I recently read, in a book on philosophy, a piece on the function of an artist.
It explained that the artist differs from others by reason of their capacity first to discern beauty, and secondly to embody it in a work of art. The first was considered as inspiration or vision, the second as execution, skill or technique; an artist is one who perceives the significance of shape and colour which might escape other people, but vision is not enough, it must receive concrete shape and form, for without these there will be no work of art.
I found that this consolidated my ideas on the importance of drawing. You can see pictures everywhere - 'wouldn’t that make a good painting' we so often say. This is all well and good, but these ideas and thoughts, if not captured in some way, go nowhere. In just a few pencil lines you can very quickly put that idea down, almost out of thin air.
Of course, nowadays the camera, or even your phone, can capture a moment. People today may have thousands of images, and of course photos can be very exciting too. Don’t ignore the usefulness of using your photos as reference, however, I maintain that nothing compares with drawing.
A drawing can be very small and created on any old scrap of paper. They don't have to be in a sketchbook, although keeping one is a fantastic practice and one that needs to be nurtured.
JMW Turner completed many small sketchbooks. I have studied them and it is extraordinary to turn the pages and see how he went about capturing the scenes he saw as he travelled far and wide, making rapid pencil drawings as he went - much the same way as we take photographs today. By sketching, he developed his visual memory; something that I am sure we have lost today.
Small drawing using watercoluble pencil, (5x7cms)
This small drawing, above, made with a water-soluble pencil, means a great deal to me. I have carried it around in my wallet for years. To me, it embodies the essence of so many of my paintings. Simple, direct, not fussy, broad, not only does it say a great deal about composition but also suggests a way into abstraction.
I have written two books which I have titled ‘Fields of Possibility’. I heard a scientist describe what may have existed before the big bang, he said there were fields of possibility. I like this, as it suggests not only fields, as in landscape, but also of fields as being ways you can work – the possibilities of what you may do. To me it sums up the beginning of creativity.
Below are pages from my sketchbooks showing drawings, many of which I then developed into full paintings.
When out walking in the fields, I will stop and consider many subjects and it is almost always the case that, if I stop and commit to a drawing, then even the vaguest of ideas will become a possibility.
Early Morning Frost, oil on canvas, (30x50cm)
Late Summer, Northamptonshire, oil on board, (22x26cm)
This drawing is rather unusual. There was a hide, attained by climbing a ladder, and used by gamekeepers to survey the land during shoots. I ascended the ladder and found it quite a comfortable place to draw the scene from a high vantage point. It developed into the painting Up High and Far Away (see below). Apparently, John Constable, the famous English landscape painter we all know and love, would ride the countryside on a horse, and so saw his subjects from a slightly elevated viewpoint.
The drawing which, as is often the case, started on the right and spread and extended to the left. This is a good way to begin, and always start small as I find a drawing often wants to open up and spread out.
I also like to make notes when sketching. On this page it reads: ‘There is now a new dimension which is ...time. Climbing up into the tree house I thought it would be amazing to be up higher, it is - but it isn’t. No light, not really the composition, but I imagine if I wait, it could happen, worth a drawing. More height, tree breaks into the light greens, yellows, lichen, soft brown sienna - you raise me up, so I can see on mountains, looking down on creation, the big thaw.’
Up High and Far Away, oil on canvas, (35x46cm)
Figure two shows another possible work, only this time it is the central tree placed on the left and the distant landscape to the right. Though I did not make this as an oil, it is a variation. There are pictures within pictures. Written thoughts sometimes develop into poems, as seen on the right.
Figure three also includes a poem:
Ice flows, ice melts,
Cool crystal water,
Drips down, icicle
Drip drip, frozen chambers,
Ice pipes extend,
Down to the ground,
Playing your silent song,
Harmonize harp plucked string,
To the drip, drip, drip
Bands of clear
I do remember seeing icicles hanging from the gutter through the studio window and I think subconsciously, or even consciously, these thoughts permeated into what I wanted to portray in a worked oil.
When I look at Figures 3 & 4, I see more working drawings in pencil and charcoal for possible paintings which actually never materialised. However, I know where these drawings were made, they jog my memory and I know that there is still a really good painting waiting to be done there.
A rotten trunk of a dead tree, a beautiful fully mature tree and a sapling; I remember thinking that I could show stages of life in one painting. So these pages ‘hold’ my thoughts, they are more seductive and interesting than photographs.
Drawing can be a simple line, but one which can convey so much. A few lines can suggest a whole composition. Shading can convey light - line upon line, shadow over shadows.
Drawing does more than catch a moment, it is a language and can be such a free medium if you choose let it be. It's way for you to say so much, and indicate much more work and fun still to come.
Discover how Martin made the switch from watercolour to oil painting