Why You Should Draw

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When was teaching in schools, new classes of students would often groan when I said we were going to do some drawing. ‘I can’t draw, sir,’ they would say, or ‘I’m rubbish at drawing!’ It’s true that in order to be good at drawing you have to practice. It’s rare to find someone who has a real natural ability for drawing and can pick up a pencil and rattle off images that are astoundingly good straight away. Drawing, like learning to play an instrument or learning a language, needs practice. Personally, I don’t think of myself as particularly good at drawing; I’m still learning and will continue to until the day I die.

I would encourage everyone who has an interest in art to keep a sketchbook, even if they don’t think they’re much good. You only have to begin. The fear that someone will denigrate your efforts, or that what you produce doesn’t measure up to the work of Rembrandt is nonsense. I draw for myself. My sketches are for me. No one else sees them unless I choose to show them. All you need to do is pick up a pencil and paper and get drawing.

20200308_130944.jpgThere is a natural tendency to copy objects and views, to reproduce them exactly as you see them; if that’s your intention then perhaps it would be better to take up photography instead. By sketching something you look at the world in your own way, giving it your own slant. In the act of drawing you observe, carefully and intently, soaking up the sounds and smells of the place, its feeling and atmosphere. Try and capture that feeling in your drawing by working quickly. Don’t get bogged down trying to get every detail correct before moving on to the next bit of the drawing. Try setting yourself a time limit for each sketch, say ten minutes, that way you won’t have time to fiddle about drawing every brick or tile in a house, or every leaf on a tree.

20200425_141654.jpgIf you want some advice on the practicalities of sketching, equipment, sketchbooks and so on, there are a few books I would recommend, these are listed at the end of this blog. What I wouldn’t do is get a basic book that teaches you how to draw. Instead, have a look at the work of other artists and illustrators and try and learn from them. Look at how they capture form and movement, shadow and texture, rather than trying to copy someone else’s instructions on how to draw a tree or a person. Remember, no one is going to judge or mark your work unless you want them to (and most people usually aren’t qualified to do so). Never destroy any of your work. Keep drawing and you’ll be able to see your progress. I guarantee that with practice you’ll look back on your work after, say, a couple of months and be surprised at the progress you’ve made. The best thing to do is just to get stuck in and have a go. You’ll only get better!

Some useful books on sketching and drawing:

Gabriel Campanario: The Art of Urban Sketching. Quarry Books

Felix Scheinberger: Dare to Sketch. Watson Guptill.

Simone Ridyard: Archisketcher. Apple Press

James Richards: Freehand Drawing and Discovery. Wiley

David Gentleman: An Artist’s Life in London. Particular Books

 

 

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Anatomy of a painting

abandoned croft at LonbainBecause some of the painting workshops I’d planned this Spring had to be cancelled, I decided to do a mixed media painting in stages. I used some sketches of an abandoned croft at Lonbain on the Applecross peninsular, Scotland. I often use sketches like this, reworking them into new pieces – one of the reasons I never throw any of them away.

Stage 1.

I began by taping a piece of heavyweight (200gsm) cartridge paper to a board and sketching out a rough outline of the building onto it, marking in walls and a track.

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Stage 2.

Next, I washed in a sky. For this I used gouache but at this stage I’m not too fussed about getting the right colour. It’s enough just to put something down. I’m more concerned with tones in these early stages. I usually draw some of the main blue tint of the sky down into the foreground to homogenise the whole thing. For this I used a cerulean blue.

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Stage 3.

As with the sky, it’s important just to put a tone down onto the paper, not worrying too much about whether the colour is right or not, as it can always be altered later. I roughly brushed in a yellow ochre with a touch of black added to it. I can never exact about colour as much of the stuff I use from my palette has bits of other colours accidentally mixed with it. Similarly with brushes – my technique involves a lot of scrubbing both on paper and board, so I tend to buy cheap brushes as they don’t tend to last long!

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Stage 4.

I began adding some soft pastel into the sky – light grey and white, to tone down the blue which I now thought was too powerful. I scuffed in some green and ochre pastel tones over the foreground and added a few hints of Prussian blue pastel as a foil to the cottage, which I drew in with various grey pastels. Much of theĀ  ochre tone of the previous stage was covered up now as I began to suspect that it was a little too bright. As I mentioned earlier, it’s good to just put a colour or a tone down; it can always be altered later.

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Stage 5.

 

I decided to darken some of the areas of the painting to add drama. By doing so I was also adding some composition lines to draw the eye up the page to the cottage. I decided there was too much green in the lower left portion and added some grey areas to harmonise with the hues of the stone cottage and the boulders and crumbled walls. I darkened the path leading up to the building with some burnt umber and Prussian blue. I’m not an advocate of blending pastels too much because the results can be a little too slick and wishy-washy. I like to keep my pastel marks crisp and well-defined. Pastels are a wonderful combination of painting and drawing and I’m happy if my work shows this in some way.

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Stage 6.

 

All that was left to do was to add some details – windows, shadowed areas in mauve, black and Indian red, fence posts and stones and boulders in black pencil. The temptation is to keep adding bits of colour and detail, but part of completing a painting is knowing when to stop and not overwork it. I decided that at this point that it was finished.

abandoned croft at Lonbain

 

Artistic Manoeuvres and Lockdown

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Part of the main exhibition space at The Green Man Gallery and, to the right, the shop.

It’s been a while since we last posted anything on the blog, but a lot has happened in the months since our last missive. The most important change of course, is the fact that we have moved the studio across Buxton to our new home at The Green Man Gallery, a former hotel in the town. It was something of a gargantuan task – a lot of heavy equipment to be moved, not to mention dozens of boxes of ceramic ware, both our own and that of our students. This wouldn’t have been so bad if we were moving to a ground floor studio. Hell, no! Our new venue is on the first floor… and there’s no lift! Everything had to be lugged up several flights of stairs – the wheels and equipment, workbenches, storage shelves and the rest. But we now have a great place in which to work, full of light and space.

Overall, the new venue is great. The Green Man Gallery is a not-for-profit art hub run by its twelve member artists, of which Amanda and I are two. The main ground floor exhibition gallery contains work by the members as well as hosting frequent guest exhibitions by other artists from the area. There’s also a shop which sells smaller items by the members, cards and smaller pieces of ceramic ware. Guest designer/makers display their work there too. The resident artists each share a studio on the first floor which means extra hanging space, as well the chance to see and chat to the artists while they’re working.

Many of the resident artists run workshops and classes in different kinds of art disciplines; a new influx of members in the last year has meant a whole new exciting schedule of courses were due to begin in the first few months of 2020. Our own programme of events began in mid-March with the first meeting of the Buxton Sketching Group.87178521-2567052223423793-7310827412093140992-n This was really well attended with over thirty people meeting up at the gallery before venturing out to the area around Buxton baths to sketch for a couple of hours. What was most encouraging was the number of beginners wanting to learn to draw. In fact, there were so many requests I had to plan a tutorial workshop on urban sketching before the second meeting. Unfortunately, the coronavirus lockdown was enforced before we could do this and we were forced to postpone. Also postponed were two mixed media painting workshops I was planning to run, and an expressive drawing workshop. Be assured these will run once the Green Man Gallery reopens. Workshops by the other member artists have also been affected. My colleague Jenny Mackenzie was planning to run several watercolour workshops which, sadly, had to be postponed. The Green Man’s annual Spring Gathering was cancelled and our pottery classes were affected too. Our students are now forced to wait until the end of the lockdown to complete their sessions.

All in all the gallery has suffered from the unfortunate consequences of the lockdown, but the miracle of cyberspace has saved it from being a complete washout. The Spring Gathering was shown online and there are several creative tasks which have recently been launched which visitors are welcome to participate in. Check out the Green Man Gallery website and Facebook page for details (www.thegreenmangallery.com). At least the lockdown has given all the artists a chance to produce some new things. I’ve been working on some mixed media paintings and have a series of instructional videos in the pipeline. My work is exhibited and for sale online at The Green Man Gallery and here on our own website. Take a look and see what you think.