People on the Precinct
I planned these Drawing in the City workshops to be the kind of drawing experience that I'd most enjoy:
Come to think of it, I seem to have the model of the A.A. (the Automobile Association, that is) in mind; a set-up where individuals roam around enjoying doing their own thing but have the peace of mind of a touring patrolman as a back up, in case they get into difficulties.
That's fine if you assume that everyone is already a confident, qualified
driver but today I've got a whole variety of sketchers:
A Face in the Crowd
The cold, especially in the chill breeze, is one problem; finding my students in the bustle of a Saturday shopping crowds is another. Even with the help of the security guards in the Ridings Centre (who tell me they've just seen one of my students near the main entrance) I fail to spot a single sketcher amongst the thousands of shoppers.
My hardier students who are braving the cold and sitting on the benches by the cathedral are easier to keep track of and I draw some of them because I realise with 12 new faces today that's going to be a good way of remembering who's who. I also like to tie people to the sort of drawings they do. Then I really remember them.
Drawing the Crowds
I like the natural poses adopted by the people on the precinct visiting the farmers' market. I prefer these real life poses to the ones you're likely to get in a life drawing class. Life class poses can be rather static. I also like the body language of my students while they're drawing; they create a little island of concentration around themselves. Even seen from behind, it's obvious that they're wrapped up in their work.
I feel that drawings of people seen from behind can often be more expressive than people (in a group photograph for example) seen face on.
I seem to have been chasing my flock around like a trainee sheepdog all afternoon so at the end of the day I ask how they think the course might be improved. What they'd like is:
Number 1 is difficult for me because I tend not to be critical at all. I might see one or two technical faults in a beginner's drawing but - if they're really trying to see the world around them and to capture something of it - then I genuinely think that they've produced a worthwhile drawing. They've learnt something from it. Experienced something. I simply want to encourage them to go out and draw and draw and draw.
How not to draw
As for demonstrations: with me they invariably go wrong!
I need to be focused as I draw: if I try to talk about it at the same time I step out of that state of mind where the most important thing in the world is the exact appearance of the subject in front of me.
Centre of Attention
In fact I don't even like the word 'subject' - ideally you try to become so absorbed in what you're doing that you forget that you're an 'artist', a 'critic', a campaigner for the homeless or whatever, and you feel a oneness with the world around you. You need to be relaxed and aware but not analytical in a cold, detached sense.
Drawing on Experience
This is very difficult to put over in a demonstration! You've just got to experience it for yourself to know what it's all about. That's why I want them to spend the whole workshop drawing with as little distraction from me as possible.
Drawing might be a natural thing for me but to demonstrate it is like trying to demonstrate and describe in detail how I walk - I'm inevitably going to trip over. In other words the demonstration is always going to turn out to be of how NOT to draw. (Press your refresh button to reanimate this character)
I've got another chance to draw people in the evening as we meet with a group of old friends. Well, I say old but Felicity (left) and Judy (right) hardly seem to have changed in appearance and certainly not in character since I drew them 25 years ago when I first met Barbara and her group of friends.
It would be impossible to do a bad drawing of Lydia. Her mum tells me that one of Lydia's favourite books for bedtime reading is my Deep in the Wood. Now there's a child with good taste.
Richard Bell, email@example.com