Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Doodles and musings
It was National Doodle Day last Friday, apparently. "Really?" said I, "I hadn't heard that". "That's because", said Mark, "it's National, not International!" Sometimes I think I watch too much Sky TV and forget I don't actually live in the UK!
As I was rooting around to find the brown Paperchase sketchbook, I came across two little drawings I made last year and forgot all about. The one on the left is a doodle of Paul's face which emerged, strangely, out of a page where I was practising some cross hatching. The middle drawing is of Alex, using a photo to practice some colour - and getting the hair colour all wrong! It's a pretty dodgy portrait too but I wasn't worrying too much about accuracy.
There is an interesting page about meanings of doodles, here on the National Doodle Day site. I normally do one of two things - either meandering, unbroken lines, or lots of arrows coming from a central point - so I'm not sure I fit neatly into any of the categories. But when I was working at one unhappy job, I used to do the same doodle for years - rows and rows of bricks! Not deliberately either, they just came out like that every time! Definitely a meaning in that...
As I was mulling over those brick walls, I remembered another thing that my doodles revealed. At that time, I used to draw for hours and hours every night, working on one portrait for weeks. I discovered, doodling on my office note pad while answering the phone, that I could draw the same portrait from memory. It was smaller and without all the detail of course, but it was almost the same and would stay in my memory and only fade when I had begun a new portrait.
I was mulling over these things in relation to my TV sketching because, actually, my memory is not too bad, even though I think it's terrible, and I suspect, with practice, it could be much better. I was drawing someone on TV last week and realised I'd finally crossed that line - my drawings with and without 'pause' looked the same. While it's almost impossible to catch some people without it (and all the colour sketches are done with it on) I think it's become irrelevant now, once the quality is the same.
I met a now famous pencil artist back in 1992. I have some of his prints and nine times out of ten visitors will ask me if they are my drawings. One thing he said always stayed in my mind, and that was that he admitted he couldn't sketch. I very rarely sketched back then either so I found it comforting. But something kept niggling me about it. Artists often dismiss those that draw or paint only from photos and I think there is some truth what they say. However, I don't believe the technique is wrong, but the way the artist applies their mind to it.
I see many artists making wonderful art from photos but it's only when looking at their other work that you can see where the problem lies. Whether you draw free hand, use a grid, or trace it, it's not only easier to draw from a photo, but the problem of putting something from real life onto a flat surface, and putting your unique stamp on it, has already been solved. It's one flat plane transferred onto another flat plane and that is not so hard to do and I think many inexperienced artists look at that photo simply as a surface with an image. It needs to be looked at like a window. It's an insight into the subject but the artist must investigate further and compare and contrast it with reality. I see some great drawings done from photos and I'm surprised to see that same artist drawing like a 10 year old when either drawing from life or imagination. Why have they not learned about anatomy, proportions, perspective, light, etc. from the photos they have used? It seems to suggest that using photos is somehow tricking the brain but also that there is a trick to making good art from photos without having the necessary skills or experience to apply that to drawing anything else.
However, I will still defend the use of photos as that is how I taught myself to draw. This drawing of Alex's sunglasses was only my second sketch after I started sketching in 2005.
I surprised myself - up until then I had been drawing very detailed pencil portraits from photos that would take weeks and weeks. I convinced myself I couldn't do anything else. But I think the key was that I applied what I saw in photos to life. They have a great deal of potential but only if they are not used as a party trick or a shortcut to actually looking, perceiving, analysing.
If this post sounds a little defensive, but it's not meant to be. (I think in the last year, happily, finally, at long last, I know the meaning of 'past caring!') It's simply to illustrate that to pause or not pause is not relevant for me. I draw from life, photos, the TV, on public transport and sometimes, yes, I even doodle! Whatever the starting point, it's the resulting quality that matters to me and I no longer have the fear that I'm a 'one trick pony' - there is no such thing as cheating if a shortcut is only a matter of time. I read that the pencil artist sold one of his drawings for about £10,000 (for charity) but I do often wonder, did he ever discover the joy of sketching?