Today did not go well.
When I started these cafe sketches I found the experienceliberating. It got me out of my little back bedroom, away from obsessive self portraitsand broke my tendency to try to produce finished drawings before I was getting the basics ofproportion right.
But increasingly the feeling of liberation and the elation I often feel at the end of asuccessful trip is becoming replaced by frustration. It’s not that I can’t see any progress,if I look back at the drawings from myfirst trip atthe beginning of February this year, I can see that the drawings are much stronger now.
But I want more. I want someone to draw who sits still for at least ten minutes at a time,a model who gives me a chance to stretch my ability to judge shapes and their relationshipscorrectly. In the beginning I enjoyed the challenge of trying to catch someone in a few minutesmuch more, now I get more and more wound up by people moving before I can finish, getting upto leave, other people sitting in my line of sight so I can’t see my model any more andcan’t finish the drawing. Perhaps I’m allowing these things to wind me up too much, I knowby now that that’s just the way it is drawing in cafes, only one out of ten will be a good drawingthat I’m happy with, if I’m lucky.
For some reason today I found it even more frustrating than usual. I’m considering stoppingthe cafe sketches and looking for another form of drawing from life that allows me just a little moretime, more of a chance to judge the shapes and lines, to stretch my ability to see. I’m puttingup all the drawings from today, finished or not, to show what’s making me feel this way now.
What can I say about this drawing? Obviously it’s a complete failure. The guy left before I couldget much of him drawn, and the little I did get done is hopelessly out of proportion and poorlyobserved. I felt constricted today, like I couldn’t make the connection between my eye and my hand,couldn’t get the lines to flow.
The first drawing from a cafe trip is often a bit dodgy whilst I getwarmed up, but this one is especially bad. I feel like I haven’t learned anything at all for allmy trips to the cafe.
I know I shouldn’t get wound up by this kind of thing, that it has to be accepted that theseconditions are far from ideal for drawing, and that the challenge is part of the fun. It’s been that wayuntil recently. But I’m beginning to feel that I’m stagnating, that I’m not moving onand that I’m not learning as much as I was when I first started sketching in the cafe.
Second drawing. Ordinarily I don’t try to draw kids, they bounce around too much for my relativelyuntrained eye and weak visual memory to get the shapes right. But for some reason, I was havingtrouble finding anyone I wanted to draw today. Most likely it’s just me, and not that todaythere was a dearth of interesting enough people who would sit still enough for me to get a reasonabledrawing done.
It’s a pretty sad comment that this is the best drawing from today’s trip. It’s in no way alikeness and the shapes and proportions are badly observed. His hand is completely misshapen, his head iswrong and his neck is too long. Also, this drawing was much better half way through than it is now. Aftera few minutes when I’d got everything blocked in, I decided that I could improve on the profileof his face and re-drew it. Bad idea, it came out worse than my first attempt. Sometimes you just have to knowwhen to let a drawing alone, and today I was getting that badly wrong. It’s disappointing that thedrawing is out of proportion, but it’s even more disappointing that it was more in proportionbefore I decided to ‘improve’ it. Not good.
Another disappointing drawing. This one is a good case in point of what’s frustrating me so muchabout drawing in the cafe now.This guy had a great profile with a sharply sloped forehead, a strong, hooked nose and dark, welldefined eyebrows, he looked almost like a hawk, I would have loved to be able to do a proper portraitof him.
But before I could get to his profile, someone, a very large someone, sat down directlyin my line of sight and I couldn’t see his face anymore. Really I should have left the drawingalone at that point, but I tried tofill in his profile from memory and came nowhere near. I wrecked the drawing.
Perhaps it was just a bad day today, perhaps I just wasn’t on the ball enough to get any decentdrawings from the trip, certainly it’s happened enough times before. But as the morning went by I gotmore and more frustrated both with the difficulty I was having finding someone interesting and stillenough to draw, and by my patent inability to get anything right today. Frustration is not a goodstate of mind for drawing. My best drawings are usually characterised by a relaxed feeling, likethey almost draw themselves and I don’t have to try. Today I was trying very hard, and mymounting frustration is visible to me in the drawings. Every misplaced line seemed to make the next oneworse and every drawing ran further and further away from me.
Well, I suppose my frustration is pretty evident in this one, the last one for today. The woman justwould not sit still, whichwas a shame because she had a very interesting face, again I would have liked to do a properportrait of her. The drawing just ran further and further away from me until finally I scribbled over it,grabbed my kit and slouched off home like a sulking teenager.
I decided on the way home that this was to be my last cafe sketching trip, at least for a while,and that I wasn’t learning anything any more. What I need now, or what I want anyway, is to haveat least ten or fifteen minutes with someone actually sitting still enough to give me a chance toproduce a half decent drawing. I hate putting up work like this on the site, I hate failing publicly.
But it’s not the people’s fault, it’s me. It’s all too easy to lay the blame for my own shortcomingselsewhere, but it doesn’t help me in the long run. Over the last four months I’ve done just over eighty ofthese drawings, well, over a hundred more like since not all of them get posted, and out of all those drawingsthere’s been some quite nice ones, and even one or two that I’m proud of. So if I could do it before,why couldn’t I do it today? I’ve had bad trips before when I haven’t been able to produce a single good drawing,but I haven’t considered giving up doing them before.
All the same, I do feel the need for more stationary models now, for longer poses, for a slightly morecontrolled drawing environment. If I’m honest with myself, a lot of the reason I didn’t do so well today isthat I haven’t been drawing as much recently and I’m off the boil. There’s a number of reasons for that,every last one of them a weak excuse. I know this stuff is hard work. I know it takes years to achieve anykind of reasonable level of competence, and I know I shouldn’t let the challenges get to me like this. I’llsee how I feel next week, but I may take a break from the cafe for a while. But only as long as I can findsomething similar to take it’s place.
A portrait artist I have a lot of respect for recently posted an excellent idea on an online forum Ifrequent: Set up somewhere public with an easel and offer quick portraits for free. I like that idea,although of course the thought of just setting up in the street and putting myself on the line is somewhatnerve-wracking. The usual fear of failure. But I felt that way aboutthe cafe sketches when I started them, and for someone like me, whocopied old master paintings on thestreets for the best part of ten years, it should hold no great horrors. I like the idea a lot, becauseeven if the poses are only held for ten minutes, that’s more than I’m getting now in the cafe. I still feelthe need for some practice at quick portraits before I do it though, so maybe I’ll see if I can persuadeMichelle to sit for some quick timed poses for me and see what happens. If they don’t come out a completemess they may give me the confidence to get out there and give it a try.
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