Sketchbooks and squiggles

Not everyone can go to art school to learn to draw; but I do think it is important, if you are going to illustrate stories, to have some confidence in your drawing. And remember that whenever we make marks on paper, canvas or computer screen, we are drawing. When we write we are drawing. Illustrators, when they draw,  are writing; well… story-telling.

I was often ill and in bed when I was a child and  I entertained myself by drawing.  My mother, when she came by, would pick up my sketch book and pencil and draw one continuous, squiggly line.   I would have to turn her squiggle into a drawing by the time she came by again… that was the rule of the game. Her squiggles became more and more complex and I think I came to draw, from my imagination, just a bit better all the time. I felt better too, for my squiggling. Our game of squiggles had an influence on how I draw now.  I learned to draw  quickly too and that came in handy later when I went to work for a daily newspaper.

Balinese mask dancer

A lot of people doodle with a pen or pencil on a spare bit of paper…  when they are talking on the telephone or something  like that.  Sometimes those doodles are the best drawings because they are drawn instinctively and the sketcher is relaxed and not intending to draw something for framing or publication.   I like doing that myself and I think it helps my drawing. Some of those sketches turn out well, maybe my best drawings; but I usually throw them away,.

I think carrying a sketchbook and using it is one of the best things an illustrator can do. If you draw everything you see, a lot of it all will stay in your memory whether or not you are conscious of its being there; you will draw from those memories. It is good also to try to draw what you think difficult to draw. I particularly like to draw movement, movement as a subject.  When you draw a moving figure, you are drawing from life for only the first line that you make, from then you are drawing from the memory of a mental snapshot.  Drawing from television is a good exercise in seeing and observing and not worrying too much about results. My advice would be  to look at the subject more than you do at your paper. If the results are not wonderful, that doesn’t matter. You are not drawing pictures to hang on a  wall, you are training your eyes to see and  your mind to be observant. Ballet classes are very good to draw, because the same movements are repeated by the dancers, you can sometimes keep adding bits to the same drawing.

                        Javanese boy

Rodin had his models run and jump around his studio and the drawings he made of them are simple and beautiful. For my own part, I think that movement is what I draw best.

One of the difficulties of drawing in public is that it can bring onlookers, or over-the-shoulder-lookers. I carried a sketchbook when Betty and I travelled in Bali and Java and sometimes my drawing drew a lot of interest. Sometimes the onlookers crowded in front of me so I couldn’t see what I was trying to draw. Once I drew a small carriage, that was at rest. There was a  pony between its shafts that was feeding from a bucket on the ground.  A little boy, who sold peanuts or something on the street came along and watched over my shoulder, When I thought I had finished the drawing and walked away, he  came running after me. ‘Mister, mister,  the bucket!’ he called  and he caught hold of my  arm and dragged me back to where I had been sitting. I hadn’t bothered to draw the bucket; but the little  boy insisted that until I did so,  the drawing wasn’t finished. Maybe he was right.  I gave him the drawing anyway. Once, right here in my home town, while I was drawing, a man who  looked over my shoulder  said, ‘Don’t give up your day job.’ Then he walked away, sort of pleased with himself I suppose.

Drawing passers by from a parked car is a good idea and if you are in a café or a pub, you can sit in a corner and look as though you are writing (no-one wants to look over the shoulder of a writer). One good thing to do is to ask friends to model  for you.

You certainly can teach yourself to draw.

Illustrations are sketchbook drawings from Indonesia to see previous blog The Illustration Game, CLICK 

Next week: About Style