Monday, 24 August 2009

Sketchbook Keeping for Dads

...or Mums.

"There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hallway." Or so said the critic Cyril Connolly. With the school holidays still stretching copiously ahead this quotation has been trundling about my mind lately. Not that there is a pram in my hallway – these days it's heaps of Lego, rubber swords and broken Spiderman merchandise – but the effect is the same. Or maybe worse.

When my first son was born, five years ago now, my sketchbook began to accumulate dust. I didn't notice because I was busy doing other things, things I had never had to think about before. Soon afterwards a very small digestive system began misfiring with very substantial consequences. Somehow 24 months slipped by and then, just as nappies, midnight screams and purée flinging began to recede it all started again and the dust on the sketchbook became so thick I could have drawn my portrait in it. If I'd had the time.

It is taboo to complain about having children. They are a gift and a privilege, and to display resentment at the time they take up and the limits they impose on their parents is considered shabby. It is shabby. Good parents are supposed to stretch and accommodate and keep smiling. But every parent knows, no matter what stance they take publicly, that they are slaves to their little ones. In the relay race of life, once that baton has been passed on it's time for the next generation to take priority while the oldies (that's us) wheeze to a stop and cheer them on.

But that being the case, why is my sketchbook no longer dusty? Did I wheeze it clean? Possibly, but the fact remains that I am back in the sketching business again, despite the steadily rising tide of scratched DVDs and nameless bits of plastic. So how have I managed it? And how am I able to write this with one child wriggling on my knee while the other bleats that he's 'hungry' and 'needs' chocolate?

Well, firstly it turns out that Mother Nature hands out extra supplies of patience when babies are born. Goodness (and my wife) knows that I've never had much of that, but somehow art manages to get out amidst the chaos. Whether or not it's good art is another question, but at least the flame splutters on. Of course, it also helps if – like me – you have lovely and incredibly generous parents-in-law.

Secondly, I sketch my children. They are the most challenging subjects, but they are also powerful antidotes to prissy drawing; get those sprightly forms down in three stokes, or don't get them down at all.

Thirdly, forget those A3, 100gm hot-pressed watercolour blocks. Leave behind those over-stuffed pencil cases with their pots of masking fluid, craft knives and bulldog-clips, and don't even think about charcoal. No, go to your nearest Muji and buy a few of their passport-sized sketchbooks (or get the Moleskine equivalent), then select a simple drawing implement, such as a Faber-Castell Pitt artist pen or a stubby pencil. Stick them in your pocket (with the baby wipes and sticky toys) and you're all set.

It seems to me that good art needs 'sombre enemies'. If your time is being devoured, you must put what remains to better use. If having children means you can't be creative and play computer games then be grateful – Mother Nature is helping you discover if you're a real artist or just a poser. Therefore don't despair, fellow sketchers, just downsize and keep going, and before you know it your children will want a sketchbook too. And besides, if that pram in the hallway looks too sombre, you can always come over all Bloomsbury and decorate it.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and be a dragon.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Pirates in the Bottom Drawer

In common with most people these days, I have an un-published novel. Mine's a 70k word seafaring adventure about trickery, treasure and pirates, directed at nine to twelve-year-olds. Did you notice the word pirates? Something else I seem to have in common with most people these days. Arrrr.

Being visually-minded, I can't help wanting to illustrate my own story. Not in a full blown way, but if ever Puck and Ogwe get into print I'd like to do some chapter heading line drawings, and maybe some elements that can be incorporated into the cover. Maybe. Illustrating books for this age group is a thorny business. But since I am now entirely free of any editorial control in this matter, here's a colour sample.

 The pencil line is strong now that I have found a new approach to reinforcing it in Photoshop (though still too heavy in parts), and the colours are taken from scanned images (and toyed with so that I won't get into any copyright issues) and not actual fabric. I have also thought more thoroughly about the apparent scale of these textures in relation to the drawings they colour. I'm pleased. Click for a closer look.

Now all I need is a suitable approach to backgrounds.