I’ve begun drawing again, daily. It is an intense experience. I draw to capture life, movement, persona. I draw in cafes mostly. People are stiller there whether in conversation, reading or staring out of the window. I go to the same places and become familiar with the faces and bodies that frequent them.


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It was another cold morning in the coffee shop yesterday, with the door open to the elements. People didn’t stay, or if they did (mostly the stalwart regulars) it wasn’t for long. I struggled to motivate myself. I never work well in the cold, both brain and hands resisting thought and movement. Opting for a kind of shorthand (a necessity as people were flitting in and out and not sitting long enough for me to draw them sans mask (necessary I know, but a pain to have to negotiate)) I began to use colour. I’ve talked about it before and how it often feels like an afterthought. This time I tried to use it as an essential part of the visual description.

Sometimes it was just a touch showing a shock of red hair or the stripes of a cardigan (‘Like a cat’s been sick on it,’ my partner helpfully remarked).

I work better when I don’t really have time to think too much, and the limited palette of my pack of 10 crayons and 10 felt tips helps too. In the end it’s not about accuracy but about a sense, a feeling.

But nevertheless there are still so many decisions to make even in that short space of time. I like some of the really minimal ones – such as the man with the beard and shaved head with his red ears (from the cold no doubt) reining in his spaniel puppy, all silky fur and edginess. There’s also the placement of the drawings on the page. I favour the small books where there is only space for one and where the white, negative space is most potent. (They remind me of an illustrator working in the 80s, who’d draw punkish teenagers – I can’t remember her name now.)


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I’d gone to the coffee shop intending to spend the three hours focussing on drawing with my collection of dip pen nibs but was stymied by the cold. I mean I did draw but I was torpid and slow to react (and then the wild swimmers came in and I couldn’t believe that they’d stripped off and entered the water in temperatures that were almost zero). The cold clearly took its toll on the footfall, even the regulars were slow in appearing.

The man who reads his phone was in but didn’t stay long. Then one of his friends came (the emaciated one) but was joined by a woman this time. However, he did have his hat with ear muffs on (I love drawing him in that, it swamps his tiny head).

She left and then he was joined by another man and his wife. I’ve seen her before – a tiny little person, who smiles with her whole face and whose hair is very, very black (helped along a bit, I think, but who cares).

And it gave me the opportunity to try my brush pen. Is there a right or wrong way to use such tools, or is it just trial and error? There’s such a clumsiness to the learning process. Slowly, very, very slowly people started to arrive and I drew the queue, eager to find faces that interested me.

The effete man and his wife came in for the usual green tea (for him) and cappuccino for her. They sat close to me, not as they usually do on the long table by the door. And she was animated, smiling and laughing and doing most of the talking. I’ve never seen that before. She’s a beautiful woman with almost white blonde hair and her mouth, large and red-lipsticked went through the whole gamut of its muscles as they talked. I was entranced by such a transformation.

The man with learning difficulties was in as usual for his pumpkin latte but didn’t stay. I only managed a quick outline of the way he stands, his stomach protruding (an effect of the drugs, apparently, bless him).

Three college students took the table that the effete man and his wife vacated and I watched them as they all wrote their homework out by hand on notepaper. The boy had a half-shaved head with the upper part left long and tied back with a floral scrunchie. His hair a flame-red was completed with a beard. His finger nails were painted crimson.

In the quiet times I listened to the manager see-sawing between admonishing and encouraging her young staff. One, only seventeen had come to work in a tiny, arm-bare t-shirt and huddled against a radiator when she wasn’t serving, complaining of the cold. Another girl/boy who arrived later, with the dark shadow under her chin, is evidently transitioning. What courage to go through such a transforming in the full glare of the public eye. She is a quiet but a gentle being and appears comfortable there. And I’m glad.

I think a lot about the ethics of drawing and writing about the people I observe there. Keeping the café and place anonymous goes someway to protect their privacy, I suppose. And the stories I make up about them are just that, fictional. I don’t know them but I am interested in them. Let it always be just that, then. A way of paying attention, of noticing, or recording a moment in their lives. And mine.


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I spent the weekend drawing. Writing had absorbed me all week and I needed to throw myself back into it. And, I had the delivery of some new dip pen holders and nibs and a lovely fat bamboo pen. It took me back. A friend had fashioned one for me, oh, it must’ve been twenty or even thirty years ago and I’d forgotten what a joy they are to not only hold but make marks with. You cannot pussy-foot with tentative lines when you’ve one of those in your hand.

We try to get to the coffee shop when it first opens. (I say we, for my partner accompanies me for moral support and company, and he buys the drinks.) I like to see the ‘opening process’, that slow influx of regulars (whom I don’t know by name and don’t want to, preferring to keep that slight distance) who check to see that their favourite seat is free before ordering their ‘usual’. The conviviality and sense of temporary belonging is very seductive. And when I’m not there, like now, I miss it. It is freezing though (the open door policy becomes rather uncomfortable as winter looms) and we all keep our coats on. The elderly gentleman who reads from his phone encased in a turquoise wallet is one of the first in and is soon joined by his skeletal friend wearing a huge baseball hat.

I draw them over and over for about an hour. I love their faces. And watching the progress of their chat. The thin one barely moves (he looks like he might snap) but clearly makes lugubrious comments that makes his more robust friend throw himself back in his chair with laughter. He moves a lot, hence my constant drawing of him.

I never tire of trying to capture their faces. I prefer ones that lived in, experience wrought by life.

The younger man with a beard with grey strands in it, and who generally wears a mauve hat with ear muffs, was in first but having made conversation with him the week before (I’d asked him if he was wearing patchouli oil) I felt uncomfortable fixing my gaze on him.

The first few hours were taken up mostly with a flurry of people rushing in for take-aways. The fair was still on, perhaps they were going there, or maybe, more banally just off to work. Later a man sat at the table just across from us with a young girl. Was it his daughter? She stood up at some point and mimicked somebody and he laughed. She left and he was joined, seemingly unplanned, by an acquaintance. I drew him over and over.

He had a look of Alan Titchmarsh, a gentle, kindly face but off-set with a strangely dramatic hair cut which involved the shaving away of much of his locks around his ears (rather like they shave the midribs of horses to help them sweat, I think). It frankly fascinated me. But I couldn’t get his features right. Then two men occupied the table to our left. One was a mountain of man and the other rather small and wiry.

I picked up tiny snippets of their conversation. They were talking about a journey and a shortcut. I knew the place they talked off and longed to interject when the smaller one couldn’t remember the name of the place. He wore a bright red sweat top. Ah, some colour I thought, finally. I do tend to favour line and black and white. Colour is generally an afterthought, there being too much to capture in so short a time. And it’s funny his finely, chiselled features were inappropriate for my lovely bamboo pen.

The regular, the small-statured man (who drinks 4 or 5 coffees in one sitting) with low, slung too-big-for-him jeans was in as usual for I could see him on the table behind the man with AT’s face. He seemed to be to sitting with an older man. His father perhaps? They didn’t appear to talk much, the younger man staring down at the table or looking at his phone. He looks sad. He has Eeyore like features that only seem to brighten up when he talks to the barista girls behind the counter. And then, just after I’d constructed a narrative about him and his ‘father’ not being on good terms they both let out huge guffaws over something the ‘son’ had said.

When he left him alone to order more coffees his father’s face fell. So many people whom I observe look sad when solitary. Is it our human condition to be so? Sunday was inevitably quieter.

The same middle-aged man with his phone, though no one joined him that morning. And a curious woman, all wrapped up in duvet coat, who came in for a take-away with her dog. The dog stared at me the whole time I was drawing – or did I imagine it?

There was a family of two little boys, a mother and a grandmother who occupied the big table by the door. I rushed to try and capture the mother.

She seemed oblivious to the fact that her boys had scurried off (in search of the wax crayons and colouring sheet the coffee shop have on a little shelf round the corner I later realised) dropping their coats on the floor. Their grandmother (I presumed this was her relationship) kept nodding off.

Her head on her hand. And then the ‘wild’ swimmers came in.

Though one not so wild, as she lifted up her skirt to reveal wet-suit shorts. A lack-lustre drawing session, sometimes I can’t find the energy.

And then there was a final flurry before we left. Two men, clearly partners came in, and I managed to get one of them. His friend kept staring over at me, evidently interested in what I was doing. He inched closer but didn’t pluck up the courage to say anything. He had a marvellous head of hair, perfectly formed in luscious blonde quiff, like something out of the 50s. And his coat was just right too, corduroy with a fur collar. My final drawing was of a young lad. The bamboo pen making the marks of his curly top and a finer nib suggesting with elegant succinctness the rest of his coatless form. Pulling myself away is hard, particularly as I see more and more faces and bodies filling those rooms that I long to draw. Is this becoming something like an obsession?


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I had remembered what day it was but hadn’t expected to see evidence of it in the coffee shop at 9.00 am that morning. I noticed the ex-paratrooper first.

He wasn’t in uniform but wore a black suit. A funeral had been my first thought, and then I saw the two medals pinned to his lapel. He was young and bearded and very tall. He sat down at the table opposite me and began playing with something in his hand. I thought it was a phone but it was a game boy. Another man joined him soon afterwards. He was in mufti too. And what a suit. And hair cut. And shoes. Fantastic.

He sat with his back to me sadly, but I heard the mutterings and saw the smiles of my fellow coffee drinkers and managed a quick peek at his faux leopard-skin winkle pickers from under the table. Was there a bit of ‘cocking a snook’ going on? A group of uniformed squaddies came in and I tried to capture them as they queued but my energy and confidence was lack lustre.

The morning felt different, as it should do. There was an unfamiliar sombreness, though perhaps it was more internal than external. The regulars still came and I drew the man who always sits in the same pink, fake leather curved armchair over and over again.

When he’s without company he reads from his phone which is enclosed in a turquoise blue plastic cover. He reads it like a book. Other unfamiliar faces came in, such as the girl wearing the jumper dress, pulled halfway down one shoulder who had her ear plugs in the whole time.

Another woman sat waiting for her friend to bring their porridge and then sat talking about Covid jabs and how much water Labradors drink. The shy man with learning difficulties was in again, albeit briefly (he never stays long), drank his pumpkin latte, stared into space and left.

And there were some wild swimmers in too, still pink and buzzing, their hair wet and wild, and swathed in long coats.

I left just before 11 am, dissatisfied with the mornings drawings but  in search of silence.


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I looked through my sketchbooks from Saturday and remembered the people I drew. I leave it a day to revisit my work. Paul Hogarth wouldn’t look at his drawings for three days after making them. A good practice, I think. Better cold. I drew for three hours. It took some time to get warmed up. The regulars came. The man who sometimes sits with the thin-faced, sharp-nosed woman came in with a man who I’ve seen countless times before. He is also very, very thin – his trousers hang off him and he has a mask but forgets to wear it over his face, choosing instead to leave it under his chin. I drew them over and over again trying to get some essence of their camaraderie. The less thin one was more animated, more energetic and moved constantly.

Then there was the small man with very baggy jeans whom they all greet loudly when he comes to the counter (which he does five or six times in one sitting). He calls a cappuccino by a jokey name (was it ‘rude-iccino’, is it something to do with the picture they ‘draw’ in the froth?) He is always alone and sits upstairs.

The effete man with the beautiful wife who looks sad also came in. He has green tea. He is tall and rangy with a cragged face and long, floppy faded blonde hair. They rarely talk, she stares into the middle distance and sips her coffee.

Then there were some new faces, inevitable on a Saturday. There was the woman with a mixed race child. She smiled so warmly at him, it was a pleasure to observe.

And there was another couple who I have seen a few times. She sat for a while on her own waiting for her husband to order the drinks. She too looked melancholic when solitary, her face fell a little but grew more animated when he joined her. He had a wonderful face, like a Basset Hound. And then a big, jolly-jumpered man with a long, long white beard sat with them and they both became quite energetic. An incongruous grouping.

There was another unsettling presence that made the manager a little louder and more hyperactive than usual. It was a woman, perhaps she was an area manager of some sort and she sat at the table just ahead of me working on her laptop and asked about orders and so on. Then she, rather abruptly, began helping behind the bar. She seemed amiable enough, but an alien nevertheless.

I always try, each day, to push my drawing. One gets into habits, a kind of shorthand takes over, particularly when having to respond quickly to perpetually moving bodies. And attempting to capture a scene or a full length body is always a challenge (as is the addition of colour).

Such as the boy or girl or non-gender specific person in the long black cord coat and wildly patterned trousers or the girl that stood with her legs and feet turned in or the two old men talking at a table before the effete man and wife. It amazes me how tired I get. Three hours is the most I can do, for now. I long for more finesse, for a beautiful line to just happen. The work of Searle, Peake and Hogarth seems so effortless. For me it is not.


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