Some thoughts on Drawing

Since the coronavirus lockdown has put an end to Life Drawing, for now at least, I thought it might be interesting to make some short YouTube videos about Drawing using my demonstration drawings from my Life Drawing classes. I’ve made the first of these and posted it on my YouTube channel.

I felt very self-conscious talking to myself in my workspace but I’ve done it now and you can watch it on YouTube. My plan is to make more of these and so watch out for them or subscribe to my YouTube channel if you’re interested. Here is a link to the first of these videos:


Woman from Myslowice, 1944.

“Displaced Portrait no7 (woman from Myslowice/Myslowitz, 1944)” silverpoint.

This is a silverpoint drawing based on a photographic image of a woman from Myslowice in 1944. I don’t know her name or anything about her. But I know that the picture was taken in 1944 and that Myslowice is in Silesia, in Poland, and that Silesia became part of an expanded Germany during The Second World War, and that it had a sizable ethnically German population before the war, and that the German population was expelled at the end of the war.

Her photograph found its way into my hands via a second-hand shop in Margate. My drawing is one of a series of silverpoint drawings, titled ‘Displaced Portraits’, which I showed as part of my solo exhibition for the Margate Now art festival. These ‘Displaced Portraits’ are of people who were photographed, mostly in Germany, in the 1930s and 1940s and whose images I found, at different times, in the same second-hand shop. I wonder how we are connected? I wonder if my drawing gets close to her?

Displaced Portrait no13 (Trudi, Feb 1943)

“Displaced Portrait no13 (Trudi, Feb 1943)” 2019, silver on gesso on board, 21×14.5cm

Here is a drawing, done in silver, of someone who was photographed somewhere in the Germany in 1943. From the hand-written text on the back of the photograph we can glean that she was probably called Trudi and that her picture was probably taken in February 1943. As she is a teenager here, it’s just about possible that she is still alive somewhere now. If so, she will most likely be in her late nineties. As far as I know, our paths have never crossed. But who knows?

A photograph is a trace of the visual appearance as it was within a single point in time; drawings take time: they take time to make and take time to see. They are never the traces of a single moment or even of a single image. Our vision of whatever we are drawing changes as we draw and so even a drawing based on a single, still, image is really multiple drawings and multiple visions seen over a period of time. As we draw, we become aware of ourselves noticing what it is we notice. We also become aware of how our body feels as we draw. Drawings, then, are the traces of a kind of meditation on the presence of things.

In drawing these ‘Displaced Portraits’ I was trying to get to know the particular ‘look’ of each person. Of course, it’s impossible to really know if I’ve got anywhere close to something that they would recognise as themselves, but I hope I’ve got something of their humanity in my drawings.

It’s hard to explain why I draw these people. I sort of know why I do it but I doubt if I could explain it. Do I need to explain?

“Displaced Portrait no13 (Trudi, Feb 1943)” was shown as part of my ‘Margate Now’, art festival, solo exhibtion.

“They looked like silver birds. The sun was shining on them…”

“They looked like silver birds. The sun was shining on them…” is a piece from 2012 about the people who were killed by a bomb which exploded amid a shopping queue in Tontine Street, Folkestone, during the air raid of 25th May 1917. I became obsessed with this subject and worked on it, off and on, from about 2010. This particular piece was selected for the Jerwood Drawing Prize (now the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize) and has been exhibited at various galleries on various occasions. It finally made its way to Folkestone for a one-off event on the occasion of the centenary of the raid and the inauguration of a new memorial plaque. It would be lovely if it could eventually find its way back to Folkestone one day. It’s most recent showing was as part of my Margate Now, art festival, solo show in October.

As a result of showing this piece, I have been contacted by relatives of people who were caught up in the 25th May 1917 air raid and I now have more visual reference material and more stories to add. If I had the money to do so I would work on this subject more. I feel that I’ll return to this in the future. It has been a, very sad, labour of love.

I’ve written a lot more about this in previous posts. Please click on the ‘Folkestone’ category of this blog or scroll back to find my previous posts.

Folkestone, 25th May 1917

“They looked like silver birds. The sun was shining in them…” is a piece about the victims of the 1917 air raid on Folkestone. It was selected for the 2013 Jerwood Drawing Prize (now the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize).

I became obsessed with this subject for years. It became a labour of love but it was a very difficult subject to work on from an emotional point of view, I had to keep taking breaks away from it as the work developed. If I had the means to work on this more I would do.

Here is one of my YouTube videos of the work. I’ve written about it in previous posts which you can find if you scroll back through this blog or by going to the ‘catagories’ list.

6 Feb 1943

“Displaced Portrait No11 (young woman from Duren, 6 Feb 1943)”, 2019, silver on gesso on board, 21×14.5cm.

This is number eleven of a series of small silverpoint drawings of people who had their pictures taken in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. These photographs found their way into my hands via a second-hand shop in Cliftonville, Margate (UK). I exhibited them as part of my ‘Margate Now’ (art festival) solo show in October.

Number three of this series for included in the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize 2018. Please scroll back through my blog to find more about this body of work.

“Isolation Interview”

Lines like little life stories

Demonstration drawing for a Life Drawing exercise (charcoal on A1 cartridge paper)

Here is a demonstration drawing from one of my Life Drawing workshops. The model held two poses, for fifteen seconds each time, three times over.

We see and we draw the model’s body within a sequence of moments. We find and construct our vision of it as we draw. We are not drawing a pre-existing picture of someone. Through drawing, their presence is continually new to us. Any drawing done from life must inevitably be an unsettled and fragmentary vision, seen, and half-seen, in those unique moments in time.

We pay attention to that particular line along the edge of the body and make our line mimic its course. Notice the feel of your arm finding a sympathetic line on the drawing-surface. Notice what you notice. Draw from the centre of the figure, see the angles between points on the body, notice what is nearest, draw the shadows that indicate form, see the negative shapes… and so on. The model re-occupies the same positions three times, but each time the body will be slightly different. And even if it were humanly possible to re-assume the exact same stance, you, the one drawing, will have changed.

You are not quite the same person who began your drawing. Draw what is present and let it be your statement. No need, and no time, to ‘correct’ the mark you leave. Draw into the next moment, and the next. Let all these moments leave their mark.

Each hand-drawn line has its own life story of beginning somewhere, of changing and of coming to its end. Time runs out again and again and the best you can do is to make your line say: “Here is what I saw; and then I saw this, and then this as well!” You had your moment to see what you could see and your drawing is its ghost.

Thanks to Covid-19, Life Drawing courses everywhere have been cancelled but I’m sure they will return again at some point. This is a demonstration drawing done for a drawing exercise for a Life Drawing class at the Margate Adult Education Centre. Please follow this blog if you’d like to know when I resume teaching Life Drawing (there is a ‘follow’ button at the top right-hand corner of the home page). You can also see my other social media places (find the links to them on my ‘About Me’ section of this blog).

Two sketchbook drawings

Drawings from sketchbook number 191

Life Drawings are made up of the traces of moments when someone took the time to notice the physical presence of someone being still. A Life Drawing is never only an image of someone – the lines and marks are a kind of memory of the event of paying attention to the physical presence of someone.

Here are two drawings of same person posing for a Life Drawing session. She moved her head and so I did two drawings. Each re-drawing is drawn slightly differently. Even if it were possible for a Life Model to remain stone-like and unchanging, we, the person drawing, will have changed ever so slightly over that period of time. And so, a single drawing is always, in reality, multiple drawings. We are not quite the same person who began our drawing. We look, and look again, and each new line is a chance to change our minds about what we think we are in the presence of.

I’ve made a short video tour of this sketchbook. You can find it over on my YouTube channel.

A small sketchbook life drawing

Here is a pencil drawing from a small sketchbook. The drawing was done in about ten minutes. It’s a drawing of somebody being still.

Life Drawings are not like drawings of caved stone or photographic images. With Life Drawing we are in company with the person we are drawing and we pay attention to their physical presence.

Life Drawings are always wrong and, in each reworking, they are wrong in a different way. The best we can hope for is that our lines are sincerely drawn and that one or two of those lines are good lines.

Unfinishedness is the characteristic quality of drawings done from life: they acknowledge the fact that at every moment it could all be seen differently.