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The making and taking of pictures. Who, and what, am I drawing for?
It’s nice to be outside a bit more, isn’t it? Even if it’s only fractionally warmer. It makes the blood and the ink move more freely, and it’s a fine time for some sketching.
Or is it?
As we previously chatted about, one of the few pieces of advice I dispense (along with the odd packet of salted cashews), is if you want to be an illustrator, you need to draw. However, I feel somewhat hypocritical in this, as it’s pretty rare these days that I settle back in a café corner, crack the spine of sketchbook and cast lines of wild abandon across the page.
When it wasn’t my job to draw, I was sketching all the time. In fact, it felt like a compulsion. On trains, in cafes, sitting, standing, in the pub, and anywhere it was possible. I attended regular life drawing sessions and joined urban sketching meetups. I drew everything, and frequently very badly, but it was all pushing me slowly in the direction I wanted to go. I think it was the right impulse, but now I find very little space for sketching amongst all the ‘illustration’.
My relationship with sketching has fundamentally changed, as it’s increasingly become the reserve of the holiday idle, but in reality, it’s probably a different discipline altogether. It’s a discipline I forget that I’m woefully out of practice at. So, without fail, when I find myself ensconced on the French Riviera (or similar), I lean back, slide on my sunglasses and proceed to embark on a trainwreck of a sketch. As each line jags erratically over the paper, frustration increases to the point where I hear the familiar words in my head; ‘For fuck’s sake mate, I thought this was your job?!’
But sketchbooking is not my job. There are some amazing sketchbookers out there, people working towards that as the goal. And this is not me belittling it at all, they have an incredible talent of which I am very envious. I am not immune to the shimmering, awe-inspiring, tsunami of online images that make me feel like every sketchbook page needs be a masterpiece. It’s a very thin line between inspiration and intimidation.
The feeling of dread that I get from doing a bad holiday sketch comes from a hypothetical audience reaction to it. When I worked principally as an architectural illustrator, I found one of the hardest barriers to getting work, was allowing architects to admit that they couldn’t just do the drawing themselves, because they hadn’t hand drawn anything since college. And this is fine, but it was a source of shame for them, because in the eyes of the public, it is assumed that if you’re an architect, you can draw.
The same is true, if not more so, of being an illustrator. You draw for a living, so of course your sketchbooks are going to be amazing. But alas, no, they are not.
It’s all okay, though. It’s all valid. It’s all good work. The only thing I need to interrogate myself on is why I am sketching at all, and who is it for? Answering this question before I embark on any drawing means I can never disappoint myself. I’m sure I will of course, the temptation to see yourself as filmic version of the thing you do is pretty powerful one.
Something I’ve enjoyed more recently, as an antidote to this conundrum, is analogue photography. It involves so many of the fun things I want to get from sketching, but often fail to achieve, such as really engaging with a subject, waiting, framing, looking, light, shadow, balance…all the good stuff. But crucially, no one expects me to be any good at it. Not least, me.
You have to keep an eye on yourself though. The other day I caught myself thinking ‘Hmm, these shots aren’t as good as my last batch…’ It’s a long road, my friends, with many a slippery slope.
Photographers I Like.
While we’re here, I thought I’d share some photographers I like. There probably won’t be much here to excite the connoisseur, it’s fairly route one stuff, but here goes.
Starting off with three classics.
Saul Leiter – I return to his work so frequently, everything about it is so perfect. The implied narratives layered on top of each other and all effortlessly framed. I can also heartily recommend the documentary In No Great Hurry.
Don McCullin – For somehow bringing beauty to brutality.
Helen Levitt – For catching all the tiny moments, in between all the other moments.
Three artists principally known for other disciplines, but were great photographers in their own right.
Raoul Hausmann – Known mainly as a modernist sculptor and collage artist, but his photographs a really worth a look too, feeling almost most like a counter to balance his more abstract pursuits.
Charlotte Perriand – Probably one of my favourite all round creative people (she might get a newsletter to herself in the future), but she is most famous for her furniture/interior design. Her photos exploring forms in nature are beautiful though, revealing her connection with all things.
Paul Nash – Obviously more well known for his painting, but you can identify his way of seeing by the subjects he chooses for the modest collection of photographs he took. Fascinating for both their research value, and delightful in their own right.
Three more recent photographers who have influenced me.
Iwan Baan – Principally an architectural photographer, Baan’s work is so much more than that, exploring a point of endless fascination for me; the interaction between people and place. He took a lot of the pictures for the book African Modernism, which heavily inspired my zine, KIOSK.
Jon Tonks – Made a great collection of work by photographing British Overseas Territories, and consolidated it into the book, Empire. The pictures are, by turn, bleak, beautiful and absurd. It had a big impact on shaping the tone of my book British Ice.
Victor Gonzalez – Quite a recent one for me, but seems to be across all the different areas of photography. I’m particularly drawn to his travel work, but his sensibility is through everything. I very much like his use of the slightly obscured viewpoint.
That’s enough for now, lovely to see you all and, as ever, thank you for dropping by. There’s lots to see, so keep your eyes open and your mind similarly. If you get a bit stuck, drop by for another coffee and we’ll do this again.
Owen D. Pomery
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