Since I last wrote on here, I’ve moved house. For the first time in a few years, I’ve started to create a “home”, something I didn’t contemplate myself doing again for a while. I’ve made holes in the walls to hang photographs, paintings and things that have generally taken my fancy over time but have never been formally displayed. I’ve unpacked the majority of my clothes, of course out of habit some bags are still hiding beneath my bed. My kitchen cupboard is full of food, complimenting my equally full fridge. These are such simple things that so many people take for granted, however having felt the need and necessity of living out of a bag for so long, I must say this is quite a novelty. The notion of watching tv on a Friday night - unheard of! I’ve worked in the pub trade since I was 16, and have worked the majority of those Fridays over the years. I’ve had Friday nights free (from work) since I started the Dove in October of last year, however have always managed to fill every spare second of free time. I don’t intend to sit in watching the box on my Friday evenings, however it is a novelty knowing the option is there at my discretion.
2 days ago, I finished my sketchbook; Volume 6 (since completing my BA, June 2012). Each time, I regain the odd familiarity of marginal emptiness - satisfied having completed another book, slightly melancholic having become so attached to said book, and excited about starting the next. Each time, I carry with me a blank sketchbook for 2 or 3 days while i become accustomed to its presence. Of course, the new book is sitting in my bag next to me as I type. On my usual bus journey to visit family, the empty time travelling I once decided to recycle into blogging time. Alas, here we are. I was hoping to begin my first page today, however I appear to be the only person aboard.
The title of this blog post, is a carefully constructed series of words, attempting to describe not only the ways in which I attempt to illustrate faces and people, but how these faces are illustrations in themselves. I’ve wanted to articulate this for a while, and after a conversation with a poet at work, this is what we managed to come up with. It perfectly says everything that a drawing cannot.
June 2014 has thus far proved to be a positive and amazing series of events.
After years of wanting and wishing, I finally ventured to the Royal Albert Hall to see the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra play the Movie Gala. An experience second to none, I began to well up during the second composition.
Having loved film scores for years, watching my favourite orchestra play in one of the best venues in the world will stick with me forever. I remember the moment I fell in love with classical music - at 15, ‘Stressed’ and unable to sleep, my doctor suggested falling asleep listening to Classic Fm. After doing this for a year, my dad gave me a 40 disc classical collection. The first disc I chose was Ravel. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed on a dusky school night when Bolero began to fill the room… Creeping and crawling into every corner, over every static hair on my arm until my heart was racing in time with the ever climbing crescendo. At that moment, I was in love with the orchestra. Standing in the gallery of the Royal Albert Hall 8 years later, history repeated itself in an epic level of brilliance.
Something that returns to me like a boomerang every so often is a whimsical acknowledgment of the butterfly effects in my life. The tiniest details and decisions made years ago now return to me as a thread of experiences, perhaps not obviously connected until a pinnacle moment. I love joining the dots of events, trying to trace the root, like a tree of memories.
Something that often returns to me is an experience of being 17, working part time in a pub (the first of many) and falling head over heels for a man the same age as my dad. Many roots come from this branch of experience:
—- I am still learning lessons about the way I reacted emotionally, and how this affects my thought process now when in any kind of relationship.
—- This time saw the beginning of my observational sketching. I was sketching in the pub where I was working, sitting alone at a table observing the small crowd at the bar. The chap in the trilby that I had just started to sketch stopped on his way past to the toilet, and peered over my shoulder. Taking an interest and wanting to know more, he gave me his business card. At that moment I was smitten… And naive.
—- I have since acquired a collection of hats, around 12 of which are trilbys.
—- The first time I drank real ale was with the chap in the pub I worked in. Attempting to impress, I kept up with his heavy drinking for an evening, ‘downing’ pint after pint of Adnams Broadside… Later that evening, we staggered ‘back to his place’ where I stopped outside to poetically gaze at the full moon while weeing myself and then projectile vomiting over the path. In the most peculiar way this incident didn’t seem to deter him…
—- I’ve worked in more pubs than I can count of my hands, that sell or specialise In real ales.
—- The pub in which this experience began held open mic nights where the chap in question performed, including versions of The Sick Note by the Dubliners, and Dirty Old Town by the Pogues - that I instantly fell in love with.
—- I downloaded a Pogues Album a few years later, after my Irish interest was awakened.
—- Last Saturday, I stood at the front of a crowd of thousands, to see the Pogues live. My first proper gigging experience, which I am sure will now be an instigator for many more.
I love that through this journey, I have learnt and done so much, and yet it’s just one branch in my tree of life, if we’re to dissect each current experience that I have, I could trace them back to the root. Each and every person could do the same, if this were to be illustrated it would be a most beautiful thing….
Commission: sketching at a wedding for the first time! What an amazing day!
Commission; 3 hours, pen, watercolour and masking fluid.
"Who among us has not dreamt, in moments of ambition, of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without rhythm or rhyme, supple and staccato enough to adapt to the lyrical stirrings of the soul, the undulations of dreams, and sudden leaps of consciousness".
"Credited with coining the term ‘modernity’ to designate the fleeting, ephemeral experience of life in an urban metropolis, and the responsibility art has to capture that experience". I love the way this is written, it romanticises our duty at artists, in particular those who choose to document and work from life, naming it our ‘responsibility’. "An awareness of individual moral complexity, an interest in vice, and refined sensual and aesthetic pleasures, and the use of urban subject matter, such as the city, the crowd, individual passers-by, all expressed in highly ordered verse, sometimes through a cynical and ironic voice". I couldn’t say this any better myself!
"The poem as a self referential object." In the same way as drawing or sketching is - in a way biographical.
Baudelaire created while under the influence of drink or drugs, whereas I create while observing the drunk - my subjects walk around drugged up on stress and prescription drugs. I wrote this a while back and am trying to understand what I meant, perhaps the way in which the majority of people seem to be in some kind of haze, bordering on day to day by hiding behind materialism and being sucked into the news and media. It’s interesting to sit back and observe this happening, externally.
"Advocacy of modern music and painting"
"In the early 1850’s, Baudelaire struggled with poor health, pressing debts, and irregular literary output. He often moved from one lodging to another to escape creditors. He received many projects that he was unable to complete". Similarly, I struggle to stick to living arrangements, constantly moving around and taking on many commissions, some that I never seem to complete, not for want of trying - time management is a big issue of mine.
"I don’t care a rap about all these imbeciles, and, I know the book, with its virtues and its faults, will make its way in the memory of the lettered public…"
"Baudelaire denounced photography as an art form and advocated for its return to "its real purpose, which is that of being the servant to the sciences and arts". Photography should not, according to Baudelaire, encroach upon "the domain of the impalpable and the imaginary".
"The more a man cultivates the arts, the less randy he becomes. Only the brute is good at coupling, and copulation is the lyricism of the masses. To copulate is to enter into another - and the artist never emerges from himself." I have spoken many a time about artists being unsociable, in the past having tried to organise social events of which no one has made an effort to attend - I’ve come to accept that this is the way creatives work, and sometimes find myself slipping into this way of working.
"Drawing in situ offers a short cut to audacity with the help of an essential component – Restraint. It makes decisions for you and allows you to work boldly within them. It is for this reason that I find drawing and particular reportage drawing so suited to travel, medicine and perhaps even war." George Butler.
"It cemented in my mind that reportage illustration was what I wanted to do," says Butler. "It’s an opportunity to provide a fourth dimension to events that have already been well-documented on Twitter, in photographs and on film. George Butler.
Another ‘reportage illustrator’ is Lottie Stoddart, who is London based and specialises in ‘on the spot drawing’, in which she documents first hand experience rendered into visual journalism.
Anna Cattermole is a ‘reportage illustrator’ who uses observational drawing combined with written notes, diary entries and records of conversations to create a multi layered documentary, similar to my way of sketchbooking with sketches and quotes.
"I sit in a corner and hopefully blend in and record, not like a photographer, not copying the scene in front of me exactly. I am trying to record my experience. There are times when it would be easier to take a photograph and work on the drawing later in the studio. Particularly when it is so cold that I can no longer feel my hands and feet, or when the subject I want to draw moves before I can capture it. But I would find this a less honest way of working."
I disagree with photography being means of ‘copying a scene’ - like any tool, a camera can be manipulated into capturing sections and moments at your leisure - and without necessarily being true to reality.
Each Friday I am faced with the same questions of my plans for the evening after work. And every week I am left stumped with no answer, and so give a vague response about doing nothing, or uni work. The thought of planning that far ahead fills me with some kind of tediousness - I love living on a whim, not knowing what I may get up to, who I may meet or what new experiences might unfold.
Tonight’s agenda did indeed include some form or artistry. Perhaps sketchbook work, or contextual blogging? I began the evening in my previous place of work, with the intention of filling a few pages. On the way there, I felt a sense of guilt at the thought of going to sit in a pub or a bar, ‘with just my sketchbook’. How on earth, after so many years of doing so can I feel such a negative way towards it?!
The only possible explanation I can think of is that I focus way too much on the opinions of others, or more importantly, what I imagine that they think.
What do I imagine that people think?
Probably that I spend all my time ‘dossing around’ in pubs and coffee shops not doing much except drinking expensive de caffeinated or alcoholic fluids, and that I hide behind my sketchbook so that I can get away with doing so.
In actual fact, being in the kind of social situations that I expose myself to, is the fuel for the content of my sketchbooks - the need to document these social meetings of people and places, I believe is no different to the way photographers, the media, and CCTV capture each and every moment of every day life. However the way I work, some how manages to romanticise the snippets of information that I choose to document.
If I were to spend all of my time sitting in my studio staring at a canvas or page, I genuinely do not know what would happen. I could quite bluntly guarantee a total lack of any kind of inspiration, so how could any work emerge?
Suffice to say, if something inspires you, embrace it despite what others may think. If I am driven by observing and taking part in social situations, then I will continue to do so. If my answer to ‘what are your plans tonight?’ Includes “uni work” then don’t be surprised to ‘see me down the pub’ or somewhere similar.
My sketchbook is my canvas, and the world is my studio.
"It’s necessary to waste a certain amount of energy in order to allow new ideas to emerge from the random spinning of doodles, scribbles, worthless foolishness, playful notions, sillyness, aimless meandering, wandering down deadend streets, a few which may turn out not to be deadends."
R Crumb, July 29th, ‘75.
Sketchbook - Volume Ten: Jun 1975 - Feb 1977.
Since graduating, I have been involved in several group exhibitions around Ipswich;
Atrium Studios @ Gallery One, the Town Hall - June 2012
LoveOne @ Gallery One, the Town Hall - November 2012
Atrium Studios @ Gallery One, the Town Hall - April 2013
The Foyer @ the Waterfront Building - March 2013
DIG! @ The Freudian Sheep - April 2014
Almost each time, I have torn pages from my sketchbooks and framed them, to then exhibit. Despite one of the exhibitions I’ve done this for being so recent, I find this a really strange thing to do, having viewed my sketchbooks as individual pieces of work themselves. To then rip them apart, to hang on a wall… Something just doesn’t feel right? If you spent months painting a canvas with oils, to finally decide it was finished… and then to cut a square out of the middle - that would seem totally absurd!? That is exactly how I feel about my sketchbooks. When drawing commissions, I used to include them in my sketchbooks to then rip out once completed, however I now have a separate watercolour pad in which to complete commissions.
I’d like to know how others feel about tearing pages from their books - does this dissect a single piece of work, or in fact divide the piece of work into individual pieces? Where does this leave me as a fine artist - I often get asked if my sketches (in my sketchbooks) are foundation drawings for potential paintings. I find this a really uncomfortable notion - I spend HOURS drawing, why would I then undermine my sketches by taking them out of the book context in which they are documented, which is gnerally the purpose of my work… To document the NOW, as it happens. It just so happens that this taking place in a sketchbook provides a chronological order.
Sunday Folk Session at the Mulberry Tree. A group of amazingly talented musicians being captured by me and Alan Turner with our sketchbooks, and Robert Negus with his camera. Amazing source of inspiration.