Drawing and photography are central to my practice. Both make pressing - if sometimes fictitious - claims to the capture of lost moments.

Some thoughts on drawing and on keeping a sketchbook

It's not surprising that so much has been written and said - and drawn - about drawing. In part, that's because drawing is a form of thinking with the hand, or seeing with the hand. In that sense, our drawings styles seem to us like our handwriting: inevitable. Whether practiced or rusty, we experience our way of making drawn marks as automatic, stemming from some uncontrolled instinctual resource. Yet our drawings change all the time, and we often sustain several drawing styles simultaneously. Even with observational drawing, the materials we have to hand, the ambient light, whether the object of our gaze is stationery or in motion, even the temperature and our mood can affect the way we make drawn marks.

Because I could never completely decide between them and because I could neither give up words nor images, I have oscillated between making art and writing about it for the whole of my working life. Drawing has always been central to my practice, but over the past decade or so, I have also been taking photographs more seriously. This motion between various activities has meant that I have sometimes gone through extended periods without setting foot in my studio. Drawing is, under these circumstances, always my way of getting my hand “in”. It is, for me, both intimate and expansive, always liberating, helping me dismantle inhibitions that set in over periods when I haven’t made hands-on work.

For some artists, the sketchbook represents drawing from life: a little pocket companion to urban excursions, treks in far flung landscapes, vistas afforded by travel abroad. While sketchbooks were initially places where I essayed ideas for painting or other projects, they now constitute the site for daily explorations, recording the everyday. The banal and the customary are, for me, sources of the greatest fascination and immersion: more than dreams or the imagination, reverie or fantasy, it is the everyday that has about it an ineluctable poetry. I love the thingness conveyed by a pair of shoes or an item of clothing or a personal possession, with its suggestion of human proximity; the details of our half eaten meals; the tenderness exposed in the relation between us and our pets or children; the familiarity of our homes and the places we inhabit regularly. There seems, furthermore, to be an intimate relationship between the hand that leaves its traces in drawings, and the way our bodies mark our presence in our daily lives.

I usually have several different sketchbooks on the go (different kinds of paper, different sizes), and many utensils (I can’t resist them, though really, one only needs a few). The choice of subject matter, material and support in some way all condition the way a drawing turns out. I am aware that the “look” of a drawing, whether delicate or more rough and expressionistic, whether starkly linear or scratchy and quick, is not always entirely voluntary. But to invoke the look of a drawing is to court, apparently, style over process or substance. Even though I try never think of a drawing in terms of its final appearance and more as the record of a process, it’s inevitable that one should be concerned with questions of completion (when is a drawing finished?), composition, the organisation of the page, the economy or excess of marks, and so on. The format of the sketchbook brings other questions into focus. It invites casual and random juxtapositions, the twinning of words and images,  and it makes possible a form of “non composition” that is immensely appealing. And yet a glimpse at the many artists’ sketchbooks we can now see online reveals the extent to which it is particularly hard to escape the seduction of how a whole sketchbook entry looks. When you’ve scribbled four things and then the fifth element seems clumsy or poorly drawn, you want to hit yourself, you feel you’ve messed it all up, and it matters!

I never leave the house without my camera, and because I have amassed thousands of photographs since I got my first digital camera, it is not only life but also photography that serves as a source for my drawings, and drawings that I make from photographs often have a less nervous, less edgy line: the model stays still and I’m in the comfort of my own home! Drawings so to speak “from life” are quicker and riskier: when the fail, they can be much worse, but when they succeed, or almost succeed, ah – that is joy!

This is a blog of sketches made daily. It’s interesting that that very word “sketch” has been dredged out of its disrepute, its designation as an activity with connotations  of old fashionedness at best, amateurishness at worst (“Sunday” is a word that springs to mind). It is now perfectly respectable – actually, it’s positively cool – to be out and about with one’s sketchbook, and Moleskine has become a brand that is, well, frankly trendy. But drawing requires time. It invites us to participate less, perhaps, but to pay a different kind of attention. And the attention that a drawing entails is different, too, from the more retrospective strangeness offered by a photograph (we only really identify the good shot after the event, but we’re looking at our drawings as we make them). Because drawings take time, I doubt that many of the sketchers that are now coming out of the woodworks do so to be trendy. There are mixed motives: the need to remember and record is central to the activity, but does not explain it away.

I am aware of the extent to which making one’s own life public can be a source of infinite tedium to others. This blog is, I hope, only in small measure an autobiographic record. Or rather, my own life, as it is reflected here, is in some sense a construct and ultimately, is of little interest. The sketchbooks represent an attempt to record the passing of time in a disciplined way. As much as I love the acts of drawing and how much one learns from them all the time, I am also intrigued by the way the modern technology of the internet has affected that most basic form of mark making. It has made visible the work of people whose drawing unfolds in a less public arena than the gallery or the museum, and I’m so delighted to be part of that stream.