Thursday, 7 March 2013


I was drawing in a café in Manchester, when I was a student there, many years ago.  A girl of about eight or nine wandered up and looked at what I was doing.  She looked at my hand drawing and she looked at the people I was drawing at the other side of the small basement cafe.

'Can't you draw without copying?' she asked.

That has stayed with me ever since.  For her - like most children - drawing was all about sitting and retreating into a private world - of trying to make your imagination come alive through drawing.  My own son would spend hours at a similar age, drawing complex battle scenes or fiendishly complicated plans of imaginary houses.  Very little thought was given to how well rendered these things were.  They were simply ways of recording the thoughts in his head.  They were functional.

Of course, I didn't see objective drawing as 'copying', even though - in a way - it is.  The subject matter is given to you.  It's one of the things that appeals to me about it - the freedom from invention.  Freed from the pressure to invent, I can just relax and enjoy the accidental arrangements that occur in real life - the way one object partially conceals another, the way hair falls, or clothing creases.

I used to carry my sketchbook everywhere, sketching friends, the corners of rooms - whatever was in front of me at the time.  Over time, as my illustration career and painterly pretentions kicked in, I decided that sketching was all a bit blasé.  I became more and more dissatisfied with the drawings I did and more and more sceptical of the reasons for doing them at all.  Real artists didn't sit about sketching, for goodness sake!

Looking through some sketchbooks from college, I was struck most of all by how thankful I was to have done them and to have these reminders of those I loved and of the places we lived and worked.  But I was conscious too that I had lost some of the confidence I showed in those drawings.  It had been replaced with a doubt - a doubt I think I persuaded myself was the authentic sign of a true artist.

When I write, I am interested in what makes the character I am writing about specifically that character and not another.  I am very, very concerned about setting - about the particularities of the locations that I choose.  I will often set a story in a very specific location.  Even when I have not named it, I still usually know in my head where it is.

When I write, I invent the plot but use actual locations, historical detail and observations of the world around me to make that invention real for the reader.  I think I need to do something similar when I paint and illustrate.

And I think I need to get back to the joy of drawing for pleasure.

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