Let’s have something of a break from my work this week and turn our attention to a real master.
Forty years ago, when I was a young student hoping to become a book illustrator, I wrote to the great Edward Ardizzone for advice. Tactfully, he didn’t say anything about the couple of drawings I’d sent to him for appraisal, but instead took the time to send me this handwritten letter full of useful tips about improving one’s technique. The closing sentence never fails to move me: ‘I lived poorly just painting pictures & illustrating books, which thank god has payed [sic] off in the end’.
Ardizzone’s loose and flowing style is difficult to imitate. Last night I tried to copy his drawing of a woman who had fallen asleep in the corner of a bar, watched by her concerned whippet. In Ardizzone’s drawing it was a touching vignette of someone who was drinking to forget: her face, tucked into her coat collar, was just three lines – two for her closed eyes, and an inverted 7 for her nose. Trying to reproduce that was impossible for me: my version looked cartoonish where Ardizzone’s looked poignant, primitive where his looked delicate. I had a little more success trying to adapt a drawing he did of a wine connoisseur:
The Connoisseur, after Ardizzone (10 cms x 10cms ink on sketchbook page 2015)
Such freshness can be difficult to achieve: the apparent simplicity of Ardizzone’s style comes from a lifetime of practice.