The Vital Spark


Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, Sunday, 2nd September, 2007

televisionDRAWING the coffee vendor's stall in Dewsbury yesterday made me realise how much I've missed getting out to draw. I hardly ever go anywhere with the express purpose of drawing, nor do I go to fresh places that have the capacity to surprise me. Drawing is a way of exploring the world yet I go around the same little circuit snatching the odd sketch when my other tasks are ticked off. There's nothing wrong with drawing the same subject again and again but as I've been sitting at my computer for almost the whole of August, I'm ready to see somewhere other than my desk and the familiar scenes within five miles of home.

It's been soul-destroying in the sense of 'soul' as 'the vital principle' corresponding with the Greek aiolos meaning 'quick-moving, easily moved'. Soul has also come to mean 'deep feeling, sensitivity, esp. as an aesthetic quality; zest, spirit' (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary). I feel because of the way I've plugged away this summer at my Sherlock Holmes text and at the same time got more drawn into the business of geological conservation that my zest and spirit have suffered.

As we walked back from Dewsbury along the towpath, I tried to work out how I could get myself back into regular drawing.

Mist over LangsettSmall is Beautiful

My little part-colour Sushi Sketchbooks are difficult to produce but my recent Walks booklets in black and white line in A5 format are a dream to print. I felt that with the second booklet on Newmillerdam I came up with a way of drawing that suited the medium. Technical limitations might be seen as a constraint but they also present a challenge. In making the most of the possibilities of a given medium you can often express more. It's the principle of 'small is beautiful'. If that wasn't so then waxworks would be the most moving form of sculpture and laser/firework, smoke & mirrors rock concerts would be the most moving form of musical performance. Well, they could be, I expect, but they can also be a bit overblown; an emotional binge.

Moonlight ChroniclesI was reminded yesterday of my weekend drawing with Danny Gregory and, a year later, of a weekend drawing with his friend (and mine) 'hobo-artist' Dan Price. In his Moonlight Chronicles Dan limits himself almost exclusively to black and white line, punctuated by photographs here and there. Maybe it's time that I set off doing something similar to refresh myself, something that I could reproduce in crisp black and white within the constraints of desktop publishing.

Ruskin on Line

'The power to be obtained,' Ruskin urges his students in The Elements of Drawing, 'is that of drawing an even line slowly and in any direction; all dashing lines, or approximations to penmanship, are bad. The pen should, as it were, walk slowly over the ground, and you should be able at any moment to stop it, or turn it in any other direction, like a well-managed horse.'

It think a spell of doing line drawings would be good for my soul. I love the marks you can make with Japanese brush and bamboo pen but these chunky lines can hide a multitude of sins. With line drawing - as in my wobbly drawing of our television (left) - there's nowhere to hide.

I'm just finishing reading through the entire opus of Tintin stories and I'm humbled and astonished by the simplicity and control of line in some of the drawings by Hergé and his team. Tintin in Tibet, which as near as we get to Hergé's soul, is still my favourite with The Calculus Affair my favourite amongst the road movie/comedy thriller stories. It has the pace of a Hitchcock film such as North by North-west.

Sketchbook offerChronicles v. Sushi Sketchbooks

Moonlight ChroniclesI notice that Dan Price is now offering Moonlight Chronicles, issues 1 - 50 as a boxed set. He's just reached issue 60.

I'm envious of Dan's relentless energy and determination, he goes to great efforts not to get stuck in the kind of ruts I find myself in but I'm delighted that Danny Gregory has given my own modest 5 sketchbook offer a mention on his Everyday Matters website: 'They are among my favorite possessions and I heartily recommend them as examples of the journaling art at its peak.'