There’s an aspect of drawing and painting that seems to be rarely mentioned. It’s such an integral part of the doing that we hardly realise what a primordial and physical activity we are engaged in. We use skin and sticks and hair to manipulate chalk and oil and water and ash and metal. We stand in all weathers, eyes open, and work in a fury, fearful that what we’ve found will disappear. Even in the studio, long hours sitting, absorbed, there’s the sensual delight of mixing colours and the emotional release that making pictures allows.
So we might as well have some decent materials to do it with. I’ll use this section to describe the ones I use. Any preferences I have are personal, usually based on experience but quite inconsistent. They are also subject to fashion and availability. It will be a partial list (in both senses of the word) and will take me a while to expand.
I’m not generally a believer in either/or. I suppose that commercial interests will struggle to dominate the future. The massive improvement in software means that the providers of on-screen tools will want to make a horse and cart of traditional media. Digital applications are like photography – wonderful but different.
Where to buy
When you know what you’re looking for, it’s exciting to get a box through the post but my first preference is for a decent Art Shop. To be able to wander and look at products, to feel the romance of all that potential splashing and crumbling and smoothing is a joy. I don’t ever begrudge the bill, and that’s not because I don’t struggle to pay it – I’m just glad that the shop is there.
All the drawings on the site are taken from my Daler-Rowney A6 Black series 78 sketchpads. They’re stitched hardback with perforated leaves. The paper is smooth and a creamy white. It has little tooth but will take almost any medium, a lot of rough treatment and unwanted pages are easy to remove. They fit in my pocket. My earliest ones cost little more than a pound and are often quite thin because there used to be a lot of tearing out. My present one cost £8 25p. I try to keep a couple of spare ones because they’re not as readily available as they once were.
I use plenty of other sketchpads in a variety of sizes and surfaces but I nearly always buy spiral bound ones. If you’re working outside you need the page you are using to lie flat and remain secure.
In Lancashire, more than fifty years ago, my uncle took a pencil down from the mantlepiece of my grandmother’s ancient range. ‘German, that. The finest pencils you can get’. (The men in the household respected anything German. The women were not so enthusiastic). It was a red and black striped Staedtler HB and he let me draw with it. The same company made the EE pencils that I mention in these pages. I used them for years because they had a flat finish rather than the uncomfortable shiny sheen conventional soft pencils left. Not that they’re particularly soft – they leave a very black line that’s difficult to erase. They’re now designated StaedtlerML 8B. I keep them, like many of my pencils, at different stages of sharpness – from thick, blunt, rounded heads to needle-sharp points – so I might use two or three pencils for one drawing. I sharpen them with a scalpel.
Karisma Aqurelle came in three grades – medium, soft and very soft. They were graphite and lovely to use but are no longer available. When I drew with them, I felt that my line was as accurate as my ability would allow, and if I made a mistake I could easily erase it. Many of my sketchpads in the middle noughts are full of simple line drawings. Pleased as I was with representation of what I was looking at, I realised that once removed from the subject, the images that remain are light and have no graphic presence. I decided to carry a pen.
At present I use Caran d’Ache Grafwood which come in a number of different grades.
I’ll talk about coloured pencils next