Monday, 19 January 2015

What’s in a drawing? The Strength of a scribble

A question on facebook recently about what sketchers get from drawing by artist and teacher Roisin Cure really got me thinking. I was actually already thinking about it but it got me even more thoughtful about certain experiences that have developed my approach, be it, a book (Drawing on the Right side of the Brain by Betty Edwards comes to mind), a course (Sketchbook Skool comes to mind) or a group (Urban Sketchers, particularly Urban Sketchers Manchester comes to mind). I have been starting to consider the great things about what it means to me to scribble and how it has changed my perception of the world around me. It may sound a little far fetched to say ‘it has changed my life’ but I certainly believe that drawing/sketching/making art has a huge amount to offer and really does change my perception and understanding of what’s around me.   From listening to and reading about others, this certainly doesn’t seem to be an usual response either, others are equally enriched by the process.  On reflection, here, in nutshell (or should I say in a very small sketchbook!) are the things I see as benefits for me, at this moment in time:

The process of sketching helps calm my mind and focus my attention        
I often have difficulty on keeping my attention focused upon one thing and this creates stress and
 anxiety. I flit from one thing to another and this compounds my ability to concentrate, creating a somewhat nervous disposition.  To be honest, its something I have come to live with and over the years, it seems to have worsened.  Through sketching, I am able to just focus on the drawing, nothing else. It calms my mind and enables me to relax. I become completely absorbed in the drawing and the process, giving me valuable ‘time out’.  I have not found anything else that is able to do that!

It enables development of a much better awareness of the world around me and a deeper understanding of the places I live and visit   
Since becoming a member of the Urban Sketcher community, going out and about, particularly in Manchester with Urban Sketchers Manchester and beyond, I have developed a greater awareness and interest in the city I live in: from the new modern skyscrapers to the old Mills and other stunning historic buildings; their colours, textures, scale, detail. The same applies when I visit other places. Through the drawing, I am able to unpeel some of the physical layers and develop a better understanding of the place. This is an ongoing process of understanding and revealing!   What fun!  I am aware of more of the dynamics of the place, the festivals, events, traditions.  It makes for a much richer experience and helps with feelings of belonging, helping connect me with others, be it through social media or other means.  When standing outside, people may come up and chat, either about the process of drawing or about the place.  It all adds to the experience and the ‘Sense of Place’.

It provides me with a record and therefore a clearer memory of an experience, a visit etc.  Recording visits and trips in the form of a scribble, provides sketchbooks to revisit and remember-to recall ‘that time when I was drawing that’. Through drawing, I have to study the place/the person/the location so much more than I would usually do. I have to stand/sit and look and look. It etches it on my mind and provides a richer, more vivid memory.  This is where the reportage comes into its own in a sketchbook.  The notes accompanying a scribble provide valuable clues and dimension-I need to get better and creating these diverse and richer pages of narrative in my book!  Here are my scribbles from last year’s trip to Wales.  I remember it all the better for the scribbles!

 It enables me to see the extraordinary in the ordinary Even the most simplistic of everyday scenes have a depth, substance and interest when looked at carefully, with more than a cursery glance!  This narrative develops the more you scribble and draw. It provides you with a visual clarity, a fascination, a better pair of glasses!  Even the most supposedly ordinary of places and things, train stations, street furniture, queues are the most fascinating when you look carefully!

Sketching enables connection with like-minded people  
Through the drawing groups I belong to where I live and also on line. This type of support is great because it provides friendship and a forum for dialogue and development of understanding. It’s a richer and more fulfilling way of living! In addition, through sharing these drawings on-line, it enables engagement with others that may have some connection with the drawing, be-it a memory or sentiment about the place or an understanding of its significance or history.  This Cooperative building in Pendleton, Manchester is a good example.  The Manchester Tour Guides  posted a picture on social media and it prompted dialogue about the building, its history and me to go out and draw it!

Sketching gives me a voice and allows me to express my views of the world through a visual diary
Of course, there are lots of ways of expressing yourself, but I find drawing to be a great way of self-expression. Through the recording in sketchbooks, adding notes and other memorabilia I have a record of that time and place and of my ‘take’ on the scene. It is mine and mine alone, my visual signature.  You only have to attend an urban sketching session to see the variety of ways in which a scene can be seen!

Finally of course and perhaps this was the main driver in the first place:

Through regular practice, sketching enables me to develop my drawing skills and improve my artwork It is a slow and continuous process but also one where progress is clearly noticeable as time passes. Over time, my ability to see, and to tap into ‘The Right side of the brain’, continues to improve!

I'd love to hear other sketchers views on why they draw! 

You can check out more of my scribbling practice on my blog:

Best wishes and thanks for reading  

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Reflections of a beginning urban sketcher...

...or what I wish someone had told me at the start of the year.

As I write this I’m sat at a cafĂ© in a small seaside town where my family live; I‘m reflecting on my urban sketching adventures and thinking about what I would tell myself as I sat here last New Years Eve having not picked up a pencil in 15 years. Perhaps this might inspire someone else to pick up a pencil and draw his or her life.

The remains of the pier in the seaside town where my family live

1 – draw, draw, draw – the more you draw, the better you get. It’s all about practise not making it perfect.

2 - Draw the everyday things around you, the coffee cup, the cake, the pens you use, and the shoes on your feet. 
The coffee table at a friend's house
3 – Don’t rub out those mistakes, learn from them and live with them. Often when I thought I had done a lousy drawing, I looked again, a while later and could appreciate it much more.

4 – Don’t get sucked into thinking you have to have the right materials to draw – use what you have, if you don’t like it what you have then ask for advice from others, borrow stuff and try it out and if you don’t like something – perhaps, find it a new owner or home. Don’t think that having the most expensive stuff is the key – three pencils, a waterbrush and a pen were used in my favourite sketch of the year.

5 – Try not to work across too many sketchbooks – taking them all out makes your bag very heavy.
I’m now working across 3 – an A4 moleskine, a medium sized one and a Stilman and Birn Epsilon book…

6 – Date your sketches and number your sketchbooks – it helps to see your progress

7 – Your sketchbooks are precious –but not so precious you are scared to make mistakes or not use them.

8 – Ask for advice and feedback from others, it can be a little nugget of advice that can move you forward. One of the best I received was two words about drawing people ‘draw bigger’. Thank you, Lynne.

Tram bridge in Sheffield, one of the pieces produced in a workshop run
by Lynne Chapman - Afraid of Colour?
9 – Add your thoughts to a sketch, it helps to remember what you thought of it, what mistakes you
noticed and what you thought went well.

10 – Carry a sketchbook and a pencil or pen… always.

11 – Draw often, short but everyday is better than 4 hours once a month. If you think you don’t have time, turn the TV off and turn on your creativity.

12 – You don’t have to share your sketches until you are ready to. My early ones were not seen by anyone.

13 – Drawing ‘bits’ is less intimidating – a nose, ear, foot, window, door rather than a whole person or building.

14 – The ephemera of life can be worth keeping – I spent a lot of time on trains – those tickets are stuck into the sketchbooks… collage is art…

One of the many train tickets from this year.

15 – Review your sketching kit regularly otherwise you will take everything including the kitchen sink. Make each piece earn a place in your daily kit. Thanks Liz Steel.

Part of my kit, drawn one evening

16 – A little bit of perspective knowledge goes a long way

17 – Simplify – you don’t have to draw everything, exactly as it is.. embrace wonkiness. See the stained glass window in this painting.

I simplified the stained glass in this window and experimented with wet in wet watercolour (with bunny)

18 – Eventually you find some materials and a style, enjoy them but carry on developing, experimenting and learning.

19 – Add observations to your sketches – my favourite from a gentleman while his daughter watched me ‘it’s like photography, only slower’

20 - Seek out and share inspiration with others, follow them on facebook, twitter, pintrest, flickr, post your sketches online, join an online class, watch a you tube video… look for those nuggets to help you move on.

This was done after taking Paul Heaston's class on Craftsy

21  - Don’t give up, when you look back you will be able to see progress.

With thanks to all the Urban Sketchers who I have met, followed and/or drawn with from across the world. Particular thanks to Lynne Chapman, Simone Ridyard, Mike Dodds, Adelina Adelydee, Ann Marie Percival, Andrea Joseph, Paul Heaston and Liz Steel.

Below is my picture of the year; one of the totem poles in the British Museum - a culmination of all the advice from above :o)

I blog at and am on Twitter as @bunnyscribbles