Cafe Sketches - 27th May 2006
Today I wanted to deal more with shapes than with likenesses.
It struck me recently that I've been increasingly falling into trying to get likenesses of the people I draw, which is natural I guess, but I think the drawings have been suffering a bit lately because of that. Always I'm fighting against the temptation to produce finished work. I really think that getting too involved in finish is counter productive in the learning stages and slows development. Finish should only come after the basics are well established - shape and proportion.
So on this trip I'd decided to make a conscious effort to forget the quality of the drawings and try to concentrate on just getting things in the right place.
This was the first drawing. It's obvious to me looking at it now that my good intentions went out of the window as soon as I started. I'm trying to produce a little portrait here, a finished drawing.
This woman was sitting fairly close to me, buried in her paper and apparently oblivious to her surroundings. I always feel safer drawing people like this, it's disconcerting when people know they're being drawn. Apart from anything else, they keep looking over to see if I'm still drawing them (moving around is not good,) and they also lose that unguarded, natural pose which, to my mind, spoils the drawing somewhat.
Perhaps it was partly having a good, still model for this drawing that made me forget that I was just supposed to working with shapes today. Although the drawing came out quite nicely, and is even a reasonable likeness, it's wide of the mark since that wasn't my intention.
This one, the second drawing, is much closer to what I'd intended to do with this trip. As a likeness it doesn't stand up at all, I can barely remember what this woman looked like now. But that's not the point. What this drawing represents is a series of shapes, reasonably well observed I think, that come together to make a figure.
This woman knew I was drawing her and kept looking over, but at least she didn't realise until I was a fair way through the drawing and had the main shapes established. Soon after she noticed I was drawing her she got up and left. I always feel a bit guilty when that happens, like I've spoiled someone's trip to the cafe.
Nonetheless, I'm happy with this drawing. It comes somewhere near what I set out to do, and for that reason is a success. It can be hard sometimes to keep from getting precious about these drawings and to remember that they are what they are, quick sketches in a cafe, not finished portraits.
I don't often post drawings like this that I don't get finished, usually there's at least a couple of these on every trip. But one of the things I want to do with this site and my little drawing and painting journal is to present an honest picture of what I'm doing. I don't want to give the impression that every drawing I do in the cafe comes out well, that's just not the case.
One thing I hope for with this site is to show that painting and drawing isn't some magic gift from heaven that you either have or don't have. No one is born able draw and paint, it's a skill that must be learned through dedication and long hours of practice. For every good piece of work, there will be many rough, half finished and downright failed pieces. That's the way it is with everything, why should drawing and painting be any different? How hard does a musician have to train before they put themselves on a stage to play? It seems to be a very modern misconception that art is something you're born with, and that it requires no work or practice, just a natural in-born talent for self-expression. I think that's rubbish, and is a product of the 20th century romantic idea of the artist as gifted genius.
Of course there's such a thing as aptitude, and undoubtedly there have been child prodigies throughout the history of art. But for the other 99.9999% of us, drawing and painting is much more prosaic and requires long hours of practice and years of dedication. Scratch the surface and I believe you'll find that even the handful of great geniuses had to work hard at developing their skills. I think this romantic misconception lies at the heart of the reason why so few artists these days can come even close to the level of skill of the old masters.
It used to be accepted that painting and drawing took years of practice, it still is accepted for musicians. But for artists, all you need is a paintbrush, some paint, and a big dollop of genius and you're good to go. If you don't have that genius you may as well give up. What crap. This is exactly why, in my opinion, modern conceptual artists can get away with such rubbish, meaningless work. I saw it when I was at art college and I see it in galleries now. As long as you can justify what you do with some half-baked line of conceptual bollocks, you're a fine artist. I'm reminded of an amusing tune by Robert Crumb, I forget the title of the tune, but the words go something like:
"I quit my job, I spent three months in bed,
I decided I would take up fine art painting instead,
So I got myself a canvas and a bottle of paint,
Five minutes work is going to make me a saint."
Nice one Mr Crumb, I couldn't have put it better myself.
The last drawing of the day.
I like this drawing. The shapes are pretty much in the right place I think, and that gives the drawing more life. I would say this one falls somewhere between the first drawing and the third one.
As a likeness it's not very good, but I think it's one of the nicer drawings I've done in the cafe. It does catch something of her attitude, and the proportions of her face and head are somewhat better than I often get them.
So a pretty good trip overall, three out of four isn't bad. I did go some way towards what I wanted from this trip, concentrating on the eye training instead of finish. It's something I intend to try to keep at the top of my mind for future trips, but I know how easy it is to get seduced by the myth and to think that I can produce finished work before I'm ready. We'll see what happens next week.