Monday, 5 November 2012

To Draw

"To 'draw' implies everything the word stands for:
to pull or to drag or to draw forth, as from the earth, a vein, or well."
Lance Esplund

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Life drawing at Fabrica - tangents of the day

Jenny Saville in Oxford
Kenneth Armitage
Conrad Marca-Relli at Ronchini Gallery

A typically interesting range of responses to drawing today, things people have been looking at, thinking about and trying out.
Go on look them up.

Life drawing dates for November are 6th, 13th, 20th. Bookings in advance through me at

Monday, 15 October 2012

Artist William Kentridge on charcoal drawing from The Guardian

South Africa's most celebrated contemporary artist describes the allure of working with the messy immediacy of charcoal.


  • The Guardian, Saturday 19 September 2009

When I went to art school, the idea was that if you were going to be an artist, you had to paint with oil paints on canvas. I discovered I was very bad at that, so it was an enormous relief to discover that there already existed a strong tradition of drawing as a primary medium of art-making.

A lot of artists in South Africa did drawing because it was cheap. You could find a scrap of paper and a ball-point pen or a piece of charcoal and you could be an artist. You didn't need an easel and stretchers and canvas and turpentine and expensive oil paint.

For me, it was also very important that drawing was a monochromatic medium - that colour was not an essential part of it. When I worked with colour, I was always stuck with the question, "does this look nice?", and that's a terrible basis on which to be an artist. Since then, I've learned to paint, and in fact I could be quite a good Sunday painter. But it's not a medium in which I think, and the vital thing about drawing for me is that it is a medium in which one can think.

Drawing is a non-verbal thinking process. One of the things about charcoal drawing is that it is instantly alterable - you can change it as quickly as you can think. One wipe of a cloth and the image disappears or is smudged and you can rethink it. The flexibility of drawing is important. There's an immediacy of drawing, of thinking in drawing, which is vital for me.

During my studies, I was looking at a lot of the German expressionists and at early Russian films. I was looking at those branches of modernism that didn't leave figuration. For me, abstraction was like colour: when I tried to work in complete abstraction, I had no idea what I was doing, why I should make one mark and not another. Now, in fact, a number of my drawings end up as non-recognisable smudges on paper - but they've had a route to get there that started with a connection to a representation of the external world.

I produce many different kinds of drawings. Some are just drawings. Others are done in the service of something else, to be animated, used for a film, opera or a piece of theatre, where the demands of the nature of the transformation might be given by the libretto or by the music.

I work closely with different kinds of references. I have a collection of images and things to which I refer throughout my working process. I find my visual imagination is always less interesting than those things I've discovered in looking at the specifics of details. If one can hold on to the specific, it almost always is more interesting.

Take the drawing of an old typewriter, for example. One has a universal image of what an old typewriter looks like in one's head, so there is an image of it, but it will be bland and inaccurate. There are details of the different kinds of carriage returns, or different kinds of moulding of the black surface of the typewriter around the space bar, which are always more interesting than I could imagine.

The specifics of a particular image or context, even if people don't know that context, somehow give an authority to the rendering of it, whether it's in a text or an artwork. One doesn't have to have been in Dublin to be able to form a picture of Dublin in Joyce's Ulysses. When reading the book, you may form a false image of Dublin - very different to what someone who lives in Dublin might think of the city - but the specifics of the local references are somehow the clues that one needs to build this city.

For me, the drawing is the process of arriving at this image. This process is usually very fast to begin with. I work with charcoal and charcoal dust, and within the first minute, the large expanse of white paper can be turned into a dirty grey. I'll put lines across it, finding vague geographies of where things will go, and then the process of drawing is the remaining hours or days it takes to work through the drawing. The art is to try to finish at the same speed you begin with - to not let the drawing become more and more cramped, to try to keep a looseness and an open-endedness right to the end.

Often, the finished drawing is different from what I had in my head when I started off, and the better ones are those that don't look anything like I thought they would. The ideas are not the driving force in drawing, nor is meaning. The need to make an image is the driving force. It isn't like a writer who has a story they have to tell, and so they write a novel. It isn't as if I have an image the world has to see. Rather I have a need to be making marks on paper. Drawing isn't a decision, it is a need.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Cluster tea party

I invited a group from the Somerset Day Centre to come and see the summer exhibition today as part of a project we are planning with them. As it was our first proper gathering I bought lots of cake and took in table cloths and nice china for a tea party. With the help of volunteers Abby and Ken we laid out an inviting spread which they thoroughly appreciated.
It was a lovely sunny day and the big bonus was that the artist who made Cluster, Annemarie O'Sullivan, was delivering a family drop-in workshop. So we sat talking about the exhibition drinking tea, getting to know each other while watching people make extraordinary structures with sticks and potatoes. A surreal and enjoyable afternoon for us all.
The next phase will be for us to go to their centre and run a series of short workshops based on the exhibition.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012


landscape, body, map or crack in the flag stone?
A really interesting series of drawings was begun today in life drawing by Jenny who had the presence of mind to seize what was exciting and useful in the moment even though it meant she spent most of the session with her back to the model.
Each drawing is the same but simultaneously completely different, each evokes a different idea some really are maps, some are bodies, some embraces, and some landscapes, it's the beginning of a potentially very rich set of work.


Sent from my iPad


I must remember to collect some tea towels or pillow cases to give out as personal drawing picnic surfaces for everyone. Jenny came up with the idea, every week I see her things laid out and it all looks so enticing, a world on a cloth, the only world that matters for the next three hours.


Sent from my iPad

two of eleven

the embrace
Jenny Shaw


Sent from my iPad

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Tuesday life drawing

the exploration continues on from FLOW today in the regular 'life drawing at Fabrica' sessions. Carolyn is making a series of drawings using the weight and drag of ink soaked string attached to a stick. the drawing lines have a thick luscious inky quality not only in the overall line itself but on the two un parallel sides of the line.


Sent from my iPad

life drawing at Fabrica

sticks and other unorthodox handmade tools can open a whole new lexicon of marks, michaela made this stately drawing with a variety of twigs and kitchen sponges. we thought is was a good example of when a drawing becomes a drawing rather than simply a study of a person or object.


Sent from my iPad

Philip's discovery

today philip made a transition from one mark making approach to another more fluid and descriptive one. He has been intrigued by the different qualities of lines that various artists use, from Michaelangelo to Giacometti, and has tried to understand the impulse behind them in the development of his own work. Today he drew in the way he usually does, we discussed the problems with the drawing and I suggested he tried simply not taking the pencil from the surface while drawing using his usual method...
below - before drawing


Sent from my iPad

philip's discovery part two

The difference is subtle but remarkable, below is the fluid drawing made while keeping the pencil on the surface. Sometimes you have to keep revisiting a working method and then one day it becomes useful, meaningful and understandable. Its as if you can only use the information at exactly the right time, when you are ready to receive it.


Sent from my iPad

Monday, 6 August 2012


I'm in the middle of the FLOW workshop, the concentration has been imense and the ingenuity for making the tools for the drawing matched that intensity.
Someone drawing just said to me that they had come to the combined writing and drawing workshop that Jackie Wills and I did during Anish Kapoors show a few years ago, she said she came back because "it had been a profound day" for her.
It's very gratifying to get feed back like that when sometimes you ask people to do some challenging things in workshops, I like to combine and collaborate, I think it's time Jackie and I did another.


Sent from my iPad


some tools


Sent from my iPad



Sent from my iPad

A happy drawer


Sunday, 5 August 2012

volunteers sundays


Some Fabrica volunteers connecting visitors bound X shapes in their drop in workshop today.
They created an open friendly atmosphere and asked the public to think about combining, weaving and attaching a disparate selection of materials to add to the net like hanging.
part 2 next week, Sunday 2-4

Tuesday, 31 July 2012


FLOW is weaving it's way towards us on Monday 6th August...
Two amazing models will work together amongst the massive baskets by Annemarie O'Sullivan. I have asked them to come and interact with the installation and each other while participants in the workshop have the opportunity to draw them. At the beginning of the session which lasts from 10 am till 3 pm people will have the time to make their own drawing tools from basket making materials to use with ink.
Materials provided.
Booking essential through the Fabrica office 01273 778646
Booking fee £5 payable in advance as places are in demand.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Retirement home visit with the volunteers

I met Najat, Ken, Anoushka and Helen outside in the cold July wind.
Today was the day the volunteers presented the images they had designed for the mural, based on the picture research I had done with the residents (described in past blogs) identifying what kind of image they could all enjoy for their empty wall(s).
I was a little nervous as quite a few weeks have passed since my last visit, between people being on holiday and work commitments it's taken a while to assemble us all together.
We had a slightly awkward beginning as I introduced the volunteers to the group but things soon warmed up as we all sat and chatted over a cup of tea before getting down to the selection business. As soon as Anoushka put her drawings on the table quickly followed by ken and Najat and I saw the reactions on the residents faces I knew everything would be fine.

They were all delighted by what they saw, so delighted in fact they were comfortable enough to say what they preferred in this one and that one. What made it easier was the quality of the ideas and the obvious amount of thought that had gone into the design and the execution of the drawings presented. The images summed up brilliantly the choices that the residents had made from looking at the 100 or so images that we had viewed previously to make a kind of working brief.
They liked parts of all three images and because the volunteers had worked so closely to the residents preferred idea of the garden compressed into a foreground, it was possible for them to agree to work on a kind of amalgamation of their images for the mural.
It was clear that the residents liked the variety of birds in Ken's, the atmosphere and drawing in Najat's and the bright cheering calm and structure of Anoushka's. I want to put pictures of all of them up on the blog but only have a copy of Najat's at present, I'll add the others when they send them to me.

We have the dates to go ahead and the volunteers will begin painting next Thursday after we've had a fun afternoon choosing colours out at Seawhites on Wednesday.


Najat's initial design


Najat's final design

Friday, 6 July 2012

nice drawing day

We had a productive drawing day in the gap between the spring show closing and the summer show beginning, with the whole gallery to spread out in last month. Frankie and Zoe modelled together, seemingly telepathically, and were inventive and intuitive in the way they worked. It was a challenging day mostly focussed on movement which is always difficult to tackle and culminated with sharing ideas and a chance to develop the drawings further.

Monday, 14 May 2012


With my head buried in the difficulties of designing a workshop around laughter as a subject, I went off on a tangent the trail of which is now lost, the result however was spectacular (although not in the least bit funny).
I rediscovered the old chestnut of the art /science link through the beautiful drawings of the pioneering Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal 1852-1934.


Sunday, 29 April 2012

last minute preparations for Monday's drawing workshop


Preparations for workshops are always more involved than I think.
It seemed like a fairly straight forward idea to record people reading, but now I need to edit the files and put them in an order and then in a form that will not fail me during the workshop. There are tiny technical complications that wear out the afternoon. Thank god I have help, well thank David anyway.

Tomorrow is "Drawing from word to image" and the more I get ready for it the more potential I see within the idea. I go off on tangents like an animal sniffing scent then I remember I've got to settle on a structure. I've been pondering it for days, buying drawing materials, popping in and out of Fabrica catching people with poems in the kitchen, in the gallery, in the Friends centre.

I have recorded some poems read by amazing people, in Polish, Spanish, Catalan, Neopolitan, and Greek, they have either unearthed poems that mean something to them or are poets in their own right. They have all done this as a favour and I am moved and grateful for their contributions. However I can't use all the material for this one workshop so I'm agonising over editing down to one poem from each person.
I will be posting all of these poems as sound files on this blog soon, come back and have a listen they are well worth it.

Well it's all safely on a memory stick now in the right order, just need to sort out the bags of stuff and take them in to Fabrica, and then I can worry about what I might have forgotten.

I wonder if it would be an idea to do a drawing marathon at Fabrica sometime, night and day, or a week long. Would that enable me to do everything, to follow all the tangents?

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

25/4/12 Mural project

Extramural chats over tea - retirement home
Today I returned with another stack of colour images trawled from the Internet after hours of varying search terms and finding all kinds of unexpected loveliness. It's amazing to think I used to do all this sort of image research from books alone.
I was honing down the style of drawing and painting after our conversation last week based on the landscape pictures I showed them. They had given me good feed back on what they thought was too ugly, too rich, too abstract, too busy, too dark, too naïve etc. as well as good colour, good clear lines, beautiful fragility, cheerful blossom, from which I had gathered an idea about style as well as a better idea about content.
In my search I found an amazing archive of seed packets from 19th century American seed producers like "Childs" and Burpees" on
They were beautifully illustrated with the brightest colours imaginable, and included some flowers I haven't seen for years like these gloxinias...
Everyone loved these pictures but then put them on the too bright pile when they came across the coloured drawings by Charles Renee Mackintosh, these were unanimously liked for their clarity and delicacy...
Today's unanimous favourite image (below) was a plate from a C16th Italian manuscript at Ickworth House. The small pictures of birds by some of these artists were well appreciated too as long as the ones we included in the mural were life sized and not smaller.
Images rejected because of colour or style were by William Morris, Elizabeth Blackadder, William de Morgan and a few random pictures of pomegranates.

The good news today was that the residents have voted to spend money on the materials from their own funds and the council have agreed to match it.

I ended the morning just sitting and listening to a lot of laughing about the very basic nature of some childhood toilets, the surreptitious gathering of veg from allotments to make pies for brothers lunches and new plans to get a group together to make bunting for the 3rd June. If any one reading this has any material in red or white and or blue, and long lengths of cloth tape, please let me know because they are in need of it in the next few weeks.

My next task is to have a good long chat with the volunteers about design and execution based on the images that have been selected by the group I've been talking with. I know there are two volunteers with exactly the right skills to lead the next part, and several more with good drawing and painting skills; I just hope they have the time.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Retirement home visit no.2

Went to the retirement home again today. I took a lot of landscape and garden pictures based on what people had shown a preference for as a subject for their mural at the last coffee morning.

I had just over 60 images of landscapes by painters as disparate as Egon Schiele, Ivon Hitchens and Eric Ravilious. I was fascinated by what people were interested in and what they hated, I was pleased I'd decided to take so many examples to discuss. We passed them around the table a few times, discussing the comparitive merits of colour, perspective and style, putting some to one side and then mixing them up again. Finally I held them up one at a time for mass scrutiny in order to make a pile of images that contained things people liked, and another of what they really didn't.

I asked them to look at the pictures not as complete images but as prompts and samples of nature. So "I like that picture" wasn't a useful comment but "I like the texture of the gold leaves on the ground between the trees, but I don't like the trees and I'd prefer the colours to be more green" about a Klimt painting of a birch tree wood in autumn was just the right kind of information.


I was interested to notice that the Klimt paintings were popular except when they were "too full", it seemed that people generally didn't like the overpowering heaviness in his paintings of trees and plants but liked the colours and some of the shapes. This surprised me because I thought the oppressive floweryness of some of the Klimt gardens full of hollyhocks and delphiniums described a full border at the height of a warm summer perfectly. When I look at those paintings my ears fill with the sound of bees. I had never thought of them as being confusing or too full but I can see their point.


Generally they liked Schiele's crucified yet delicate trees and the muted colours, but they didn't like Ravilious' subject or colour when I showed some of his images of the Downs.


I was struck by how a few people had difficulty reading some of the images; they saw figures with boots on in plants, or snowmen instead of paths, we had a laugh about that.
Anyway I think I can see a way forward to the next stage and we have agreed that I should go back with more specifically garden, blossom tree and plant based images. I have a style of approach in mind from what people said about what they saw so I will be interested if I have got it right.


The overall unanimous favourite painting of the morning was Van Gogh's blossom tree on what looks to be a manganese blue sky (but that might just be my printer).

Drawing event for spring 2012

For the spring show "I see infinite distance between one point and another" by The Otolith Group, I am running a drawing workshop, "Drawing from word to image" about listening to words in familiar and unfamiliar languages. It's a starting point for making drawings about the images that pass through the mind when listening to words, intonation and poetic phrases. It's a workshop about exploring visual translation.

Coincidentally it mirrors the writing workshop that the poet in residence Maria Jastrzebska is running for writers about translating from languages you don't understand, have a look at her blog for more information

see below for details on "Drawing from word to image" to book phone Fabrica 01273 778646


Friday, 13 April 2012

A day; another attempt to find an appropriate blogging form


The retirement home…

Began the day going to meet with the residents of a retirement home who have had their pictures taken down from the corridors between their flats 'because of Health and Safety'. I'm sure there's a sensible way around this but it would take someone time and intelligent and sensitive interpretation of H&S legislation. It seems it's easier to just say no pictures or vases allowed in any of these homes.

They invited me to their regular weekly coffee morning to discuss the possibilities; they think they want a mural. I have been trying to think of an alternative to this solution as I do have a low opinion of murals. The majority of murals tend to be poor attempts at realism and make me shudder, surely the traditional art of the people could be, well, just better.

Anyway enough of my prejudice, they had good reasons for wanting a mural and so I am taking it as a challenge to help them make a good one.

The idea is that I begin the process, based on many years experience of public art commissions, and then hand it on to Fabrica volunteers picked for their commitment and drawing and painting skills to transfer to the wall of choice.

After talking with the residents about what they had been thinking about I suggested to them that we also think about elements that we could invent from the mural to make lots of smaller cut out drawings to place around all the blank walled corridors. As they seem to be most keen on the subject being landscape, gardens and nature I think it would be good to get them to come up with lists of birds, plants, butterflies, insects, that they know, like, see or grow. I think we could have an interesting combination of botanical drawing and drawings of bugs and seed pods etc. scattered about the rest of the corridors so that no place will look the same as any other. I'd like them all to be hand drawn.

I've agreed with them that I will take in as many print outs of landscapes as I can get my hands on so we can all sit around next Wednesday making collages of landscapes together as a way to share ideas and realise what's possible. I'm aware that everyone involved will have their own vision of a landscape; I think it would be good to get them all out on the table in visual form.

The poet's kitchen…

I went home to think about murals for a while over a sandwich and then went off to meet with Maria Jastrzebska who is Fabrica's artist in residence during the spring show "I see infinite distance between one point and another".

Maria is a poet and the film by The Otolith Group depicts Etel Adnan, also a poet, reading her work 'The Sea'. I hadn't met with Maria before today but she was immediately easy to communicate with and fabulously dynamic, I had asked if she would mind me recording her reading some of her work in Polish (she was originally born in Poland and also works as a translator) although she does all her writing in English, her work has been translated into Polish by others.

I am making a collection of poetry read in lots of different languages for a drawing workshop that I'm running at Fabrica on 30th April 1pm - 4pm. I wanted to do something based on how we hear poetry, how we think the concepts, words and rhythms in our minds. Do they make pictures or do the words and sentences find images in our memories.

I am very excited by this as I'm not sure how it will turn out, people often find it difficult to draw from their minds, they feel more at home with the struggle of drawing from a more concrete reality. So I think it will be hard but a true exploration of how we each perceive the poetic.

I was also thrilled to hear that Maria has been thinking along similar lines and is planning a workshop for writers around translating from languages they don't understand. Looking at shape and form. I will be interested to speak with her after and see the results of both workshops side by side.

The Quaker's quiet…

I dropped Maria off in town and went to Fabrica to meet with Eva Kalpadaki who kindly agreed to read me two poems in Greek with her Cretan accent. As everyone was banging and sawing in Fabrica getting the show together we went to the Friends centre and begged the favour of making the recording in the peaceful corridor of their building. The man at the desk said oh no that won't do, come with me you can borrow a better place, and led us to their lovely peaceful 'quiet room'. We spent 15 minutes of tranquillity recording Eva's mesmeric voice, said thank you and left. That’s four poems and two languages I've got today.


I rushed back to Fabrica with half hour to spare with Maria and Jackie Wills (another excellent poet) before the volunteer briefing. This is Fabrica's regular pre-show meet when volunteers get to hear things about the show, i.e. the contents, the commissioning process, the background of the artist, other events and the exhibitions procedure in the sense of how it will work in a practical way.

It’s a great idea because the volunteers who will be the ones out with the exhibition and the visitors for the course of the show get to meet the various people doing things behind the scenes and can ask questions about any aspect they like in an informal way. It's also potentially time for them to get involved in more things going on. We all got to see the film for the first time on the big screen together too.
(Who was the fidget sitting on that squeaky stool at the back?)

Drove Lisa home and flopped out feeling happy and full of more ideas.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Life drawing - February series

During February's series everyone found some surprising and interesting insights into their own work by exploding it and sifting through the fragments.

It began with two weeks making many many studies of body parts up close.
In the third and final session we spread out, up on the walls and across the floors in the huge empty space of the gallery, reassembling the body parts to make new composite drawings.

At this point we looked at Annette Messager's installations to broaden the scope of possibility, to lessen the world's pervading influence of 'realism'.

I was told the process revealed:
Pleasure and discovery in spending time looking and arranging ones own drawings (rather than storing them under the bed).

A different way to look from afar and obliquely at the drawings thereby noticing rhythm in lines and marks.

An alternative way to draw, using drawings as marks to place in space.