I’ve always enjoyed the physical sensation of making a mark on paper and was a compulsive doodler from an early age. Later I became a competent decorator, took pleasure in Rotoringed flowcharts of my early programming days and remain convinced that there a few things more sensuous that the act of writing on high quality paper with a medium italic nib and permanent black ink. As a photographer, I’ve always had the knack of “seeing” a picture – an eye for the interaction of shape, colour, pattern and light.
In spite of this gravitation to the visual, I was never very good at art – not quite as bad as hockey, needlework or music, which I was completely rubbish at – just not very good. When I was at school, we were never really taught art – it was something that you did without the expectation of learning anything. Painting didn’t bother me, but I always remained frustrated at never having learned to draw.
We started drawing in the third form. I say that we started – we were issued with large books of plain paper and given drawing tasks as homework. I put a lot of effort into my drawings only to be rewarded with negative comments and a C-. Some people were naturally gifted and could just draw; others were never going to achieve anything in a month of Sundays; but there was no sense that with a bit of guidance any of us could possibly improve and become even vaguely competent.
Anyway, I decided to have a go at learning to draw towards the end of last year. This was triggered partly by a chance remark and partly by the frustration of going to exhibitions where you’re not allowed to take photographs because of – and I am not making this up – copyright. How can a 300 year old painting or 19th century ship’s figurehead possibly be copyright? The crunch point was an exhibition of British folk art when it suddenly struck me that, although I was barred from exploring the exhibits through my preferred mediums of photography or contemporary dance, I might manage a drawing or two that were at least as good some the items on display.
A few weeks later, armed with a tin of pencils and a drawing pad (£5 for the lot at Ryman’s), I headed off to the Blake Exhibition at the Ashmolean. Since then, I’ve acquired a tin of coloured pencils, some pens, one of those putty eraser thingies and a book about drawing and practiced through a mixture of exercises, copying pictures and trying to draw ancient and not so ancient pots. The results aren’t great art, but there is a certain satisfaction and, like photography, drawing or even thinking about drawing something helps you to see things more fully. This is my first drawing …