Confessions of an art cheat
I was at the County Show in the rain last week. Not through choice; I wandered round the show with the same bemused look on my face that a farmer might have if he stumbled into a boat show. There were children on ponies, large bulls being led round a field accompanied by men with clipboards, and ladies with high heels drinking pimms in the mud.
I was there demonstrating watercolours in the Learning Pembrokeshire tent, where the great British (or Welsh) public could find out all the marvellous subjects on offer at adult education classes. Generally people are interested and delightful when I splash paint around in public but there’s always an exception. I was painting a scene from my sketchbook, not expecting wonders as the drizzle coming into the tent was stopping the paint from drying. A chap peered at what I was doing and announced, ‘That’s cheating!’. Eh? I looked up at him, waiting for this expert to tell me where I’ve been going wrong all these years. ‘You’re supposed to make it up out of your head’, he said, waggling a finger at me. ‘It’s cheating copying from a drawing!’ . In vain I told him it was my own drawing, and artists are often in the habit of going outdoors and… well, drawing things. It’s what we do.
I daren’t let him near my studio; he would probably tear up my tracing paper and use it as kindling to burn the light box. Remind me never to admit to using reference images from google. I realised that there was no point arguing and explaining that if you want to draw something and don’t know what it looks like, go and find out.
As it happens, I have been painting from the imagination recently, as a holiday from the relentless demands of book illustration. This was from a bigger piece called ‘Hand, heart, eye’, which, as it happens, are the three things David Hockney says you need to be able to draw. The picture here is only an extract – not because I’m trying to be arty but because I only have an A4 scanner. Usually my big paint brushes only get used for getting the biscuit crumbs off my laptop keyboard, but I took myself off to a day’s painting workshop with the excellent Elizabeth Haines a few weeks ago, a great opportunity to get shaken out of my comfort zone.
Hand, heart and eye – I like that. It’s the ‘heart’ element that takes a drawing beyond copying.