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Where Your Art Really Begins

Where Your Art Really Begins

I was gazing over a student’s shoulder at a work that I can most charitably describe as ‘experimental.’

“I just waved my hand around and there it was!” Jenny said.

“And that’s exactly what it looks like…,” is the response I never made.

The thing is, Jenny was so utterly delighted with it. She’d spent the last hour, splashing paint around (bathing in it, almost) and relishing the minglings and mixtures that oozed across her piece of paper as she twizzled her paintbrush about like a Disney fairy godmother, conjuring a coach and four with her wand. I couldn’t disparage her enthusiasm, but the result in Jenny’s case was less like magic and more like mouse and pumpkin casserole, unfortunately.

But why was this? Didn’t Jackson Pollock and all those big-brush American abstractionists fling paint around like there were no tomorrows? How come their mess ended up in the museums and art galleries, whilst Jenny will be lucky if hers escapes the bin?


The answer is drawing. Jackson Pollock could and Jenny can’t. Her enthusiasm for the subject stretches only as far as four o’clock in the afternoon, you see and then she’s on to something else. Pollock, on the other hand, worked at it constantly and he had the drawing skills and knowledge to back it up. His sketchbook analyses of the paintings of Rubens, El Greco and other Old Masters, informed his work. They’re exemplary affairs; lovingly observed and perfectly proportioned. And then you realise, that if you want to command a surface four feet high and eight feet wide, you need more than stamina – you need the groundwork.

Jackson Pollock (American, Cody, Wyoming 1912–1956 East Hampton, New York ) Untitled, ca. late 1937–39 Colored pencils on paper; 17 x 13 3/4in. (43.2 x 34.9cm) Frame: 29 × 23 × 2 in. (73.7 × 58.4 × 5.1 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Anonymous Gift, 1990 (1990.4.41)

In my latest podcast for Frome FM, I talk to Prof. Anita Taylor of Drawing Projects UK about the centrality of drawing to our lives. “Scientists, engineers, archaeologists and mathematicians use drawings,” she says. “The police use drawings. It’s something we all need as a valuable means of communication… whether it’s a proposal for a chair… or a map. A good drawing is a drawing that’s fit for purpose.”

David Chandler bottles

Think of the other ways that we use the word ‘draw.’

We draw out, draw in, draw breath and draw forth. We draw water and we even draw blood. It’s a matter of life and death and a process of discovery.

And it’s where your art really begins.

‘It’s about making the best kind of image I can make, it’s about talking as clearly as I can.’ Jim Dine

‘Drawing makes you see things clearer, and clearer and clearer still, until your eyes ache.’ David Hockney

‘For the artist, drawing is discovery. And that is not just a slick phrase; it is quite literally true.’ John Berger

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