I teach Life Drawing to people with a wide range of experience and ambitions. It’s quite normal for me to be teaching groups which include practicing artists, with degrees and MAs etc, alongside people who describe themselves as ‘beginners’ (I don’t believe there is even such a thing as a ‘beginner’ when it comes to drawing!). It’s an interesting challenge to design classes and courses that are useful to everyone. Demonstration drawings can be useful.
Here is a demonstration drawing done over the course of about thirty minutes. It’s probably a ten-minute drawing if you take into account all of the stops to discuss ideas at various moments as the drawing took shape. I might do one of these as part of a day-long session and I’ll also do one at some point during a six-week or ten-week course. This A1 charcoal drawing happens to be from a session I taught at The Young Gallery in Salisbury.
The point of these demonstrations is to offer a range of ways of thinking about Drawing and to show a drawing-process, involving constant revision, being played-out over time. These demonstrations are as much about ideas as about techniques, if not more so.
Mistakes are an essential part of the process. We change our minds as we draw and our drawings are the traces of all those moments when these changes took place. I like to think of the drawing surface as a kind of map or a game board on which all the little dramas of decisions and indecisions, moves and momentary presence had their moments and left their trace.
We make drawings within a sequence of moments but we view the ‘finished’ drawing (are drawings ever really ‘finished’?) as if from various points in time and all at once. Our drawings are traces of time and of our physical and pscycological presence just as much as they are marks made to resemble visual appearances of things.
It’s impossible to draw at the same time as describing the thought processes that bring the drawing into being; even so, that is what I attempt to do in these drawings. The main effort is to make the mark connect with, or resemble, the thought. For example: the angle of the line between two points of the figure might be the only thought at that particular moment in time, the idea of a circuit created by the loop of the arms might be another, the shape of shadows imply the presence of the form which casts them, variations in the weight of lines might indicate that something is nearer than something else… and so on, and so on. Each moment in the drawing is concerned only with that moment’s effort. You must have faith in the drawing as a process that brings these separate ideas into some kind of ‘agreement’ as the drawing emerges.
And there is the basic, almost child-like, pleasure in drawing a line – the physical sensation of it and the surprise in seeing the result of it. This is not the least important aspect of drawing. The really good lines come from the attempt to be precise whilst being also open to the possibility of their being another way of seeing it and of making our mark.
I’m going to be taking part in the ‘Margate NOW’ art festival in October.
My solo show, ‘Displaced Portraits’, will be on display at Gordon House in Margate on: 18th, 19th, 20th, 24th, 25th, 26th and 27th of October.
The exhibition will consist of a series of small silverpoint drawings of people seen in photographs taken in 1930s/1940s Germany and found in a Margate junkshop, drawings based on photo booth images of my mum and dad, and images of people disguised in costume. All the drawings have a Margate connection.
Here is number 10 of this series. The original photograph captured the presence this person being still for a moment somewhere – my drawings are a kind of meditation on this displaced trace of that tiny moment in her life. Somehow it found its way into my hands via a junk shop in Cliftonville, Margate. I wonder in what ways our lives are connected with each other’s.
This drawing has been repeatedly re-worked. It’s come and gone and come and gone umpteen times over. It died for a while (see my previous post). I’m going to leave it as it is now.
I lose faith in my drawings and they die. Would it be more accurate to say that I kill them or is it that they never quite manage to come alive? It’s probably a hopeless task to try and make drawings that ‘live’ but that is always what I hope for.
And so, I suppose, most of my drawings are failures. Each one is a different kind of failure. It is never the same but it is always heart breaking to spend so much time and effort and to have so little to show for it. Some people might say they all of these failed drawings were ‘finished’ several times over. Not for me they weren’t.
Here is a silverpoint drawing I’ve been working on for about eleven days over the course of about three weeks. I often work on drawings for much longer than that. This was/is number eleven of my series of ‘Displaced Portraits’. These are drawings based on people in photographs which I’ve found at different times in the same Margate secondhand shop. The photographs were taken in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. Number three of this series was selected for the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize. See my previous posts for more about this series of drawings.
I’ve been working on a series of small silverpoint drawings called ‘Displaced Portraits’. The drawings are of people who were photographed in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. All of the photographs share the fact that they were all found at different times in the same Margate second hand shop.
The drawings are worked on over the course of months. They are never straight forward copies of photographs. Each piece is repeatedly scratched-away and then redrawn. This process of loss and re-finding takes place over and over again. In each reworking something new comes into play. The process brings about moments of unpredictability.
I don’t quite know what it is that I’m trying to create or trying to see in these drawings. I know that I’m trying the understand these people’s faces but it’s not only that. I’m hoping to be surprised by what comes to the surface as I work on them. I can’t explain it but it is something which can only come through the act of repeated re-drawing and endless re-looking and re-imaging. The original photographs are the traces of tiny moments in time; my drawings are a kind of repeated meditation on those traces.
‘Displaced Portrait No:4 (man from Kiel)’ is based on a small photograph which has Kiel stamped on the reverse side. I know nothing more about this man. The focus of the drawing is the face. It’s a drawing which could have been finished several times over. I did believe it was finished months ago and I had put it away in a drawer in my studio and there it sat until I decided to work on it again. Now it is finished. Perhaps I should say that it is finished for now.
Last August I did a couple of drawings in the visitors’ comments book at Roslin Castle. I never know what to write in comments books. Sometimes we leave comments to say how much we appreciated something and sometimes it’s simply a way of saying: “I was here” or even “Here I am”.
My lovely friends Pete and Marla invited to stay with them on their holiday in Edinburgh last August. They had booked to stay in Roslin Castle (Yeah!). There are comments books there dating back to when the castle was first rented out as a Landmark Trust building. I found myself seeing dates and reflecting on where I was when others where leaving their mark in those books.
My inclination is the draw rather than write. I made a drawing of a wooden portrait bust in the sitting room. The bust is of a member of the family which owns the castle. It dates from the 1920s or early 1930s.
My drawing is a pencil drawing done on, not very good, paper (I know, a bad workman blames his tools). The paper is drawn into as much as it is drawn onto. You might be able to make out inscribed lines and small tears in the paper. There are passages (is that a good word?) where the paper is shiny with the graphite from repeated over-drawing and there are places where the drawing is hardly there at all. It is what it is and it is a record of me trying to see a face.
It is what it is and it’s waiting in that book for someone else to see it.
Here are a few pictures of the private view at the Royal Drawing School of the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize exhibition. The exhibition has been at its present venue since the start of February but the private view was just last week. I’m glad I went to the private view and it was great to meet artists whose work I admire and who I’d only ever ‘met’ through the medium of say twitter or Instagram until now.
My piece in this show is a small silverpoint drawing which is one of an ongoing series of drawings called: ‘Displaced Portraits’. The drawings are of people seen in photographs taken in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s and found in a Margate second hand shop at different times. ‘Displaced Portrait no:3 (woman in carefully repaired image)’ is drawn from a photograph which had been torn in two and then so carefully repaired that you can’t see the damage at first glance.
The drawing is based on the photograph but it isn’t a straight forward copy. The piece has been repeatedly drawn, scratched-away and redrawn. These drawings are worked on over long periods of time and the process, of loss and re-finding, is unpredictable. The recurring focus is always the person I am trying to draw out of their snapshot image. There is no way of ever really knowing if I’m getting close but I hope the people I am trying to draw would see themselves in my drawings.
Drawing is always a medium trace. At it’s most fundamental level, a drawing is a surface with a mark on it indicating the passing presence of an though; it always says ‘someone was here’. The drawings are of people displaced from their place and moment. An image of their moment has found its way into my hands here in Margate in the early 21st century. Everything which lasts eventually becomes displaced.
Metalpoint drawings emphasise the quality of trace in the most beautiful way. A silverpoint line is the mark left when the metal is dragged across a prepared surface (imagine a key being dragged across an emulsion-painted wall and you get the rough idea). The mark is extremely subtle but it is also indelible. Silverpoint lines are extremely gentle mark; the line is not made any more emphatic by pressing harder and you are forced to work with the medium with its unique limitations and qualities. Drawing with metalpoint is an appropriate medium for my interest in making Art about memory and presence.
The exhibition continues at the Royal Drawing School until 21st February and then moves on to Drawing Projects in Trowbridge, near Salisbury.
See my post from 23rd August 2018 for a full view of my drawing.