The return of the sketchbook

DSC_2463

My new project for 2015 is to get my sketching mojo back and get drawing back on the Deano agenda. I don’t pick a pen up anywhere near enough and I decided to sort it out.

So I bought a brand new Moleskine — heavier weight, off white drawing paper of course and crucially a size just over A5, large enough to capture a decent canvas but small enough to tuck into a bag.  I bought some new pens to get me excited: Pentel fine line and heavy, fountain Pentel and Signpens, standard issue for designers. I thought I’d also try some brush Faber Castell pens too — all bets are off at this stage and using a new pen can often inspire as much as the subject. New tools always excite me and are essential at the outset of a project like this.

Subject matter was the next consideration. Sketching is like a muscle that needs exercising to grow it and then when fully pumped it needs plenty of reps to keep it up to scratch. So where am I constantly exposed to countless, interesting scenes? If you read this blog you know I frequent a lot of bars and restaurants and that seemed like the perfect subject. I’m there anyway, so why not sketch at the same time. In truth it’s not too obtrusive and is often a starting point for conversations. I was also inspired by the wonderful London Sketchbook’s section on bars and restaurants in London so off I went.

I’ve had a proper go over the past few weeks and if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen I’m getting into a groove of sorts. Sketching is habit-forming too and taps into my obsessive compulsive nature with a compulsion to collect views and in turn sketches. It’s great also to sketch what I would have otherwise Instagrammed. My first few sketches were a bit clunky but I was determined to just draw and create without worrying about the outcome. I have to get into a groove with it and not get too anxious. What I have found though is that my eye is getting better and better and each sketch is a reasonably faithful representation of the atmosphere of the bar or restaurant: calm, chilled, hectic, noisy, quiet, relaxed, full on. Of course no-one sits still or poses, so it brings huge challenges for me as faces were never my strong point, but either way I just draw.

I’ve also decided to use these sketches as illustrations for reviews of the place we visit, which I think adds an interesting dimension to the narrative of the drawing. The sketch below is a beautiful little neighbourhood restaurant in Debeavoir Town in North London called Sweet Thursday, named after a little known Steinbeck book. This isn’t a full-blown review but the hipster, retro, eclectic charm of the restaurant comes out in the drawing I think. It was late afternoon on a cold Saturday in February and we almost had the place to ourselves. The pizza was divine: just what we needed, packed with flavour, piping hot and a perfect foil to the great value and gullible on-tap organic wine. I built on my bare bones sketch later that evening and was quite pleased with the way it emerged. Enjoyable experimentation with fat black nibs to stress shadows and contrast.

It’s a fine line between spontaneity and overworking but I think I got this one about right. But there are no right and wrongs and I’m keen to experiment with new styles and techniques. Keep coming back to the blog to see how the project develops. Hope you like them.

DSC_2455

DSC_2445

Learning to draw changed my life

As a student at Jacob Kramer College of Art in Leeds, we had a most intimidating life drawing tutor in Laimonis Mierins. Cutting an intimidating figure dressed in black with silver hair, Lem would scare, bully, cajole and coax his students to be brave. If we didn’t take drawing seriously, he’d threaten us all with a tommy gun that was left over booty from the Second World War. Yes, he really did.

He started us off using pencil; soft and forgiving, then charcoal; sooty and pliable, but graduated—slowly, mind—to using the most unforgiving of media: pen.  One of the toughest mediums to draw with, ink is the ultimate in mark-making; no room for error, but what errors you make have to be incorporated and believable.

In this era of Instagram gratification, I still like the discipline of looking hard, committing and interpreting life into line. This drawing of the train station in Porto took a bit of time, gave me a few scares but rewarded my fragile patience, every detail burnt into the memory.

I worked with one of our designers at Turn Key, Brian, to add another dimension to the drawing by adding colour digitally. I gave him free reign to interpret the drawing how he saw fit. There’s two versions here, one without the lifework and one with it. I love each equally, the abstract one works for me as the artist who drew it, the lifework inserted in my imagination. The line and colour version works best for people who’ve not seen the original I think.

The image was submitted to an exhibition of other designer works to celebrate 30 years of Thompson Brand Partners. I was particularly pleased how the drawing skills I learnt all those years ago could still deliver in an engaging and contemporary way.

Lem would be proud I think.

 

PORTO POSTER-s3

 
Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 12.46.50

 

Anselm Kiefer

IMG_1701IMG_1700IMG_1706IMG_1699IMG_1702

Seeing the Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the Royal Academy just after reading Martin Amis’ The Zone of Interest was quite an experience. The Second World War informs every pice of artwork on show, not just casting a shadow but engulfing everything in its blackness. This exhaustive (and exhausting) collection of the celebrated German artist’s work is an intense experience for the casual gallery goer looking for a mild diversion from Christmas shopping in London.

The show delivers room after room of powerful art, all on a big scale. Big in size and big in emotion, Kiefer is all about emotional impact, which is by and large dark and foreboding with the odd respite here and there. We see exquisite books packed with pencil drawing and watercolour, huge canvases with layer upon layer of paint, mud and god knows what. We have spectacular sculpture too thrown in for good measure.

Across all media there is a consistency of thought and spectacular execution from star-like diamonds embedded in dense back canvases to lead books whose pages turn and crumple like paper — the lead itself reclaimed from the roof of Frankfurt cathedral. The craft of the work is spellbinding too, often more convincing than the work itself at times. I was taken with his idea of using the original zinc baths that the Third Reich gave to every family to make submarine sculptures, depicting the loss of life underwater. Idea and craft working seamlessly together.

Time after time the holocaust surfaces in his work, burned into the artists’s consciousness, a palpable driving force behind much if his work if not all in some way. It got me thinking about how art deals with horrors on the magnitude seen in Germany and how the artist must feel responsible in some way to try to interpret what’s happened, not make sense of it, but to process it in some way to ensure it must never happen again.

anselm-kiefer-germanys-spiritual-heroes1 2709427053_54b8efc646_o Interior-(Innenraum) gtho5whaga6kv7kvtdeq

Matisse Cut Outs

072_1

 

Tate Modern is showing a huge Henri Matisse retrospective. I always liked his work: it appealed to the art student in me, enormous slabs of colour, cut out and pasted down with such exuberance. This show contains all his greatest hits, vibrant with flat gouache colour.

Matisse.PA

 

The colours and shapes move and dazzle as you walk past them. Up close the patience of flat colour being laid down and the precision and delicate composition is evident. Each room fizzes with energy, unfolding stunning giant tableaux.

henrymatisse

 

A compilation wall where every piece talks to each other, cheerfully social. Making the most of it before they are scattered to the four corner of the earth.

050rt_1

 

The famous blue figures are all movement and sinew. The composition is taut and balanced. Cut paper and gouache, gradient clearly seen with a softer wash.

Henri Matisse - Violet Leaf on Orange Background (Palmette) 1947

 

The simplicity of two colours, jarring against each other because they are tonally the same but because they are from different parts of the spectrum, they co-exist beautifully.

the fall of icarus 1943 matisse

 

Icarus crashes to earth, his dreams destroyed along with his wings.

Magic Markers saved my life

130956280_f419ccbd74

I spent my early days as a young designer in a chemical fug. Day after day, my senses were dulled by fumes that made me light-headed and reckless. Intensified by the heat and pressure of a busy design studio, I became addicted to the mother of all creative highs.

Magic markers.

It’s incomprehensible of course these days that we would spend an entire day drawing stuff, colouring in with coloured felt tip markers, glue it to some board and then go see a client with the brand new thinking for their next campaign. But we did. In the modern age of PDF and We Transfer, sketching stuff out seems oddly quaint, although it’s not vanished entirely, it’s an affectation these days rather than the norm.

Back then markers were our expression, easy, quick tools that demanded skill to deliver ideas on the hoof. This process had its own vernacular too: markers were used to create scamps, roughs, flims or even thumbnails. As designers we were still close the commercial artists craftsmen who taught us our craft and we borrowed ancient terminology from these long-lost giants.

To someone who always loved drawing, the technical ability of these tools to deliver flat colour, crisp lines with no bleeding (here I go again) and flawless visuals was a revelation. Of course, you had to know the tricks and a scuffed drawing board could ruin work that would have to be done again. There was no Apple Save in those days. But you learnt quick. Shortcuts came thick and fast and everyone had their own armoury of kit and secret techniques to deliver the killer visual.

There was no finer sight than a full rack of juiced up markers, ready to do your bidding. I started on Magic Markers, the ad agency staple. The stubby glass bodied pens were fearsomely expensive and prone to drying out, and were soon usurped by the snazzy Pantone upstarts, who had the massive advantage of the pen colour matching the entire Pantone ink and paper family. Both co-existed with dedicated enthusiasts on both sides.

I learnt recently that the chemicals used in magic markers were very harmful to humans and even back then we’d joke lightheadedly about how these couldn’t be good for us. Of course now we can’t have a glass of wine without getting a warning so imagine spending a day intoxicated by killer toxins just to get an advert sketched out.

I love the past sometimes. That’s why I’ve just ordered a full set of greys to get cracking again.

What do you remember about magic markers?

Is art for the elite?

Visitors walk through the Royal Academy galleries during the Summer Exhibit

 

I finally got around to visiting the 246th Royal Academy Summer Exhibition this week. I’ve always wanted to go, loving the romantic notion that all members are eligible to submit work and if it’s good enough, it will be in the show. Art lovers have long known that it’s the place to pick up a bargain piece of art from an artist on his or her way up the ladder and there are many stories of collectors having done just that.

I love the fact there is world famous artists whose work is for sale well into six figures sitting alongside complete unknowns. Artists like Tracy Emin also have fun with it too, selling limited edition prints at a very attractive price, OK it’s a print, but it’s a signed and numbered print by an internationally renowned artist.

The first thing to note is that the galleries are stunning. A hugely diverse collection of art has been curated carefully into 12 galleries, each gallery curated by a different member of the RA. This is a feat in itself as the eclecticism of the work means themes and dialogue have to be found to help make sense of the exhibition. For the large works by well-known artists this is clearly great fun for the curators but with the smaller pieces, the sheer volume and scale of difference is a virtue in itself.

Unlike a traditional gallery, where pace and them is easily controlled by artist or collection, the Summer Exhibition is an explosion of vibrant colour and thrilling execution, challenging the viewer to try to absorb not just an individual piece but an entire wall of artworks, all talking to each other. Each gallery is paced cleverly and allows respite where needed from the sensory overload.

I think modern art can sometimes feel like a club, excluding people who aren’t in on the gag. But this show feels truly inclusive in a way I’ve never seen before—the sheer democracy of style and subject matter makes it feel like a show for the people, by the people. Of course it’s still in a gallery and it still costs £12 to get in, but once past the hallowed porticoes of the Royal Academy, there is a truly levelling experience to be had.

Do you think art is for the elite or should be made more available for the masses?

 

yi4cbpo48zv3rspuutpi

Installation view of Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2014 c. Benedict Johnson

Installation view of Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2014 c. Benedict Johnson

large-weston-room-before-sanctioning-day

p020byfp

work on paper by John Carter

 

Photography is strictly not allowed, so thanks to Benedict Johnson for use of his stunning images.

A proper artist materials shop

There’s something beautifully old-fashioned about a proper artists materials shop. The smell, the rustle of paper, an exciting array of pens, graphite, crayon and a kaleidoscopic array of inks  all rub shoulders with each other, cheek by jowl with mysterious substances. Then there’s the smell…but don’t get me started!

Sadly, there’s not so many of them about these days, certainly outside of London you’d struggle to find one. Back in the day when I was a student there was handful, even in a city like Leeds. Dinsdales was my favourite but of course the rise of online retail and the march of technology in art and design has put paid to the physicality of the artists’ mecca.

In London however, it’s a different story even in 2014. In Clerkenwell where I work I discovered an exquisite store selling all manner of artists materials. Stuart R Stevenson, Artist and Guilding materials is right on Clerkenwell Road and is a real treasure trove. My fleeting visit for sign writer’s paint and sponges was too short but I’ll definitely return for a more leisurely mooch.  This brief visit recently yielded much joy and return visits will deliver much the same I think.

IMG_8083 IMG_8076 IMG_8077 IMG_8078