Ever since leaving college back in the day I have carried a sketch pad. I used to walk the cities I found myself in and draw buildings and quay sides, boats and shop fronts but I never drew people as I never considered myself very good at drawing any kind of portrait, thumbnail or other. Getting a drawing to look like a person is one thing, getting it to look like a particular person is quite another.
As well as that many people find it hard to stand being reduced to an object in the peculiarly impersonal and assessing gaze of an engaged artist except of course other artists so when I found myself working in an art shop squashed in cheek by jowl with other artists I was in an ideal environment to practice.
I found that I loved it. It helped me be more relaxed around people and to get to know people better. I feel close to someone when I am drawing them. As well as that I feel it added something to my understanding of how we are in the world for when we really look at someone, when the subject becomes something to be studied, all our modern ideas of attractiveness go out the window. Some of the most supposedly attractive people are to me horribly bland while others who may not think they are anything to look have the most beautiful and rich visages imaginable. If only everyone one would take the time to sit and draw each other.
I cannot say my ability at catching a likeness has improved but these portraits here come pretty close I think, probably because I spent years working alongside these people. Looking at them now makes me nostalgic for a time when I had such an opportunity and also brings back a lot more memories that a mere photo.
The way Alice leaned casually sideways against the counter while talking to a customer or how Alex pored over the order form, blonde hair falling in a curtain. John playing poker on the computer and Tulta reading. Tina’s striking face that was accompanied by an industriousness and a talent at anything she turned her hand to. Jason, a painter, who always tried to leave at half four instead of half five as he had learned to read the time from a digital clock and got confused by clocks with hands. Ranald’s hair styles and his insouciance and his boredom with his architecture course (he is now a designer). Storm who was so sweet that when we found out that her pet name for us all- ‘Pupsack’ -was what Zimbabweans called the bag inside wine boxes we didn’t even mind.
There are numerous horror stories too, recognisable to anyone who has worked in a shop, which are for another post but I remember one time a well-heeled elderly couple coming into the shop. I served the gentleman while the lady flicked through a festival brochure as Ranald stared out the window, 18-year-old thoughts spinning under a neon blue mohican. The elderly lady asked him if he knew what was on in a particular theatre…
…he shrugged, puzzled.
She kept asking him for details about various other high art theatre shows, much to his confusion, until, getting tired of him, she declared loudly…
…and flung the brochure across the counter at him.
Since this time I have periodically drawn figures though these days I mostly draw quick sketches of people in cafes and on the street – it is a wonder how a simple line can convey so much energy- but seeing these makes me think I must someday sit down and start really looking at people again.
All were drawn in pencil or pen and ink on white paper but I changed the colour on some of them for variety.