On drawing

Ink and penUntil I was about 16 years old, I harboured ambitions of being an Artist. I asked for an easel for my 14th birthday and took it on holiday to Ireland with me so I could stand by a river to paint a little stone bridge. I remember being annoyed that my father, slightly over-protectively, insisted on positioning himself just around the bend of the stream to do some fly fishing. Having your dad a few yards away to keep an eye on you somehow didn’t quite fit with my romantic idea of being an Artist, capturing Nature in its rawest form. As for the picture: I think it was my grandmother who held it the wrong way up and said “It looks lovely dear!”.

A couple of years after that, I woke up one morning and thought “I don’t want to go to art school. I’m going to move to the UK to study English.” And that was that. Since then, I have largely neglected drawing and painting, with a few exceptions. Because I resent paying £4.29 for a birthday card in WH Smith’s, I usually make my own. I draw doodles in the margins of my notebooks during long phone calls or boring meetings. And that’s about it. So when I started this blog and contemplated what to do about the visual content of it, it was with some hesitation that I decided to illustrate it myself. The reasons in favour: I’m rubbish at photography; I wanted original images; I thought it might be a good discipline to draw regularly again. The reasons against: it’s more pressure to produce an illustration as well as a post each time; I’m not really very good at it.

Now then. To head this one off straight away: I know I can be self-deprecating in this blog – and some people do tell me I have to stop being negative about myself. But. I just don’t want to be that person. You know, that person who goes on the X Factor after two years of intensive singing lessons only to be told they sound a bit like a budget cruise liner version of Celine Dion. That person. And, quite apart from that, I am a bit bad at drawing. When I really apply myself and take a long time over something, I occasionally produce a drawing I am quite proud of – but it is certainly not effortless. I’m terrible at drawing likeness; I struggle to capture positions of the human body; I can’t draw hands and feet; my architectural drawing skills are lamentable. I’ve never learnt to use oil paint properly (I push it around the canvas impatiently until somehow everything turns into a big brown blob), and my acrylic painting is simplistic to say the least. I’m genuinely not great.

On the other hand, the cartoonesque watercolour and ink style I have sort of got comfortable with over the years seems to work. I get nice comments from people sometimes, and and some of those people are not my mum. I’m glad I decided to do illustrations for my blog: they make it more personal and quirky, and I never have to mine Google Images for suitable pictures. I was really chuffed when out of the blue, WordPress cited my blog in an ‘early theme adopters’ article last summer and commended my illustrations in particular. And and every now and then, when I sit here with my cup of tea and my little Winsor and Newton set, listening to music and doodling away, I am quite happy.

So today, as well as my blog picture, I have been working on an illustration to send to my mum for her birthday/retirement party invitation. It looks ok and she’ll probably be pleased. At least it’s clear which way up it’s meant to be. I will never call myself an illustrator – and I am glad I didn’t go to art school. But I’m quite happy to keep doodling.



8 thoughts on “On drawing

  1. Call yourself an illustrator or an artist or a doodler…or not. The fact remains that what you create, causes my eye to linger; and to look; and to inspect; and then wonder. Wonder why you drew that like you did, and a bit of yourself gets revealed. I met Charles Barsotti once when I was waiting tables in Kansas City. He drew squiggly lines that ended up in the New Yorker. Made a good living out of that. Call yourself what you want. I enjoy your doodling. I think they would look good in the New Yorker. Just saying…

  2. I just realized, I don’t think I’ve ever told you how much I enjoy your illustrations. They are so fabulous and always impressive. Please do call yourself an illustrator! Forget oil and acrylics, you’ve found your niche and you’re brilliant at it. The fact that you enjoy it is so much the better!

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