When I was still at school I traveled twice a day on the bus and was often really enchanted by various things I saw – Hong Kong in the 1970s was quite exotic. The possibility of stopping to draw was impossible and this was well before the digital era so I had no way to keep or record what I saw. I don’t think I was even thinking about picture making as such but I was very interested in being able to recreate in my drawings what I had seen figuratively and ‘realistically’.
The key to remembering how things look is to simplify and to ask the right questions, whether or not you have your sketching things with you. It has become my habit. I am probably on a spectrum of something or other as I find I must count tones and measure angles just for the pleasure of recording them for myself.
These are my habitual questions;
Firstly, what is it about what you are looking at that catches your attention? This is the most important question as otherwise when you start drawing the thing you liked so much can end up off the page because you felt the need to contextualise all the surrounding stuff. (This is one of my biggest problems)
Secondly, it really is all relative; when you are looking ask yourself questions that measure things relative to one another – Can you simplify the shape of something to a square or rectangle, circle or triangle? Can it be imagined as two simple shapes interlocking? Is the tree bigger than the house? Is the angle of an arm or leg really horizontal or vertical or (I use the clock face as a mental reference) more 2 o’clock or 4 o’clock?
You know when you see artists holding up a pencil and squinting? They are using the length of it to measure one dimension in comparison to another. Tipping the pencil to follow the angle of something and comparing that to the horizontal or vertical will also help get perspective lines accurately.
And thirdly, as I work a lot in black and white I always look at tones and divide everything I see into light, medium and dark. Especially in landscape which can be overwhelming when you are facing it with a tiny scrap of paper and an HB pencil!
So, when you are admiring a view, ask yourself where the light is and where the shadow? How many tones of green can you see in a field? Or look at your hand and squint, to do what my children used to call ‘fuzz-eye’ (just go out of focus a bit) and see if you can identify three differing shades of skin tone. Obviously there is infinity of differing tones, angles and possible places to start a drawing but editing out the complexity makes the whole process more manageable.
When you come to draw having the answers to those questions makes recall much simpler. I am not saying I could accurately recreate everything I look at, but take it from someone who was once asked to draw a horse from memory on the spur of the moment on live television (yes, a very sweaty moment) it helps a lot if you have previously noticed and mentally recorded the shape of something.
When you are drawing from life, regardless of what it is, asking those questions while really looking means you are much more likely to take your time and place your marks more accurately. With practise the questions lodge in your fingers and you wont be aware of your brain doing any of the work.
Following behind the yachts racing around the Isle of Wight last weekend I thought about why island living has always appealed to me despite the obvious inconveniences.
A miniature version of anything has the potential to beguile just by virtue of its size; think miniature art works, humming birds, wild strawberries or those tiny handbags which were in fashion last year. At the same time all that twee tininess can be frustrating, think miniature bottles of alcohol or stupidly small nouveau cuisine.
The Round the Island Race, which takes place this Saturday 1st July, is a thrilling spectacle and one of the high lights of living on the island. As a non-sailor Karen’s perk is following the race by car and stopping off at strategic points for strengthening with coffee, lunch or ice cream.
Who doesn’t love to wander through a fresh food market? The strange and colourful species, the exotic theatrical vendors and the vague horror of the smells and unidentified slime underfoot. The wet market is a daily pleasure and a rite of passage for anyone lucky enough to live nearby.
Its Art Fair time in Hong Kong again.
Of course I love the idea that lots of people aspire to own real art. Part of the reason I am passionate about print making is because I like the democracy of multiple images meaning prices can be lower and more accessible to buyers. However Fine Art printmakers get all hot under the apron when they see galleries selling Fine Art Prints, all convincingly signed and numbered, which are not true originals but reproductions. It may be difficult for the uninitiated to understand the difference especially when galleries themselves are keen to blur the distinctions, and in some cases the people working there are quite uncertain themselves.
Here is my cents worth;
I am often asked if lino-cutting involves some sort of brain gymnastics because of the idea that working with the image in reverse seems to imply a need for slightly deviant thinking. The back-to-frontness of relief printing is nothing however (unless you are using text), compared to the terror which strikes beginner printers when they have to think in coloured layers which happens with multi plate prints.