocabulary formulated into questions to help guide students through how to annotate an artwork.
Need more help with creating a sketchbook?
This article is part of a series we have published about high school sketchbooks. You may also be interested in viewing our other sketchbook resources:
Amiria has been an Art & Design teacher and a Curriculum Co-ordinator for seven years, responsible for the course design and assessment of student work in two high-achieving Auckland schools. She has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architecture (First Class Honours) and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. Amiria is a CIE Accredited Art & Design Coursework Assessor.