Trying to answer "Why?"

Last Sunday was my first go at offering my drawings and prints up for sale in public. Not selling them anonymously through a gallery or a museum shop, but standing up in front of my art… and feeling rather exposed. It can be a bit of a lonely place. Anyway, before I wander off on that tangent.

You get asked quite a few questions.

Tied for first place:

"How long did it take you?"

Followed by the inevitable: "Why do you draw this way?"

Runner up? Would you take a fiver?

This post is a bit about that "Why?" I'll blog about the "Fiver?" another day.

A valid question I suppose with everyone sat drawing on their computers, Copy / Paste, draw once and duplicate an array… oh and not forgetting good old Command-Z. When I can produce a similar drawing on my Mac or even the iPad in a couple of days — if not just a day, my method seems insanely archaic.

Why spend at least a month bent over a drawing board? The Royal Crescent took six months. Admittedly not continually, but still an investment in time on just one subject.

Why do this when you could just run it through Illustrator or Photoshop and trace it using a tablet. Oh and then print it off your desktop printer and pretend it is a Giclée print…

Soppy answer alert! I do it because creating things this way gives me great joy.

The same reason that I bake our own sourdough bread instead of buying it from the local baker — who bakes damn good bread!

The making of something by hand, slowly and thoughtfully is satisfying. The whole process is full of sensory pleasure. The way to the end result is a measured, slowly unfolding path.

The grinding of the ink sticks… grittiness turning into a smooth, viscous organic smelling liquid. It smells of pine soot and farmyard. The scent of the damp sheet of watercolour paper as it dries. Running a fat loaded brush across the white surface in a wash often so pale that I can only tell it has been put down by angling my head against the light to catch the reflection of the wet area. Then wait. And only when there is a barely perceptible dampness I go and lay another wash… then repeat.

Chinese ink, Black, Grinding stone

The weather plays its part. Hot and dry summer days? Not too good for grading large washes. The ink evaporates just too fast. Luckily(?) a typical English year usually has plenty of damp days for good work.

Anyone who knows me can tell that being patient is not my normal state. But paradoxically creating my drawings is often akin to a meditation, a kind of Yin Yoga as I try to be aware of my body. I hold a still posture for quite a while sometimes and move my arm with my breath. Not holding it, but a natural rhythm.

Back bent over the board, stretching and straightening my spine, and being careful where I draw a line, or run a bead of ink.

Measure twice and draw once, to paraphrase the carpenters' rule.

Similar to a photographer in a dark room (remember those?) the picture gradually develops as it emerges from the board. Judging when it is ready is a tricky thing, so I often just put the drawing away and have a look at it in a couple days' time. Then I can usually tell what needs working up.

Then one surprising day it is finished. It just is. Ready for its close-up. I prop it up against a wall and I can spend hours just looking at it.

I have used cotton rags and soot and pigments and glues prepared by skilled craftsmen into useable materials and made them my own.

Imperfectly perfect.

I have taken something I know well, like drawing the face of a lover or a friend and made my own version of it.

Hopefully understanding that building and its long dead designer a little better, and if someone else also sees that beauty?

It feels rather good.

But I do draw the line at a fiver…

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