I was always told that I should keep a sketchbook; it is a discipline, a resource, a vital tool. Good advice, no doubt, but I have never kept one. I’m not confident, I can’t lose myself enough, to stand and draw on the street corner, or even in the middle of a field. I am rarely motivated to draw the stuff around me and I don’t like drawing in books, it feels restricted and precious. To bang on about it, I don’t even really like the word “sketch”; it suggests a certain way of drawing; a sort of short hand. I do like life-drawing, there’s an intensity to it and I’m happy to draw in a class where everyone is striving to get it right. I like drawing animals too for the challenge of getting that instant recognition of shape and movement.
Stories, poems, words, are what really motivate me to draw. This is about looking inside the stuff of everyday life. I take cues from words and phrases. People ask, “Where do you get your ideas from?” Well, from the text. If I do a character ‘sketch’, (in this sense, of course, the word refers to a brief portrayal of someone,) from a description rather than from a story it tends to be straight on and a bit static. Given the story though, I have the character’s thoughts and predicament; there is already drama; I have his viewpoint or the reader’s view of him. As much influenced by cinema as by painting and drawing, I begin also to form ideas about angles, panoramas, mid-shots or close-ups, movement, lighting and use of space. Somebody once said that all illustrators are frustrated actors. Well, I’m not a performer but there’s something in that; I often strike a pose, pull the face or act the part I’m drawing. (The old lady who lived opposite my London flat thought I was a lunatic.) Understanding the drama, knowing the character’s thoughts and actions, is part of illustrating a story.
I’ve drawn almost every day of my life since I was child; yet I recall myself as a child saying “But I don’t know what to draw!” I need to draw, but I need a narrative; perhaps I need to act too. So what else could I do? Illustration solves the problem of what to draw.
The Shakespeare book jacket illustrations in this post are by Alan Marks and published by Franklin Watts.