Lots of folk who say they can’t draw actually can, and time and again one finds out after some very elementary enquiry that the reason they’ve got to thinking this is that they never take any time to practice, and so, when they do pick up a pencil or pen it always leads to disappointment. For those of us who draw a lot, this kind of existential dilemma is a less formidable obstacle to overcome. That doesn’t mean though that things are necessarily easier for us. We still need to practice, just as much as someone who plays a musical instrument does, it’s the way we keep our skills sharp and develop ourselves.
The greatest practice is sketching and the best thing about it is that you can do it anywhere and at any time pretty much. It doesn’t have to be from life, though keeping ones observational skills up to scratch pretty much necessitates it. With a whole world out there to look at there is plenty of subject matter to choose from and nothing to be intimidated by. I have always subscribed to the view that it’s ok to visit a zoo, for example, and simply draw a building or a tree. You sketch what catches your eye, what you naturally gravitate toward. if you don’t like drawing people then don’t draw them unless you actually want to improve this skill. Sketching can be so easily turned into a stick with which we beat ourselves with, and this removes the fun from the exercise.Sketching is a drawers play time, the serious stuff comes later, so enjoy it. I’m sure lots of us reckon we don’t do it enough, but no one is counting the hours. The important thing is to do it when you can.
Here are a couple of sketches done the other day on a visit to the RAF museum at Hendon in North London. I tend to go with my old chum Ben, who’s pretty handy with a pen, and this lends an extra dimension to the day as we are able to meet up after sessions and discuss our sketches and the views, angles and processes we’re engaging with. It makes it much more interesting. I took a brown paper sketchbook I bought recently and after a couple of roughs in soft pencil I thought I’d have a go with a brown ink pen, which works well with the paper, and splodge some highlights around with a thin white chalk. The first one is looking up into an open cockpit of a Lightning fighter with a dummy pilot sat inside. The second a cylinder head from the radial engine on the front of a Bristol Bulldog biplane. There is so much to look at at the museum that one is never short of a subject, the collection is huge and it’s free to visitors too. What more do you need?
Finally here’s an update of the cherry red bobber I’ve been working away on of late. For a background I’ve decided to mimic the kind of bold swipes designers sometimes use to back up their marker drawings. More about this in the next post when it should be finished.
In the previous post I alluded to my attempts to find new directions in which to take some, or all, of the drawings that pop out of the studio here. For a long time now there has been a persistent challenge in completing the ink drawings in particular, which has somehow not diminished or been overcome no matter the approach taken. It is that old thorny issue of context. Whether the inability to get this nailed is the result of never being formally trained in illustrative techniques, or some weird hangover from years drawing objects as a product designer I’m not sure. The more I think about it, the more I’m persuaded it’s a combination of things, some of which go right back to when we learn to draw in the first place and how we look at the world we are trying to capture.
The connection between ones minds eye and the imagination is a fascinating one and is undoubtedly different in all of us. How we imagine things, scenes, objects and the like also varies within us from moment to moment. When drawing from life one is saved from creating context because, in a way, it’s right there in front of us, and we are able to use some visual editing to eliminate that which we feel is surplus to our requirements. In imaginative drawing this is almost reversed, we must “fill in” first before editing down.
What’s this got to do with stories you might ask? Well, part of the success or failure of an imaginative image, I believe, lies in providing enough information to not only hold the eye of the viewer, but also to captivate their imagination in the hope that we allow them to extract as much as possible from the image. In a way we try to tell a story, or at least provide enough to start a story off, to allow the imagination to take us somewhere. Although a fairly simple sounding premise it has taken me some time to work this out in my own mind, which I’d much rather do than read it in some book or other. Because I’m a person who sees objects more than scenes in the minds eye, providing this context is always a struggle. Previous attempts have had mixed success. Shaded geometric shapes have helped to place the image on the page, but no more. Inserting scenes such as horizon lines inhabited with trees and buildings have helped too but run the risk of pulling the central image back towards reality and becoming repetitive. What I wanted to find was a format that would give more flexibility whilst being very much in tune with the language of the images.
The little drawing above might give you a fairly clear idea as to where this is going.
Firstly, a big thanks to everyone who sent me a “like” following the last post about the Dragster drawing and its blank rider. As ever, it’s always so encouraging to receive positive responses from viewers. If I haven’t yet, I will be visiting your sites too, to check out all of the creativity happening on WordPress and elsewhere and hopefully reciprocating in the spread of good karma.
You will see from the drawing above that not everything is going down the “leave bits blank” route, and so currently this one is much more like many that have come before. But it isn’t finished yet. What you see today is more of a progress update than a finished drawing. I whizzed off a quick scan for the blog without cleaning any of it up so it’s riddled with pencil lines and various other bits and pieces. Although the differences are sometimes subtle, this one is done on Fabriano drawing paper (200 gsm) rather than my preferred Bristol Board. The surface of the paper is much softer than the board and so the fine biro pen interacts with it differently. It is much harder to achieve the very fine line work for delicate tones on the one hand but, creates a kind of broken texture in the cross-hatching on the other hand. You do get a bit more ink build up on the nib of the pen so it’s a good idea to always have a tissue handy for keeping the pen as clean as you can. Overall the result is good though, so the paper has passed this part of the test. The next bit will be to see how it deals with direct sketching in pen. If there is a downside, it is the fact that this paper is only available in A4 and A3 sizes, so getting into some larger drawings will require me to find a different paper. I’m on to that already.
What’s going to happen in order to finish it? Well, there are a couple of new ideas that I’m trying out now which I hope will provide the answer to that question. It will be a new direction that’s for sure and I’ll post about it very soon.
Lastly today, here for your amusement, is the second cartoon I bashed out the other day over a cappuccino whilst contemplating our inability to read things properly, take things seriously and exercise our sense of humour.