Kingfisher Mobile (2015 ink and watercolour A3 approx.)
Last week, a friend and I visited a workshop called Drink and Draw. We turned up with our bottles of wine, drew the harbour from the studio balcony, did some entertaining exercises and completed a drawing of our own choice – in my case a pen drawing of a kingfisher and parrot mobile that hung in the corner of the room.
I enjoy a glass of wine as much as the next man (well, probably more than the next man actually) but I’m not sure whether it helps one draw. I was perhaps a little looser in my line – which is, after all, what I’m aiming for – but that was largely down to holding the pen towards the end, like a brush.
In short, I’m unconvinced that half a bottle of white rioja added that much to my ability to draw a wooden kingfisher, although it was a fun evening.
The Ex-husbands of Jane Smiley (2014 ink and watercolour pencil A5 sketchbook page)
Some things beg to be illustrated. When Robert McCrum interviewed the lovely Jane Smiley for the Observer newspaper last year, and she described her current and three ex-husbands as “all great guys, all easy-going guys, and I’m fond of all of them” this picture of them all lined up for a group photograph sprung into my head. In the article there was a picture of Jack but not of the other three, so I had to imagine what they might be like. I wish in retrospect that I’d spent more time on the drawing, but it was a spontaneous reaction so I left it as it is. I wish, too, that I hadn’t made John look like a bit like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos – I’m sure he doesn’t deserve that.
A kooikerhondje is a Dutch spaniel, originally bred to lure ducks into traps. In addition to their attractive colouring they have dark strands in their ears known as ear-rings. This drawing is based on a photograph sent to me by a friend who is lucky enough to own one of these splendid dogs. As before, the subject dictated the medium: the soft fur and delicate colouring suggested coloured pencils. Artists such as Tom Homewood can do wonderfully free paintings of dogs but at the moment that’s a little out of my reach.
Unfortunately to get any sort of image you could actually see I’ve had to beef up the contrast a bit here. There is more subtlety – I promise – in the original.
Sometimes the subject dictates the medium. Would the chillies in the image below be quite so chilliesque if they’d been drawn in pastel? Somehow the creases in a chilli cry out for the hard line of ink, here combined with watercolour to give a rich colour that still allows the line to show through.
Similarly, these mushrooms – drawn a couple of years ago in Helen Gilbart’s drawing class – started off in charcoal, rubbed back to get the milky whiteness of the skin and the stalks, but needed brown pastel to produce that particular mushroom quality. It’s a softness that pastel and charcoal achieve so well together.
In the latest issue of Artists and Illustratorsmagazine, a contestant on the recent BBC TV Big Painting Challenge – a reality show featuring amateur artists – claims that she found the criticism of the two professional judges, Lachlan Goudie and Daphne Todd, unnecessarily harsh and even rude at times, and was called ‘an illustrator’ by one of them.
I know that some fine artists think illustrators are mere hacks but it seems to me a rather spurious distinction, especially when some artists of unquestionable reputation, David Hockney perhaps, are able to slip between the two without any sense of having to dumb down for their illustrative work. Furthermore, if some evil demon could wipe out an entire artist’s work overnight would we miss Tracey Emin more than Maurice Sendak, or Jeff Koons more than George Herriman (below)? Personally I’d prefer one frame of a Krazy Kat comic over Koons’ entire oeuvre but I know there are others who would see Herriman as a ‘mere’ cartoonist while a Koons vacuum cleaner in a Perspex case is a profound artistic statement.*
It seems a little like the argument about whether all classical music is somehow more accomplished than all popular music. In the end it’s just sound, just as art and illustration are both marks on a surface.
So is the picture above an illustration for a cookery book or a meditation on the graphic quality of red and green chilli peppers? Ultimately, does it matter?