Back to basics
My first real attempts at drawing only started a little after I turned 30.
Just like with photography (and those teenage oh-so-deep-and-observant writing drafts), my absolute favourite theme has always been people.
Even during the age of analogue film photography, when a film roll of 36 photos would last you a year, my friends would often complain about how I was always aiming my camera at their noses. Not that I cared. Spontaneous shots always make the best photographs.
So, naturally, when I started teaching myself how to draw, that was what I tried first: people.
“Maybe you should start with an easier subject first, to get the basics,” more experienced friends would tell me. But I was already lost in reveries of sketching people in cafés, on the subway platform or the smokers outside my office building during lunch break. I would capture their essence brilliantly, with sensitivity and style.
My first focus was the head and the face. Are hands and feet the most difficult thing to draw? Alright, lets practice that.
Alas, as with all the other skills I have been trying to learn since forever without having yet mastered any of them (piano playing, speaking French), I seem to only learn by fragments – and the human body is a great metaphor for this:
I can draw heads and faces but not a specific person’s portrait nor from every perspective. I can draw hands, feet, the torso, legs, arms… but ask me to do a full figure and distortion ensues. So I decided on a different approach – both with drawing and, more recently, with the very challenging art of watercolours.
Just as I often turn to kid’s books for my self-teaching of French or sheet music sight-reading, I figured it was about time to work on the elementary first, before giving in to megalomania.
The amazing work and sketches of Chris Riddell have been a valuable reference to get the gist of human forms. Learning the basic techniques of how to balance water and watercolour paints in small things like a mountain landscape also proved to be more helpful that jumping headfirst into a picturesque cottage and its surrounding countryside.
Obvious as all this may sound, I still wonder at how, sometimes, it takes us a long while to silence our old familiar impulses and actually do what we rationally know to be the best approach.
And the outcome, in all its simplicity, feels great.