For todays picture I decided to head down to the local cafe and Surf Centre T-Bay because sometimes it can be nice to have people around and I also wanted to escape the baleful gaze of my PC. I had forgotten how good it is to draw in public. I can achieve a focus, lose myself in what I am doing much more easily than I can in the studio for some reason. This morning as I drew I started writing this post in my head.
My artistic career started after I left Art College(yes after), when having being made redundant from a couple of jobs I found myself back in Waterford and our student haunt of Geoff’s bar. I had sketched often through my college years and beyond, a lot of the time outdoors. Mostly I like drawing buildings and urban landscapes. Plain landscapes to this day I find a little boring. In Geoff’s I found the angles and curves of the old wood, walls and steps very appealing and used to sit in there for hours and draw pictures of various bits of the bar. Eventually I became a part of the furniture I think. The owner, Geoff, became the first buyer of my work, hanging three in the bar where at least one still hangs, one was stolen and I haven’t checked on the third in a while(it’s a big bar). On the strength of some of these pictures I was selected for a group show in Garter Lane Arts Centre and so began my erratic career in the arts.
There are many advantages and disadvantages to drawing in public. When I was younger I used to be very put out when I was approached. This was partly because I was often shy and awkward with people(really) and my sketch pad was a sort of shield to allow me to be with people and yet not and partly because when you start to draw, you lose yourself and when someone comes up to you it can be like being woken from a dream. I often reacted badly because I didn’t really understand people’ s curiosity in what I was doing. One chap came up to me to compliment me on my work and I roundly told him to fuck off. Thankfully he has an offbeat sense of humour and ended up buying two of my pictures which still hang in his house in Dublin. He regularly reminds me of our first meeting with great hilarity. Where would I be without my lunatic friends?
Sometimes I would also write and it was not uncommon to find someone leaning over me reading my deepest thoughts which can be embarrassing especially if it’s them that you are writing about… These days I am much more tolerant, and I am always happy to see friends but I still find myself nonplussed at some people’s forwardness. I would never dream of going up to a stranger and looking over their shoulder at what they are working on. Having said that most people who are curious are able to manage the approach in a mindful way and I am much more able to marshal myself these days.
I have had some nice encounters with people and some weird ones. Twice I was approached by very young traveller boys who wanted to fondle my genitalia. Another time two boys came and chatted to me(as I kept my sketch pad firmly over my crotch)about drawing and they were a delight. Once down by Reginald’s Tower in Waterford a middle-aged man came running up and asked for a loan of my pencil with which he wrote down a number plate on a cigarette packet. Before running off again he told me he was a detective. I don’t know if that was true but I believe it because it’s exciting.
A digression. Where I do find people’s curiosity just plain weird is when I am bodyboarding. I am often splashing around in the sea only to turn around and find people photographing or filming me, often to the exclusion of their own wee ones staggering unsteadily around their feet. Now if I was doing some fancy pants drop-knee loop-de-loops or something like this over to the left, I could understand, I have taken picture of surfers in the past and many of them like to have pictures of themselves surfing. But me?All I am doing is spending my spare time in the fine art of flailing. Sometime it makes me so self-conscious that I can no longer enjoy myself and I come out of the sea. One man was so annoyed that I had ruined his shot that he followed me up the beach snapping away until I hid behind my board. It would be something if they came up and offered you copies I suppose, but they never do. I often wonder what people would think if they looked up from their pint/knitting/TV and found someone photographing them. One day I am going to try it. I think it I will make for a great exhibition.
All my whingeing aside, there are also huge advantages to having a sketch pad in public and they outweigh nearly all of my complaints (except for the one about the attempts at genital fondling and even then I am sure that could sometimes be an advantage depending on the perpertrator;).
Sketching is a way of looking and of focussing attention in the present. You may think you are paying attention to what’s around you but when you start to draw something you realise how little of it you originally saw. I also found, when I eventually started sketching people, that it bound me to them. On expedition to Africa I came to know people by drawing them. There is something wonderful about drawing people, you become detached and intense at the same time, faces become fascinating. I am drawn(no pun intended-mostly) to drawing many different types of people but not the types that are considered attractive in this airbrushed age. When you start to draw those you realise how bland that kind of face is.
On a more social level, I have often found that people become generally friendlier towards you and many people are forgiving of weirdo behaviour when they realise you are an artist. As I have said a sketch pad is also a shield and one that has gotten me through many situations that I might have found more difficult. It is also a door into the lives of people you wouldn’t normally meet. It is a friend, a soothing prop, like a cigarette only healthier. A sketch pad can you give you an identity and make it easier for people to relate to you. A lot of the things that have happened to me can be traced back to that time in Geoff’s. I got jobs from it, I got involved in theatre and film because of it, made friends, met lots of interesting people and received much kindness because of it.
This morning all of this came back to me as I scribbled to the sound of Lorna busy in the background and Martins voice rumbling along somewhere, the low murmur of people chatting, the door opening and closing, the clink of cups and the hiss of the coffee machine as the rain spat at the window. I am glad to be reminded of this thing I have and grateful for all that it has given me so if you do see me and want to approach you are welcome and there will be no expletives-no unfriendly ones at least:)-but be gentle, you don’t know what world I am walking in.