Ah … lockdown.
In the early days of the lockdown I saw quite a few artists commenting on social media that a life of isolation, doing your own thing, not seeing people much was pretty much their regular life. And it’s true that for me preparing to work from home was mainly a case of moving materials from my studio in Kingston back to my home workroom. Surely I could just do at home what I usually did in my studio?
For much of the time, that’s what’s been happening. Any ‘fear of missing out’ on that interesting show or artist talk is gone. It’s easy to stay at home when the things you would usually go to just aren’t happening. But after 6 weeks of official lockdown, I am starting to miss going out and doing things with other people. Zoom chats are better than nothing but not the same as my regular outings with HB drawing friends.
On the other hand, there is a lot of time for doing things at home. HB Drawing was due to have a show, Found in Translation, at No Format Gallery in Deptford during April, showing work inspired in some way by our experience of ‘drawing from drawings’ at the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Gallery. The first two have huge collections of drawings and prints which you can examine up close in Study Rooms. We first did it as part of the MA Drawing course at Wimbledon, but have been doing monthly visits pretty well ever since we graduated. I had some work ready to go but decided to do another drawing using a technique based on my attempt to copy an etching in the British Museum by Keith Coventry Crack Pipes 2.
I liked the way form and tone emerged from a tangle of lines: it’s simple but can be quite subtle. And I felt it drew attention to the details of objects that we probably wouldn’t otherwise have lingered over. I’m not sure I’ve even seen or would recognise a crack pipe in real life. Before lockdown I had finished a drawing using this technique of portakabins at Clapham Junction station at night. I had noticed them one evening waiting for a train home – sitting between the tracks, a strange isolated world, lit from within, emerging from the darkness, scruffy, yet, to me anyway, quite alluring.
In January I spent a weekend at West Dean College drawing the scaffolding which at that point covered the entire building, allowing for an extensive refurbishment, designed to repair the roof and also to make the building more environmentally efficient. It was a fascinating structure – if you like that sort of thing – with all kinds of points of interest: shapes, lines, shadows, colours.
But what I liked best was the scaffolding at night: there were bright safety lights at intervals so that parts of the structure loomed out of the darkness into a blinding flash of white light. It seemed like a good companion to the portakabin piece.
What I hadn’t taken into account was how much more complicated the image was and just how many tones of ‘darkness’ would be needed. I realised quickly that this was going to be slow, very slow, … no, really very slow. But what did it matter? I could go into my room and cross hatch away for an hour or two or three. It wasn’t like I had anywhere else to be.
Which is just as well because the finished drawing represents more than 60 hours of solid drawing. I’ve hankered after being an artist who could just rustle up an impression in a few minutes, but one of things my first experience of ‘drawing from drawings’ taught me was that you can’t hurry. Things take as long as they need.
One thing I like about this method is that it is a method – you have to be methodical – but it’s also flexible. You start with your reference images but then you work with the balance of the drawing as it emerges. The more you draw, the more you see. And the more you see, the more subtle your intentions become.
Both the portakabins and the scaffolding are part of an online exhibition HB Drawing hope to unveil later in May; the details will be on my Instagram feed or the Exhibition news and CV page of this site.