When I browsed the blog pages on my website the other day, I was shocked to discover that I hadn’t posted a thing in seven months. Time was, when my monthly blog seemed so empowering. No longer was my artistic sagacity embalmed in biro and interred in my sock drawer, I could give it life in comic sans, if I wanted and post it on-line for the edification of the world. But a few years later, with Facebook, Instagram and a raft of other apps, I found myself adrift in a sea of self-publicists, sharing hobbies, prejudices and cat pictures at an ever-increasing rate. Tweets and YouTube videos went enviably viral one week but were entirely forgotten the next. We ceased to mind the quality and felt the bandwidth instead and I must confess, it’s been hard to keep up.
But that was before I agreed to a five-week hike across Northern Spain in the middle of the summer. When I should have been prepping for my new term, flexing my flat washes and repping colour wheels, I was instead, wrapping my toes in sticking plaster and rinsing my woollen underwear in hostel sinks. Hiking 550 kilometres across Northern Spain from Llanes to Finisterre, via Santiago De Compostela and Muxía, was a fantastic experience, but it played havoc with my business.
I was determined, though, not to let things slide entirely. When you’re walking 20 kilometres almost every day, through rain and shine and carrying all of your belongings on your back, making art isn’t the top priority (it’s avoiding blisters and not losing sight of those little, yellow arrows), so I knew that finding the motivation to sketch on a regular basis was going to be a challenge. How, then, could I make it so that I looked forward to drawing rather than viewing it as a chore or a duty?
The answer came in the modest form of a pencil; but a quite beautiful one. Yes, not all pencils are the same and a decent one can truly transform your art. Drawing is a tactile experience, after all and if the graphite that flows from your pencil point is creamy and black rather than gritty and grey, you’ll enjoy it all the more. And the more you enjoy it, the more you’ll engage with your work and the better your drawing will be. The better your drawing is, of course, the more you’ll enjoy doing it, so the whole thing goes around and around in a virtuous circle.
And as a bonus, if rather than looking as if you’ve used your teeth to sharpen your pencil, it points easily and the aromatic cedar wood shaft peels away in slender, satisfying curls… then you have a Palomino Blackwing in your hand! I’d never heard of such a thing until about a week before I left for Spain, but I discovered that this pencil has quite a cult following and after trying one out at my Wednesday Acrylics Class, I could see why. Okay, at around £3 a pop, a Palomino Blackwing isn’t cheap, but if you’re going to spend any time at all drawing, why not use the best? That way, if your drawing’s no good, at least the experience will have been a pleasurable one. A lady I taught many years ago was astonished that I frequented the most expensive coffee shop in town and asked me why I didn’t go to the one across the road. ‘The coffee’s not very nice there,’ she declared, ‘But it’s cheap.’ I rest my case.
We walked through so many beautiful places on our Camino (and one or two ugly ones, too!), we witnessed magical dawns, tumultuous seas and every kind of weather. And I took hundreds of photographs, of course, but it’s on those occasions when I was drawing that my memory is clearest and sharpest; when the day and all of its sensations envelope me all over again. When I was drawing, I was well and truly there; in the moment and on my own personal Camino.
We walked to Fisterra last year, so why walk there again? I suppose because it means less to me to be there than to actually get there.
Making art is the same isn’t it?