13th July 2012
I am having a very busy July, even though it started with a holiday. My exhibition at Lilford Fine Art in Canterbury opens tonight, and we only got back from Hungary the day before yesterday. I made sure the whole thing was sorted out before we left, frames, mail-outs, facebook invitations and phone calls, though, so I have nothing to do but work out what to wear.
We go to Hungary a lot, because my brother-in-law lives in Budapest. Like a lot of Budapesters, he also has a cottage in the countryside, near Lake Balaton, and that’s where we stayed. It’s extraordinary countryside, with hills that are volcanic plugs and look like a child’s drawing of a hill, terraced and wooded, and Balaton is a seventy mile long freshwater lake, muddy and reeded, and lined with ‘Strands’, beaches that you pay to enter, with cafes, pedalos and shower blocks. You don’t pay much, and it’s a lovely, restful time.
I took the opportunity to get back into watercolour painting, partly because I have been commissioned to write a follow up to Basic Drawing on watercolour, and partly because I just want to muck around with watercolour. I have been looking at Patrick Proctor’s watercolours, and the easy-looking, ‘just-so’ quality that they have. Sometimes. Sometimes they’re pretty bad. As are mine.
Mina poses on the breakwater w/c 10 x 8 cms
My niece and nephew, eight year old twins, pose for me when I offer them money. 20 Hungarian forints is worth about a penny, but they seem happy with it. I also draw more or less constantly in my sketchbook - the heat is so strong, and the activity so limited, just beach, swimming, sunbathing, that there is little else to do, so I enjoy looking and noting. I try to keep in mind Richard Pikesley’s advice, to find still lifes in the landscape, and Peter Brown’s, not to look too hard for a composition, and it seems to work, but the thing I really notice is that I could draw a person for hours but a landscape, from life, seems so confusing.
Landscape Study, Balaton, Hungary w/c 8 x 12 cms
While I was there I thought a lot about the difference between photography and painting, and wonder why people like paintings of things and places, and why we paint things when we could photograph them. My answer is that painting and drawing gives you permission to stare at something for longer than photographing it does; the image you get at the end is a result of five minutes, an hour, a day, rather than a split second camera click, and so you notice more in the image and it seems to live in your memory longer. I have decided to write an article on this, as part of the series that Artist And Illustrator has asked from me. More writing.
My Mother-in-law in the shade
The other thing I want to write about is how we learn to draw. I read David Haycock’s ‘A Crisis Of Brilliance’ while I was in Hungary, an excellent book about early C20th painters from the Slade, Spencer, Carrington, Gertler, Nash, Nevinson - all artists who showed with the NEAC, by the way - and one of the main connections they had was that they’d all been taught to draw by Henry Tonks at the Slade.
Page of sketches, sketchbook
But what was it they were actually taught? My own definition of drawing is that it is how we represent form, independent of media. In other words, the term ‘drawing’ means, for me, not something done in pencil or charcoal, but how the form in a piece of work is described.
Perhaps Tonks’ chief influence is the clarity and integrity that you can see in the work of these five painters. Look at Gertler’s Merry-Go-Round, Spencer’s Centurion’s Servant or Carrington’s Lytton Strachey; one of the things they share, even though they are images extremely unlike one another, is that you are in no doubt about the physical forms represented.
Perhaps I’m talking rubbish. I am pretty good at that, as you will see if you tune in to BBC2 at 3pm on the 18th of this month, for Show Me The Monet, a TV programme about artists that combines Dragon’s Den with Britain’s Got Talent, in which I make an ass of myself. I kind of wish I hadn’t now.
The Private View was lovely, with ex-students, friends, collectors and artists all turning up. The gallery’s great, excellent wine served all evening and lots of amusing meetings, a few sales and general jolliness. To my great pleasure Sir Ronald Macintosh, one of the NEAC’s great patrons, who happens to live near Faversham, where I live, was there too.
My next task is to organise next year’s Drawing School curriculum and it’s no easy one. I have to schedule small runs of teaching, of perhaps two Saturdays next June, in July, and no one reallly wants to be committed like that. NEAC members tend to be busy working; a lot of them will be away in the summer months too, painting abroad, and impossible to get hold of. The RA Schools, where we hold many of our classes, are also on holiday, seemingly from June to September.
It is quite fun though, calling up my friends and bullying them into teaching - we catch up on news, share ideas and sometimes generate completely new courses. Mick Kirkbride, for example, has come up with the idea of running Beginner’s classes, away from the RA Schools, which might intimidate the more nervous student, and we’re starting that in a school in North London this September. We also run ‘Schools’ Saturdays’, where sixth-formers from various schools come to the RA Schools Life Room for a day of ‘old-fashioned observational drawing’. Most A-level students seem to think drawing is copying from photographs, and it’s sometimes a bit of a shock for them to be confronted with a live human being.
John Dobbs Townscape Study Charcoal, pen and wash 2012
One of the best things about the Drawing School this year has been the Scholars; John Dobbs and Claire Robinson have been absolutely fantastic, highly committed and determined to get everything they can out of their year. It’s been a joy dealing with them, and they will be showing in the Open in November. I will be scheduling in a day to meet them and catch up with their work in the next week or two, if I can find some time between organising my Continuing Education classes at Christ Church Canterbury University, writing my Artist And Illustrator articles, writing my Basic Watercolour book, setting up the Mini-Art School we run at the Mall during the Open, putting my work in for the National Open Art Competition etc etc.
When do I do my own painting? You may well ask...
Swimmer at Balaton