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In an attempt to side-step a mind that is bent on destabilising my confidence, I often speed draw.  Tea helps, as does the arrival of a motley of coffee shop frequenters in marvellous winter garb (and/or with fantastic haircuts to boot) – such as this customer last Sunday. Is it a girl or a boy? my partner asked. Does it matter? I hissed, intent on my drawing.

I’ve got a new edition to my arsenal of drawing implements (which I lay out on the table in front of me), one that the superlative reportage artist Veronica Lawlor mentions in her book, One Drawing a Day – a portable water pen.  I used it, or I should say them (for they come in various brush thicknesses) this weekend, warming to the fluidity it gave to my drawings. I also tried a new fountain pen that I’d purchased, which seemed to work much better under the pressure of attempting to capture people before they disappeared, rather than the static drawing I’d used it for in my studio.

The coffee shop was busy, buzzing almost, with lots of people sitting around in groups. I tried to step up to meet the challenge of the clamour, the amiability and chatter by describing what I saw and heard, such as the group of young men sitting at a low table near us talking about clothes, before lowering their voices and moving in closer to discuss, no doubt more intimate issues.

All the while, the man with the beard and luscious brogue kept, surreptitiously, taking a drag from his vape pipe. A group of students occupied the big table with more and more turning up to join them. They looked earnest and keen.

I became a little fixated in trying to capture one of them in a huge, patterned jumper.

Prior to their arrival the effete man and his wife had sat on the end of the same table. She seemed distracted and sad again and he sipped his green tea saying little.

I endeavoured to show something of their interaction but oftentimes other details are lost – such as her face, I can’t get it. She’s far more elegant than I portray her.

Sunday also brought groups and couples.

Such as the two women who sat on the table next to ours (they were joined by their partners later). They both had remarkably yellow faces, one it appeared from exposure to sun or sunbeds, and the other possibly because she wasn’t well, her eyes being very puffed up. Or there was the man with mental health issues, who the day before had launched into a long conversation with us. We were both delighted by his transformation. He came in both days with one of his friends, a very, very tall girl.

His Christmas jumper this week was a parade of penguins. They didn’t talk much but when they did she made him laugh. There was also the couple who came on the Sunday taking the table vacated by the yellow-faced women. I’d drawn him in the queue, fascinated by the rubbery lean of his gait.

She had red-hair that had been sternly pulled back off her face. When he eventually joined her with coffee and two brownies, they ate in silence. He ate fast (I watched his jaw moving) as did she, and their conversation was virtually non-existent.

The regulars were in, of course. The man who read his phone and the small, rotund chap who I think I shall call Dylan Thomas who returns again and again for his ‘robbo-cinos’.

I watch him a lot trying to get his stance and features correct. He makes an effort chatting with the staff and they clearly like him but there is a hint of melancholy about him when he stands unattended to in the queue. The rest were strangers who excited me by their unusual bodily leanings (so often people cross their arms when queueing) or attire or behaviour.

The world was there and I loved it.


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The wind still raging post storm Arwen, the coffee shop was as cold and inhospitable as the week before. But, draw I must, and I did. With the door either propped open or left ajar for it to bash and bang with the wind people don’t tend to stay. I drew the few who came in just after eight, trying to capture their bodies as they closed in on themselves against the cold. I had to draw quickly for they didn’t stand still for long. For the first hour it was just us, the man who reads his phone, and who only livens up when the thin man joins him which he did and they giggled together over a video on his phone, and a few ‘take-aways’ like the ex-chef sporting a hat with ear flaps.

The lanky, rubbery-bodied effete man came in just after 9 am

but sans wife. I draw him time and time again. His face and stance fascinate me for they are never still, even when he is alone. He drank his green tea on the end of the long table and then left. The small, shrew-featured woman who once remonstrated with my partner for taking a chair from the table she’d intended to occupy (they consequently made it up) took the place of the two giggling elderly men. She too wasn’t still.

If she wasn’t mopping her face and neck with a flannel (perhaps she is menopausal) she was bobbing up and down in her seat trying to see out the window. She was clearly waiting for her friend, the one with purple hair, who came almost half and hour later. I was happy for her, for them.

Two of the wild swimmers came in and the barista asked if they’d been in the water. ‘Have you seen the weather outside?’ replied the big man in the ear-flapped hat and lumberjacks’ jacket. They were followed by the impossibly skinny boy who used to work in the coffee shop but left to work in the vegan shop two streets away. He also fascinates me but, clearly running on a surfeit of energy he jerks and jumps about like a flea.

I had to respond fast and reached for a fat pencil and coloured crayons. Ex and current workers often drink there on their days off or come in early and drink and chat or being students work on their laptops, like the man with the curly pony tail, who is, as yet, nameless to us.

Their are several gatherings of men who come in regularly at the weekend. My partner, having been born here, knows many of them and raises a hand in greeting or talks gossip or golf.

The coffee shop opens an hour later on Sunday and both managers are in putting up the Christmas tree. One wears a Christmas jumper as does the quiet man with Learning Difficulties. (I try to draw him but the results are unpleasing, he kept looking at me and I squirmed making the drawing self-conscious and wooden.) The phone-reading man was in as usual but without his friend. I watched and listened to the staff as I drew. They get on well, and the laughter is warming.

The small man with droopy-eyes was in as usual, popping back to the counter for more coffee again and again. And the ex-tree surgeon too, a hugely tall man who always wears a red baseball hat. (A girl came in wanting a hot chocolate but had forgotten her purse. My partner jumped up to buy it for her but couldn’t work the app so the tree surgeon bought it for her instead.)

The skinny ex-barista returned the next day wearing a tight black woolly hat, behind him in the queue was an uncoated girl, her bottom tightly encased in a elasticated skirt. The strangers came later and sat at the table nearest to us. There was an energy to their group that was distinctly metropolitan. Evidently waiting to be joined by others, the man sat down only to spring up again and again to look out of the window towards the sea. He wore what looked like a green flower-pot hat and his voice was Tom Waits-esque and gravelly. His wife ( I presume) wore a biker’s leather jacket (‘It looks ridiculous,’ hissed my partner.)

The woman lit up when their expect-ees arrived. Two younger men, louche and confident, they sprawled in chairs, talked, ordered nothing. ‘Do they do breakfast here?’ one asked, and then not waiting for an answer proceeded to read his phone. His features were distinct, bulbous even and he wore a punk-like black mohair jumper.

I find it hard to drag myself away when it’s time to go and smuggle in two final drawings of another elderly man sitting with his friend.

As I left I told the pink-haired barista that her laugh was lovely. And it is.


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When I’m stuck inside writing, I spend what is left of my afternoons drawing things. It isn’t the same as drawing living, moving beings and I struggle to animate myself and the marks I make paper. The last two days I’ve tried to focus on one object (a repro radio) and draw it over and over again. I tried

different materials like crayons, or pen and ink,

or a thick graphite pencil,

a biro,

and even a blue Sharpie. And when I got too tight, too obsessed with detail I’d try making a continuous line drawing,

or drawing with my left hand.

It’s like having a series of tricks up your sleeve, anything to keep one’s mind from sinking. ‘It’s all money in the bank,’ my partner says.


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I’d had my booster jab the day before and I still felt a little crap but I went drawing anyway. I need to. The coffee shop has begun interspersing Christmas songs into their usual muzak. I don’t mind. It was the only cosy thing available that freezing Saturday morning. Well, that and the smell of coffee and hot tea cakes which is always welcome. The flow of regulars was slow. And I tried to fight my ennui by reaching for felt tips and crayons in an attempt to capture the fantastic range of woolly hats that people were sporting.

The regulars came and I concentrated again on attempting to describe faces that challenged me. Women’s faces are the most challenging for me – there is a delicacy to so many of their features that is impossible to catch with the hefty line of my bamboo pen.

The effete man’s wife (my partner says I should call him the aesthete man, but I’m not sure) and the fragile-looking, meek blonde woman who comes in for a latte and toast and stares, as she eats, into the middle distance, are the most difficult to draw and not only for the subtlety of their faces. I think it’s also because I sense that they know they are being watched and it makes me feel self-conscious.

People are beginning to comment on my drawing. ‘I saw you doing your etching,’ said one man making drawing movements with his hand. Others smile, though most either endure my scrutiny or are not aware of it. I need to toughen up and draw through it. In the quiet times (and there were lots due to the cold) I draw and listen to  the staff’s chatter.

I also tried to include a little context – such as the hand-drawn boards behind the coffee machine, but it needs more work. ‘I don’t do Christmas, I do Solstice’, said the manager. Later, they discussed Communism. ‘Communism is OK,’ said the manager, ‘it’s people who mess it up.’ (I paraphrase.)

And then there were those who brought in their dogs – all fitted out in the cutest coats. The barking can grate though. The rest were passing traffic and examples of my just drawing, drawing and drawing, trying over those two days to keep my practice moving and vital.


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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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