Drawing is the most primal artistic activity available to us – an instinctual creative pursuit that can stop time, connect us to the deepest parts of our being and document our most intimate moments and feelings. It can also be, as Louise Clarke admits, a painfully exasperating business.
Drawing hurts. It takes too long – I heard this from an art student recently. It stopped me in my tracks. She was suggesting that it wasn’t purely the element of time-consuming activity that was painful but the actual act of drawing itself. A new drawing is exciting, like a first date, but this haptic, creative activity can make us hand-tied; we know what we want to say but somehow it’s elusive, and our hands and gestures often let us down. The hand becomes an alien and it’s never clear what is actually going to happen, what is going to be produced. So yes, amongst many other things that it does, drawing can hurt.
And that student is right again – it also takes time. The act of drawing somehow ushers us into another temporal realm. Hours can go by unnoticed. Concentration is pulling us along and time drifts more completely over us the deeper we are engaged. Of course, this happens to us when we’re occupied with numerous activities, but drawing does seem to have its own unique portal: once you succumb, press on and go through, you are within the drawing itself, lost in the activity of the moment.
Being a universal language, and something we do naturally from a very early age, its strange how, as we get older, we fall out with drawing, lose confidence in it and become shy about it. Our worldly expectations of drawing change and the images we form in our mind’s eye can rarely be achieved. So, like thinking about an old flame, drawing also taunts us with something primal, familiar and exciting that is apparently lost.
Of course, when we’re young, we draw all the time; it’s only later that we get out of practice. It’s like anything: without putting in the hours, I wouldn’t be able to play the guitar, even if, in my mind, I play brilliant solos! The same thing is true of drawing. Like learning any language, repeated practice yields a clearer and more competent vocabulary. There goes the time again.
That’s not to say that successful drawings always need a back catalogue of long-pored over, frequently aborted sketches and renditions. Just like ‘time’, the ‘success’ of a drawing is hard to nail down. Drawing is a footloose and fancy-free expression, and one person’s visual triumph is another’s scribbled mess. Then there’s drawing’s practical application. If I’m lost and need directions, a quickly drawn map may be exactly what I need (I’d be eating my own hair if the ‘helpful’ sketch were to take hours to render ‘perfectly’).
We need to cut our cloth accordingly and know what drawings need, what we need from them and how much time we can afford them. Too often I hear people who gaze at drawings judging the worth of the images solely in terms of the hours of human labour that went into them. The sense of expansion and contraction of time is inherent in drawing – sometimes it does require hours of work, at others it can be achieved in the blink of an eye.
So, yes, drawing can be agonizing. But all is not lost, a pen or pencil is never far from hand; you can probably see one now. Why not pick it up and give it a go. Or why not treat yourself to a grown-up colouring book? There is an exciting array out there, and the range is growing rapidly. Here’s a drawing to start you off with. Go on; mark some time.
– LOUISE CLARKE’S RECOMMENDED COLOURING BOOKS:
Charley Harper’s Colouring Book (Publisher: AMMO)
Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom (Publisher: Batsford Limited)
Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden (Publisher: Laurence King)