I’ll be taking part in a zoom discussion about Drawing tomorrow (Wednesday) at 5pm (UK time). This is part of a series of online events to mark the publication of Jake Spicer’s book, ‘Figure Drawing’. Please click on the link below.
One of my drawings has made it through to the second stage of the selection process for the 2021 Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize.
‘Displaced Portrait No16 (woman from Brünn/Brno, 1942)’ is one of an ongoing series of silverpoint drawings based on portrait photographs taken mostly in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s and which have found their way into my hands via a second-hand shop in my home town, Margate (U.K.). MY drawings are a kind of meditation on these displaced traces of lived moments.
This particular drawing is of a woman who, judging from the hand-writing on the back of the photograph, was a German-speaker living in Brünn in 1942 in what is now the Czech Republic. Brünn is nowadays called Brno. At the end of the war the ethnically German population was expelled.
The medium is silverpoint on gesso on board. The piece has been repeatedly drawn onto with points of silver wire, drawn into with needles, and scratched-away with scalpel blades and sandpaper. The image goes through a process of repeated loss and re-finding. With each re-working, certain details change; but always the repeated point of reference is the original photographic image. I draw in the hope of catching sight of something which I could not have foreseen but which feels somehow true. These drawings are worked on over the course of months and years. They often never reach an end-point.
My drawing pays attention to a displaced souvenir from the past. Each re-working points to the same thing but each re-working is also a different drawing. Whatever it is that I’m trying to see seems always to be elusive.
Hand-made drawings remind us that there is always another way of seeing and that there is always another way to mark those moments of recognition. I wonder who I have drawn here.
The selectors for this year’s Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize are the artist Sheela Gowda, Simon Groom (Director of Modern and Contemporary Art, National Galleries of Scotland) and Zoé Whitley (Director of Chisenhale Gallery).
I’m very happy to find that my metalpoint drawing, ‘Mum’, has been selected for the Mall Galleries’ ‘Figurative Art Now’ exhibition (7th July – 20th September).
‘Mum’ is a drawing done in gold and silverpoint on gesso on board (a metalpoint drawing). I started working on it at least two years ago, and I’ve worked on it, off and on, for sixty-four days. It’s been abandoned several times but I kept on returning to it.
The portrait image is mostly based in a small identity photograph which was probably the last photographic image of my mum. But it’s not a straightforward copy of a single image. Other images, as well as my own memory, have also influenced the way the drawing has taken shape over time. My drawing-process, a process of repeatedly scratching-away and redrawing, of repeated loss and refinding, is my way of trying to get at something I could not have foreseen but which feels more true than a simple copy of a pre-existing image.
My drawing has been several drawings really. But then aren’t all drawings really several drawings? It’s in the nature of Drawings be unsettled and uncertain works of art. I think drawings are more like questions than statements. Drawings let you in; the gaps in the surface are important. We see traces of earlier, and different, versions which still point towards the same thing. I like to think of Drawings as meeting places of moments, thoughts and touch.
In common with a lot of my drawings, this piece has been repeatedly scratched-into, scratched-away and redrawn. The look of it has altered through each reiteration. At times, during the course of this drawing, there was a lot more text in the drawing than is now the case. But you can still see traces of their lines all over the drawing if you look hard enough. These lines of hand-written text are lines of remembered speech on the subject of having a home.
It’s been an emotionally difficult drawing to work on but I’m glad it reached an end-point and I’m pleased that it’s going to be on show as part of The Mall Galleries’ ‘Figurative Art Now’ exhibtion.
Figurative Art Now runs from 7th July until 20th September. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the exhibition will be shown online only. The selectors were the artists Barbara Walker and Andrew Gifford, Clare O’Brien (CEO of the Mall Galleries), Jo Baring (Director of the Ingram Collection) and Jonathan Watkins (Director of the Ikon Gallery).
Here is another of the drawing exercises that I use in my Life Drawing classes. In this exercise we draw with two points. That is, we hold two pencils in the same hand and draw with both points touching the paper at once. For the first five minutes we draw with the pencils without rubbing out, and then we draw with both the pencils and a rubber.
With this way of drawing, we are guaranteed to have a drawing which is at least half wrong. Getting it wrong is a necessary part of the drawing process and getting used to that feeling of it going wrong is a useful part of learning process.
This way of drawing forces us to draw without relying on the small details or definite outlines to hold the logic of the drawing together. We are forced to pay attention to the more general sense of the form. Any outlines and edges will be ambiguous because there will be at least two lines in play. The awkwardness of using two points might make us more aware of the ways we target our lines when we draw.
The rubber is used to draw with rather than as something with which to get rid of mistakes. The drawing process becomes a to-and-fro of dark and light lines, marks and gestures. We can draw beyond the figure because we can use the rubber to draw the edges back again. The ambiguous character of drawn lines comes to he fore with this kind of drawing. It’s also a lot of fun.
Please click on the link below to watch my short video about this drawing exercise. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KUaYQunti8
As the coronavirus lockdown continues to make Life Drawing an impossibility, I thought it might be interesting to share some thoughts about some of the ways I teach Drawing through the practice of Life Drawing.
With this, ‘continuous-line’, drawing exercise we draw a person for two or three minutes using just one, unbroken, line. The charcoal touches the paper throughout and there is no rubbing out. Even though we are drawing with just the one line, that one line can vary its character and its function as it makes its way over the surface of the paper.
The line might begin as a confused scribble. A scribbling movement of the hand/arm might be good way to begin to notice the physicality of the act of drawing. We see the charcoal touching the paper and notice the way it leaves its trace. We start to link the sense of our physical presence with our hand-drawn line and with the act of seeing and thinking.
The line might become movements which mimic the uprightness of the head, say, or it might trace a wave-like line as it echoes the line of the body from the back down to the side of the leg. The descriptive function of the line might change from being that of a separating-outline to one which describes the shape of a shadow. A concertina-like set of zigzags might describe the curve of an arm or the belly. The line could change again to show where a negative shape sits within our field of vision. A heavier touch might suggest nearness in contrast to a softer touch for parts of the body which are further away. The line might slow down or speed up, or it might simply take the charcoal point from one position to another…. and so, it continues.
With this way of drawing, the evidence of all the changes-of-mind, all the revisions, and all the mistakes remain on show in the drawing. It forces us to accept the whole drawing process, including all the mistakes.
There is also a playful aspect to this exercise. Having some restrictions can take the pressure off us to feel we have to make a ‘good drawing’, and as a consequence, our drawing might give us marks which are unexpectedly good. And there is also that simple pleasure of movement and mark-making.
That touch of the charcoal-in-hand on the surface of the paper is always at the cusp of the next moment. As we draw, we might become a little more aware of ways in which drawings trace lengths of time as well as visual appearances.
Please click on the link below to watch my short video about this exercise. And please subscribe to my YouTube channel if you find these my drawing videos interesting. Thank you.
This might be the last drawing I ever do. This drawing might never be finished. I might be catastrophising, but this is what it feels like for me. It’s what it always feels like. Is this because of all the disruption and uncertainties caused by the coronavirus lockdown? It is because of all the insecurities created by Margate’s ‘cultural regeneration’ (aka ‘gentrification’ or ‘social cleansing’)? Is it something in me? I suspect it’s a bit all of the above.
The fact that it is presently impossible to show any drawings anywhere makes it hard to imagine a context in which people might actually spend time with my drawings. And you have to spend time with drawings – in the physical presence of drawings – to ‘get’ what they really are.
I think of my drawing-process as a kind of game. The main rules of this game are that I should keep paying attention to the presence of what it is I think I’m drawing and that I must try to be open-minded about what I think that ‘presence’ actually is. The drawing surface is a kind of gaming surface over which the multiple decisions and changes-of-mind leave their trace. My drawings are as much about the processes of noticing as they are about images which emerge.
Drawings take time. You have to spend time with them – with their physical presence – to notice, half-notice, or feel their effect. These drawings are about people but they are also about the act of noticing. I will continue to draw in hope.
You can find out more about the drawings in this series by clicking the ‘Displaced Portraits’ category on this blog and by visiting my YouTube channel and going to the ‘Displaced Portraits’ playlist.
This drawing has previously been exhibited at Gordon House, Margate, as part of the Margate Now Art Festival. It was displayed as one of a line of fifteen “Displaced Portraits”. More recently, I have worked on it some more, and so it’s a slightly different drawing than it was then. But drawings don’t need to be finished things, and I like to change my mind.
My drawing process involves a lot of re-drawing over long periods of time. I draw onto boards which are coated with multiple layers of gesso. These drawing surfaces take a long time to make and their preparation is a craft in itself. The thickness of the gesso allows me to repeatedly scratch-away and scratch-into the drawing surface with needles, blades and sandpaper. I like to think of the drawing surface as a kind of gaming surface onto which the to-and-fros of the drawing-process, and all the changes of mind, are played out. The resultant drawings are the traces of all the moments of decisions, of touch and time. I don’t believe there is ever a settled version of what any person really looks like and I hope my drawings hint at the possibility of other ways of seeing the same thing.
This drawing is based on portrait photograph printed in Duren, Germany, and dated 6th February 1943. It was shortlisted for the 2021 Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition. Please click on the ‘Displaced Portraits’ category to find out more about this body of work. Or go to my YouTube channel and find my ‘Displaced Portraits’ playlist.
I keep drawing these people. I call them ‘Displaced Portraits’. I don’t know them but drawing makes them seem strangely familiar to me. I spend enormous amounts of time drawing and re-drawing them, over and over again. I’m trying to see something but I can’t say what it is that I hope to see. These drawings are done in silverpoint and with needles, scalpel blades and sandpaper. The drawing-process is one of repeated scratching-away and re-drawing, over the course of months and years. They are never settled things but some of them reach a point where they can be left as they are. It’s both a conjuring and a meditative process of trying to see these people.
I’ve created some short videos about this body of work: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLrooCSMET2rL6dTYxEB_wRVZzjR4qOXSh
I don’t know who it is that I drew here. I could say ‘drew here’ both in the sense of literally having drawn her image here onto this drawing-surface and in our line of sight, but I could also use it in the sense that a ‘Medium’ might claim to draw towards them the presence of the departed. I’m not one of those ‘Mediums’ but I do quite like the idea of the drawing process being, in part, an act of conjuring. I don’t mean a conjuring trick – something deeper. I think Drawing is essentially an artistic medium which traces the presence of things.
My drawing’s starting point, and its repeated point of reference, is a small photograph which I bought from a second-hand shop. It has a very faint trace of a photographer’s stamp on the back but it’s too indistinct to make sense of. I found it along with some similar photographs which had photographers stamps which identified them as German. But who can say what its context is? There are always multiple contexts to every object that turns up in a second-hand shop. I was drawn to her photograph and it felt right to attempt to try and draw her from it.
As with the other drawings in this series, the piece has been repeatedly drawn, scratch-away and redrawn. My drawing-process allows for the unexpected touches to come into play and to alter the drawing’s trajectory in ways that I could not have foreseen. Drawings are made up of the accumulated traces of moments of human touch connected to passing thoughts. All is always in a state of flux and the finished drawing (as much as a drawing can ever really be said to be finished) is the moment of the sharing of those traces of that particular span of time spent trying to see. And there is always another way to see things. Faces aren’t settled things and nor are drawings.
I’ve created a playlist of the videos that I’ve made about my ‘Displaced Portraits’. You an see them via this link below. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel if you’d like to see future videos as and when I make them. Thank you. https://youtu.be/wRZb0U7ZO9k?list=PLrooCSMET2rL6dTYxEB_wRVZzjR4qOXSh