My most recent instructional drawing book (with the bold and lengthy title: 'You Will Be Able to Draw by the End of This Book') has been out for a while, so last week's launch at Waterstones in Brighton was a little late in the scheme of things. It was a super lovely evening, where I waffled on about drawing for a while, then made everybody draw. Our life models Pheiffer and Carole were excellent sports, modelling on cafe tables so everybody could get a good view (it was a full house of 70 people drawing) whilst the amazing Amy Sqirrell serenaded us on cello. It was a super lovely evening, recorded in some great photos by Mary Martin - the book is available from Waterstones right here.
I'll be teaching at West Dean college for the first time this year - it has always been an ambition of mine to teach at this devastatingly picturesque institution set up by surrealist patron Edward James and I'm booked to run a couple of life drawing courses there at the end of March and beginning of June. I'll also be breaking my exhibition-ban with a few big charcoal drawings on show there from the 14th March, which will be migrating over to Brighton for an Open House in May.
On the 15th October I'll be drawing free portraits abroad the Cutty Sark in London as part of one of Art Macabre's fabulous drawing events. You can come to draw models who will be posing and be drawn by me whilst being serenaded by a sea shanty singing trio. Could you ask for a better evening? Tickets are available here.
Molly Crabapple is an inevitable point of reference for life drawing organizers; the Dr Sketchys sessions that she founded in New York were an international hit that preempted the current trend for life-drawing-with-an-edge. It wasn’t a surprise to bump into Art Macabre’s queen of drawing Nikki Shail at Molly Crabapple’s talk at the Piccadilly Waterstones on Monday night. Introduced by Little Atoms and in conversation with writer and broadcaster Paul Mason (author of ‘Postcapitalism: A guide to our Future’) Molly wasn’t there to talk about life drawing: she was discussing American foreign policy, the Syrian war, the plight of refugees around the world. She was talking about the success and failures of Occupy Wall Street, #blacklivesmatter, Donald Trump; eloquently, passionately and with the weight of her own personal engagement. It is her more recent journalistic work, her activism and her willingness to have difficult and complex conversations about the state of our global society that drew me to the talk and I could have happily have listened longer.
Molly’s journalistic writing is always accompanied by her drawings and as we become increasingly desensitized to the proliferation of photographic imagery, there is something distinctly engaging about that. Observational drawings are the tactile record of a long moment of looking. What can be more subversive than hard looking? Molly said during the conversation with Paul Mason that drawing ‘had trained me to see sharply – to see the details’. Armed with an artist’s curiosity she is bearing witness to the world as it is with the active agency of journalistic intent.
A picture can be snapped in a moment and regardless of the power of its subject photographs risk becoming subsumed into the cinematic imagery to which we are exposed daily. Photoshop has neutered the photograph as an authenticated record of truth. When you draw you have to lock eyes with your subject; there is no camera viewfinder to protect you, or them. To spend long enough staring at the rubble of a bombed city to record what you have seen in drawn marks, your eyes must move over ever brick, barrel and body and the lines which trace the journey of your eye say to a drawing’s viewer – LOOK. Look at what I saw.
Good journalism doesn’t offer readers answers, it encourages them to ask better questions. When Molly posts up her drawings of people she has met; artists, writers, activists, displaced families, prisoners; you cant help but ask ‘Who are they? What happened to warrant this drawing?’ When the powerful shrink from the prolonged gaze of an artist we have to ask ‘What do they have to hide?’
Molly’s drawings illustrate that the compulsion to draw is a compulsion to look. Or perhaps it is the compulsion to look that requires the process of drawing to give form to what you have seen. Either way, the more you look at the world around you; near or far, the more you will be required to see. Due credit should go to those who, on opening their eyes to the world, are compelled to act on what they have seen. I want to say that Molly Crabapple is the Topolski or Hogarth of our generation, with a good dash of Lautrec in the mix, but perhaps it is doing her a discredit to make any comparisons. Read her articles, look at her pictures and buy her book ‘Drawing Blood’; it is a rich account of her life so far. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.
(I always take a sketchbook to talks; it is a good excuse to look at everybody. I met the charming Vice journalist Oz Katerji in the gents after the talk, and he suggested he show my doodles of the talk to Molly afterwards; I snapped a picture of his excellent profile, which I sketched on the train back to Brighton.)
I have resolved not to exhibit any work this year, but to concentrate only on making new paintings and drawings. It is going well so far and Ive been devoting a lot more time to studio work than I had been able to last year. Here are a few compressed charcoal drawings that I have been please with so far. The left hand drawing is a three hours draiwng of Dori, the right hand one is a 45 minute draiwng of Frankie. More coming soon...
On the afternoon of Wednesday 13th January I officially began my three week drawing tour of the UK. As I still have teaching responsibilities in Brighton, and a portrait commission to work on I'll be spending weekends on tour and the beginnings Monday-Wednesday in Brighton. Appropriately Im starting the tour at the Cass Art flagship store in Islington with a workshop for 35 people. Packing is always a satisfying ritual; considerably more enjoyable than actually carting the 35 drawing boards, draiwng kit and overnight bag around London during rush hour...
I always enter art shops with blinkers in an attempt to avoid the distracting tempting glimmer of the unnecessary and hone in on the objects of my shopping list. It is hard to avoid today though as the workshop was to be held on the top floor of the three floor behemoth of a store, with chairs arrayed infront of a wall of canvases. I got in without being distracted by the delights on display, and the charming Santi made me a cup of tea. So far so good.
I have a lot of respect for school teachers, because a class of 35 can be tricky to teach. Teaching a class of 10 can be discursive and personal, and lecturing to a theatre of 300 is something of a performance but I knew this session would have to be broad ranging yet clear. To accommodate the keen novices as well as the skilled artists in the group I led everybody through some simple exercises that gave room for development. Blind contour drawing is always a classic starter (drawing without looking at the paper) and I always love the results; bellow is a bookshelf drawn 'blind' by Doug Shaw and a blind draiwng of Bella by Daniel. Amongst some other exercises from the book also threw in a five minute face-in-profile, with Bella kindly posing for me whilst everybody else draw the person next to them. 90 minutes goes quickly, but in that time some gorgeous drawings were made and more importantly, everybody had a good laugh.
It was a great crowd of inevitably mixed ability, from keen begginers just starting out to professional artists; I never have enough time to chat to everybody so a few of us decamped to the Wenlock & Essex for a drink afterwards so I could get to know everybody a bit better. What transpired shall remain undocumented; suffice to say that I was very pleased to spend the evening to such a lovely bunch although after two whole pints I was good for nothing. Through out the tour I am being helped by some amazing friends and artists; in this instance Bella Franks of Bella's Bits & Bobs not only helped me in the evening, but put me up for the night. Thank you Bella!
I'll be keeping a diary of all my stops on the DRAW Tour, and ill be using the #DRAWTOUR hashtag to document it on Twitter and Instagram. Next on the DRAW Tour is a book signing in Hampstead on Sunday 17th Jan from 2-4pm.
John Buchan once wrote that journeys made in haste by night were the epitome of adventure and I've taken great comfort in that every time I have found myself on the road with the sun slipping away and hours of travel ahead. This month there will be much adventure and many late night journeys as I embark on my Draw Tour, a trip around the Cass Art Stores of the UK. I'll be giving a few workshops and, on request, scrawling on books, but mostly Im out for adventure. I'll be meeting new cities, new people and drawing everything I see on the way. As much as possible I'm hoping to encourage other people to draw too: to initiate the un-confident in the ways of the sketchbook and join new friends in wearing blunt their pencils in diligent scribbling.
I would love some company along the way, so if you are in London, Liverpool, Glasgow or Bristol over the next month come and join me. Details are on the front page of this site and I'll be keeping a drawn diary on here as I go...
On the 27th November I held a little launch party at the studio to celebrate the autumn release of my new drawing book DRAW, Cellist extraordinaire Amy Squirell played for us, while Francesca Cluney dispensed books from her amazing dress, which features in the book. Nicholas Brekespere kindly captured the event; his photos are below. It was a lovely night, thank you to everybody who came!
Some adventures require a journey; you step out into the world and are swept up in unfamiliar happenings which you experience with eyes opened wide to the new and strange. Sometimes however, if you stay in the right place for long enough, adventure simply arrives at your door.
On Friday 19th June a BBC crew arrived at the studio to record the first in a new series of programmes for BBC Radio 4; 'Gompertz Gets Creative' in which arts editor Will Gompertz (lovely chap, and discerning coffee drinker) attends master classes in four creative pursuits. We were particularly pleased to host Will's show at the Draw studio because he bought with him Sue Tilley, model for Lucien Freud's 'Benefits Supervisor Sleeping' (,articulate, down to earth. Tea, no sugar) to be interviewed and the painter Humphrey Ocean (Professor of Perspective no less!) as the guest tutor. I wont dwell on the content of the session, you can listen to it yourself, but would simply say that I was struck by the generosity of spirit that everybody showed on a hot Friday afternoon, cramped in our sardine tin of a studio surrounded by a masterfully erected tangle of microphones.
Humphrey took the unconventional set up in his stride and thoughtfully reflected on drawing people (not models; airfix make models) whilst Sue talked about the experiences of modelling whilst taking part in drawing herself, sketching our very own Francesca Cluney. Frankie for her part, centre stage and consummately professional, held a pose that overran by at least forty five minutes without word of complaint for a room full of twenty five diligent draftsman who scribbled, sweltered and occasionally chipped in the their two-pennies worth to the conversation. Everybody, from the sound man, to the production team, to the magnificent Drawchestra who played us in showed all the curiosity, engagement and consideration that I have become used to seeing in a life drawing studio. I don't know if it is simply the case that lovely people are drawn to life drawing, or that spending two hours looking intently at another person makes you that bit more empathetic, but I counted myself particularly lucky to be elbow to elbow with such a wonderful troupe of companions on a afternoon's adventure that involved staying right where Im most at home.
I've very nearly signed off on the latest drawing book Ive been working on, a book called DRAW, published by Ilex Press. To celebrate the successful delivery of the last main batch of drawings I treated myself to a studio tidy up. Nothing more cathartic than a spring clean. This co-incides neatly with a live studio tour broadcast for the new live broadcasting app Periscope, if you have the app and are free for 10 minutes tomorrow at 3pm (12th April) I'll be broadcasting from my @BrightonDrawing account. You can see just how damn tidy the studios are now.
Teaching, drawing, writing and painting.