A Short Book About Drawing by Andrew Marr

I have called this a “A Short Book About Drawing” because that’s what it is. But it is also a book about being happy and the importance of drawing and making, for a happy life. I’ve written books about all sorts of things, but I have never enjoyed one as much as this. (Introduction, page 8)

Reading this book was a pleasure. I thoroughly enjoyed it – it made me happy and it encouraged me to carry on with my drawing. It’s not an instruction book, but it’s full of insight into what happens when you draw and it’s dotted throughout with personal information, such as how Marr began drawing, like most of us at school, what he drew, and how he lingered over drawings and paintings, going to exhibitions such as those at the Royal Scottish Academy.

He refers to artists and their paintings without including illustrations – the only paintings/drawings are his own!  He writes that ‘there isn’t a single drawing here I would regard as a real work of art, but I think most of them will encourage people to try for themselves.’  

He draws most days. This book was written not long before Marr suffered a stroke and it was only after he found himself drawing again – on his iPad – that he began to feel himself again. I would have liked more details about his drawings, about the medium he used –  some are obviously digital, and others are pencil sketches, but others are less obvious, maybe pen and wash?

It is a short book – just 144 pages – but there is a lot packed into those pages. Here are some more quotations that give a flavour of the book:

Chapter 2 ‘On Drawing and Happiness’:

Flow is the proposition that we are happiest when concentrating as much as possible on something that’s both quite hard  and for which we have an aptitude. … Drawing is a source of happiness and inner strength not because it is easy but because it is hard. (pages 30 -35)

Chapter 8 ‘When Did Normal People Start Drawing’. This is a very interesting chapter moving through the centuries and countries until the 1700s in London when

… the real drawing craze spreads from small numbers of enthusiasts to the new middle classes.

Marr states:

Drawing will make you a better person – not morally, necessarily, but it makes you think. It will help you see the hidden patterns all around you, and make you a discriminating lover of landscape, faces and mundane objects. It becomes an education, which changes your brain as much as learning to play the piano or to dance. It is about striving to become more fully human. (page 90)

Today we have been well educated to understand that most of us cannot draw. In the nineteenth century, foolish folk, they did not realise this, so they went off and drew anyway. (page 92)

A Short Book About Drawing is a special book. I thoroughly recommend it.

I read it because I love art, but after I finished reading I realised that it is another book, and a very different one, for the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge as

‘Andrew Marr was born in Glasgow in 1959. He studied English at the University of Cambridge and has since enjoyed a long career in political journalism, working for the Scotsman, the Independent, the Daily Express and the Observer. From 2000 to 2005 he was the BBC’s Political Editor. He has written and presented TV documentaries on history, science and politics, and presents the weekly Andrew Marr Show on Sunday mornings on BBC1 and Start the Week on Radio 4. Andrew lives in London with his family.’ (copied from the back cover)

Cats: Drawing and Painting

I drew this last week, copied from a card, using pencils and pens. It’s made me keen to try painting/sketching our cat Heidi. She’s white so I’ll have to use coloured paper, or a coloured background.

I looked for help in this beautiful book:

 Cats: Drawing and Painting in Watercolour by Lesley Fotherby. This is what she has to say about drawing white cats on white paper:

You can’t paint the cat in white, so you have to paint the background and leave the cat to show up against it, ie look at the negative shape, paint that in and the positive image will appear. (page 96)

I’ve tried negative painting before and didn’t find it easy. She also suggests using pencil and paint and to illustrate the technique shows this painting:

There is so much in this book, from using different materials, paper and techniques  to showing how to depict movement and markings and composition. I’m going to study it and have a go.

Previously when I’ve posted photos of my sketches some people have commented that they wish they could draw. I can only endorse what Lesley Fotherby writes in this book:

Many people feel that being able to draw is a gift and that either you can draw or you can’t. It is true that some will find it easier than others, but in fact drawing is a skill which can be learnt like any other. As with other skills, it can only improve with practice, so do not be discouraged if your first efforts are unsatisfactory. …

Learning to draw is a bit like learning to swim: you can stand on the side of the pool and listen to a lecture, or you can jump in, wearing your lifejacket of course, and feel the element around you. Then you understand what they are all talking about. (page 8)

Saturday Snapshot: Dewars Lane

Berwick-upon-Tweed is an interesting English town near the border with Scotland, with three bridges crossing the Tweed. There are the Elizabethan Town Walls, Ramparts, Barracks, a ruined castle and quaint passageways like Dewars Lane, which dates back to medieval times. This is what it looks like today.

The white building on the right at the end of the passageway is now a Youth Hostel, Art Gallery and Bistro. It was built in 1769 and was originally a granary. Its fantastic tilted walls are the result of a fire in 1815, after which it was propped up rather than being rebuilt. It was used for storing grain up until 1985 and was then left unoccupied, gradually becoming derelict. It has recently been restored by the Berwick Preservation Trust.

The artist L S Lowry sketched it in 1936  on one of his many visits to the town and it is now part of the town’s Lowry Trail. Below is Lowry’s pencil drawing of the Lane.

And here is my sketch:

See more Saturday Snapshots on Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.