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Drawing breath

I am thinking about drawing and trying to write about it. The task turned out to be far from simple. I have been surprised how little I know and can explain, how much more I know tacitly than I do intellectually about drawing.

I want try and describe the way I draw.

A few years ago I started drawing more for its own sake. I worked in charcoal with patterns as an extension of the surface patterns I have used on ceramics and because I didn’t want to get distracted by over-thinking or what-do-I-want-to-say diversions. There’s something about the straight forwardness of patterns that allowed me to work more freely than representations do.

This way of drawing, was a revelation. I felt like I had found something which responded to me in the way that clay responds to me as I model with it. It’s enjoyable, as I am not representing anything real I can’t fail to make a good representation.

I also find I keep making representational allusions, (is it possible to draw in a way that doesn’t?) shading often appears, line drawings often demand to be filled in with tone or modelling just to see where the drawing will go next. In this sense the work is improvised. I want to see what develops on the page, I respond to my previous marks with my following ones.

To me drawing is like visual talking, it has a flow and an urgency and is purposeful without the underlying plan being spelt out- if there is one. Although I often start with an outline idea the issues raised by the marks I make determine how to resolve the drawing.

My skills in making and drawing are what drove me to become an artist in the first place. At school I did a lot of still life and I even got to go to a life class in the evenings so I became quite practiced at observational drawing. With regular practice the work did improve, it was very difficult to say how or why. I find observational drawing intensely hard work. It’s also quite a magical and mysterious process and very hard to control as it’s so much about releasing rational control and allowing visual information from your eyes to flow through you by way of your hands.

The hardest thing about drawing from life is the repeated assaults made on me by a (my own) sense of disappointment. When you start a drawing and work hard on it then step back to assess it, more often than not it’s a long way from what’s in front of you, the legs are too short, the body is brokenly dis-functional, there is no sense of volume or weight.

I have started to develop my own way of drawing that avoids this distracting distress and allows me to experiment with tone, form, composition & colour. The work is not abstract, what it represents is essentially fiction. Fictional space, depicted forms, something that exists only in pictorial space. I am interested to know how this idea fits into the the genre of drawing as a whole – another item added to my learning agenda.

Partly in search of answers to this question I visited the Jerwood Drawing Prize show . This years show demonstrates that an enormous range of approaches to drawing are going on in the uk. This diversity is hopeful, in the introduction to the catalogue judge Michael Craig-Martin points out the importance they attached to the artists individuality “What I find I am looking for is evidence of a distinct ‘voice’…the individual character of the artist is inescapably present and evident in the work and that the work engages the world beyond art.”

I also came across this interestingly broad definition by sculptor Richard Wilson “Any drawing that is done to explain something is a good drawing if it explains it well.”

Understanding my own lack of words about what I am trying to do with drawing and trying to get an understanding of the medium as a whole is a revelation and a challenge, and this understanding in itself allows me to start thinking about what to do next, do I want to learn more? Could I really choose not to? I think I will certainly need more space to write more.