I’m in the habit of numbering my sketchbooks once they are full. The present tally is a hundred and seventy-five. I’m showing sixteen of these at The Young Gallery in Salisbury as part of a solo exhibition (which also includes eleven silverpoint drawings) which is currently running alongside the exhibition, ‘20th century Figurative Art – Arts Council Collection’, curated by Peter Riley.
The drawings in these sketchbooks are of people. A lot of them were done at odd moments during the various Life Drawing classes I teach in Margate. None of them have taken more than about thirty minutes. None of them were done with the intention of showing them to anyone. These drawings were done purely for the sake of drawing and as a way to think about drawing.
It’s a strange privilege to spend time looking at somebody and to do nothing else but draw them. We don’t usually look at things for very long. We think we do but we don’t. The act of drawing someone is an affectionate and open-minded act of paying attention to their presence. We change our minds when we draw. The errors are really just the traces of our changes of mind. We have to change our minds about what we think we see if we are to have any hope of making a worthwhile drawing. Sometimes something interesting comes into play. That something might be nothing more than a line which could not have been predicted and which shows us that there is another way to see things.
Life Drawings say: ‘This was the case for a while and these are the traces of a mind engaged in the careful act of noticing someone else’s presence’.
I’ve been installing the work for my upcoming exhibition at The Young Gallery in Salisbury. This small solo exhibition of sixteen sketchbooks and eleven silverpoint drawings will occupy two large museum cabinets and is set to run alongside an exhibtion of British 20th century paintings chosen, from the Arts Council Collection, by the curator Peter Riley. ‘20th century Figurative Art – Arts Council Collection’ will include work by Craigie Aitchison, Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Patrick Caulfield, Lucian Freud, Howard Hodgkin, Ken Kiff, Euan Uglow, David Hockney and Lucian Freud.
My drawings are displayed in two large cabinets each containing silverpoint drawings and sketchbooks. The silverpoint drawings can be grouped into three different, but related, sections. On one side of the free-standing cabinet is a piece entitled “They looked like silver birds. The sun was shining on them…”. This drawing consists of sixty-eight panels containing small portrait drawings and hand-written text representing the individuals killed in an air raid in Folkestone in 1917. The title comes from an eye witness account of seeing the German, Gotha, bombers high-up overhead in the early evening sunlight just moments before the bomb exploded amidst a queue standing outside a greengrocer’s shop. Each person has a panel with their name and age and a description of their injury and some information about their life. Where I could find no visual reference for a particular individual the space for that person’s portrait remains blank.
On the other side of this cabinet are two silverpoint drawings based on found images of people in fancy dress: ‘Margate Creatives, 2010s’ and ‘Margate Imperialists, 1930s’. Each shows people dressed for a fancy dress event. The choice of costumes in both of these images hint at the social and political attitudes of people who were present in Margate both recently and eighty years ago.
The choices of costume (someone dressed for a Margate-themed party as an estate agent’s ‘SOLD’ sign and people dressed up as working class and foreign ‘types’) draw attention to questions of taste and self-expression, and of identity and colonialism.
In the largest cabinet is a line of three sets of small silverpoint portraits which are based on photo booth images: ‘Tuesday NOV 22 1983’, ‘Photo booth portrait’ and ‘1996 bus pass portrait’. Here are drawings of someone in a moment of stillness in their life; a moment which no one else witnessed and which hardly mean anything at all other than the fact that they draw attention to the fact that someone was present somewhere for a moment in time. These works also contain blocks of hand-written text (another kind of drawing).
Along the bottom of each of the cabinets is a line of opened sketchbooks showing more drawings of people. These drawings were done for the sake of drawing and for the sake of thinking about drawing and for no other reason. They are drawings of the moment and were not made as preparatory drawings for ‘finished’ works of art; they are complete in their ‘unfinishedness’ as traces of time spent paying attention to the presence of people being still.
A drawing is the meeting point of moments. A drawing can say: ‘See! This was the case and these are the traces of a mind paying attention to the presence of things. Here! These lines are points of convergence of past, present and future and we are all still here’.
If you are interested in seeing these drawings you can visit the exhibition from 9th June until 25th August. There will be a private view on 20th June (contact the gallery for an invite) and I’ll be teaching some Life Drawing workshops at the gallery as well.
I shall write in more depth about these drawings in future blog posts.
This drawing is an A4 pencil drawing (Moleskine sketch book and HB pencil if you like to know about that sort of stuff). It was drawn during one of Life Drawing classes that I teach. Here is a blog post from my ‘a-n’ blog (‘I Draw’; https://www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/i-draw).
It’s one of any number of sketchbook drawings that were never drawn to be finished Works of Art “…They are drawings done for drawing’s sake (drawing as a way of thinking about drawing). They are drawings of people who were still (or fairly still) for maybe ten or twenty minutes. They are drawings of people but drawings of people are never just hand-made pictures of people. Drawings trace moments in time.
Hand-drawn lines take time and the moment of their making is subtly replayed each time someone spends time to notice them. There are heavy lines, sharp lines, long lines, feathery lines… the variety is endless and each of them implies the presence of a thought. We change our minds as we draw and our lines capture those moments of change. We look and we notice something and we try to track the gist of it on the paper. The time taken to draw even the shortest line is there to see in its entirety all at once (like seeing a tiny life-span played out on the page).
We pay attention to the simple presence of things whenever we draw. The drawing is always wrong. We look again and we make another line. Each time it is wrong in a different way but sometimes the mark is good in spite of its wrongness. Sometimes the line feels true or it does something interesting (something we couldn’t have predicted but which is more interesting than anything we could have predicted). It’s enough that just a small part of a drawing is interesting for it to feel good. As we make our mark we are bringing into play all our momentary perceptions, all our skill and memories of all the other drawings we have ever seen.
Eventually the time is up and the pose ends and all that remains of the moment, and of the protagonists, is the drawing. One day the drawing will be the only thing left of that moment. Perhaps we make ghosts when we draw.
I don’t get to draw people as much as I’d like to. These drawings were done quickly in Life Drawing groups of at odd moments while teaching Life Drawing (in Margate and Canterbury). I have about a hundred and sixty filled-up sketchbooks to date (filled up with drawings like these ones) and the drawings will remain in those books and one day, if they survive longer than I do, they will be in the hands of someone else. I wonder what will become of them.”
This is just a quick A4 sketchbook drawing of someone. It’s nothing special but some of its lines have their moments. The model moved quite a lot but that isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. If a person repeatedly shifts their position I might work on more than one drawing and flit between them. A drawing is a sort of playing-field on which lines gather and trace the drawer’s changes-of-mind. The attention is repeatedly focused on what is momentarily present in the line of sight. The drawing is what remains of moments spent paying attention to the presence of someone else. I have about a hundred and sixty filled-up sketchbooks and this drawing is in one of the recent ones. I wonder what will become of all these drawings.
Anyway, posting this image also gives me an excuse to let you know that I now have a twitter account and that I’ll use it occasionally and you can follow it if you like. Here’s the link: #royeastlanddraw https://twitter.com/royeastlanddraw
I’m going to delete most of the old static pages (see the list to the right of this post) and simplify things so that this blog has a ‘home/archive page’ (here), an ‘about me’ page and one or two other pages. I’ve already deleted a couple of the old static pages. I’ll repost some of their content on this ‘home/archive page’ as and when I find the time to do it.
The drawing, by the way, is from an A4 ‘Moleskine’ sketchbook (sketchbook number 160, July-October 2015). I number my sketchbooks once they are full. Some take years to fill up and others take days or weeks. Most of these sketchbook drawings are of people and the drawings are mostly done for the sake of drawing and for the sake of thinking about drawing.
Here are some old drawings from 2011. They were done in the Powell-Cotton Museum (a marvellous old museum at Quex Park, Birchington, on the Isle of Thanet).
I love this museum. The Powell-Cotton is almost a museum of a museum in the way it displays its treasures. Objects are arranged in groups according to type (weapons, a wall of Abyssinian Christian religious paintings, walls lined with skulls of horned animals, collections of ceramic objects, local historical finds, and the museum’s famous dioramas of animals). It has the feel of a museum from a hundred years ago and its old-fashioned-ness is part of its charm. It’s the kind of museum which doesn’t tell you how to think about the things on display; you are free to discover wonderful things for your self. These particular drawings are of a couple of the exhibits displayed in the big primate diorama (a chimpanzee and a gorilla mother and child).
These drawings are from a page (from 2011) which I’ve since deleted.
Here is a draft of the fourth blog for my Artist Residency at The Beaney:
The Beaney House of Knowledge and Art: The Front Room ‘Armchair Artist Residency’ blog.
Blog number four, December 2013:
I’ve installed an exhibition of my drawings and sketchbooks in The Drawing Room at The Beaney. I managed to squeeze everything that is in the exhibition into a couple of large shoulder bags and lug the whole lot over to Canterbury on the number 8 bus. The journey from Margate takes the best part of an hour and I’ve been doing this trip a lot since becoming the ‘Front Room Artist Armchair Resident’. This journey has become an important aspect of my ‘Residency’ at The Beaney. The bus takes me along a line in the landscape which has been there for centuries. Upstairs at the front of the bus is a good place to sit and notice things and to let my mind wander and to notice myself noticing.
My exhibition consists of twenty sketchbooks and sixteen loose drawings (I’ve posted a video tour of it on my youtube channel to give you an idea of it). The loose drawings were done in The Beaney as part of the ‘Front Room Artist Armchair residency’ and the sketchbooks are all recent ones containing drawings of people. When I installed the work I made the decision to place drawings so that they might subtly relate to each other or direct the gaze in certain ways. There is no hidden message or overarching theme here. I simply thought that their placing might bring something extra into play in the mind of the viewer – it is whimsical. I offer my drawings as things to look at and it’s up to the viewer to look at the drawings and notice things and let the mind wander.
None of these drawings were done for the purpose of being exhibited. They weren’t designed as ‘Works of Art’ or with an exhibition in mind. Each drawing was done separately and for its own sake. If they share a theme, it is that they are all drawings that pay attention to the physical presence of things. There are drawings of inanimate objects (made of marble, bronze and silver) that were made to look like people and there are drawings of real people being still. It’s a wonderful thing when someone is happy to be still and let you draw them. If I did nothing else with my life, drawing people would be a good use of a lifetime. I wish I could do it more often.
We change our minds when we draw. ‘Objective Drawing’ is a process of continual revision (a good rule-of-thumb is that if your drawing isn’t going wrong then you’re just not trying hard enough!). Drawings are the trace-evidence of a mind making sense of things. They show us that someone was here and that they were interested in the presence of someone or of something outside of themselves.
Across the room from my drawings is a small oblong-shaped piece of vellum covered in neat pen-and-ink hand-writing: The Godwine Charter. A thousand years ago it had a practical function as a legal document but now it has an afterlife as an object of contemplation in a museum. We can appreciate it as a kind of drawing. Hand-writing and the kind of lines you find in drawings are similar things. Both of them are products of human touch and of the time it took to draw them. That particular human presence and that particular moment of time are subtly replayed every time another person sees it. It is both trivial and wonderful. A similar effect can be felt in places too. My bus journey to Canterbury draws me along a line in the landscape which was already old when that scribe’s pen was forming those letters on that piece of vellum which sits across the room from my drawings.
Museums are full of things that have survived to hint at what was here and what took place. They put us in company with people separated from us by a distance of time. I wonder how long my sketchbooks will last. I wonder what will become of them. I wonder who my drawings are for.