Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Humble Pencil


I’ve been painfully aware that my rapid Watercolour Window Work exercises have become stale and much less rewarding over the last few months. Short of actually concentrating and working bit harder, which is difficult, I’ve taken the easier solution and changed my tools – hence the switch to pencil.

Actually, it’s been a very pleasant return. What’s not to like – it’s correctable when necessary, it’s dry, and unlike a wet brush doesn’t have ‘apparatus’ or the need to be re-charged with wash. The range of marks, and colour of course, is more restricted than the watercolour, but the pencil does have immediacy and speed that the watercolour can’t match, and that’s what these little live sketches are all about.

They’re still about the same size as the watercolour figures, but can be a touch smaller (the smaller the faster, as in the one of the bloke on the bike - which is about 4cm from helmet to tyre – and which simply would’ve been an indeterminate blob in watercolour).

The paper is still the A4 copy paper, and the graphite is the narrow 4B in my Staedtler clutch pencil, which keeps everything nice and clean, and probably favours my more linear style. I was never particularly fond of grinding away with a 6B – I always seemed to end up with most of it on my face – but it might be interesting to look one out that’s not broken-all-the-way-through and give it a whirl. I’ll see what happens.

I think it’s maybe quite odd that I’ve walked away from the pencil over the years. I think I stopped using one regularly for figure drawing at College when I began favouring Conte crayon for the hours and hours of studio work we had to do. Art Colleges were pretty strong on studio drawing then, and Monday was ‘Figure Drawing’ day. All day. If I remember correctly (and there may be some doubt about that) we started at 9.30 till maybe 12, then carried on after an hour’s lunch till 4pm, and that was, more often than not, a Single Pose. After a break for a cuppa, we’d have another session from 4.30 till 6.30 – with a different model, and maybe broken into two poses – just to finish off the day. It did actually pay off, because there was quite a high level of draughtsmanship amongst the students at the time, and I found that I was getting quite good results with the fine bistre, sanguine, and white Conte hard ‘pastel’ sticks (I loathed the dead black ones – completely lifeless). After College, if I was doing ‘window work’ or fast sketching off the telly, or landscape (which I did very, very, rarely indeed) I would most likely use watercolour (usually Indigo). When I started Artypainting again in 2007 one of the first things I discovered was that I had lost all the facility in my drawing, so I went off to Life Drawing classes, and what drawing medium did I use to get back into it? Yup, my trusty Conte crayons. I’ve used pencil for working ideas out, of course, but never for ‘serious’ work since, ooh, probably, the late 1970’s. 

Which is a long time ago. About when this was playing every night on the juke box in Clarks Bar – where the art students’ drank, across the road from the college at the top corner of Lady Lawson Street. Not to be confused or mistaken for the other Clarks Bar (no connection) in Dundas Street. ‘Our’ Clarks Bar was also across the road from the Fire Station, so it had a quite strange atmosphere – the front bar had the fireman, who were fairly burly down-to-earth guys, very good at darts, while in the back lounge were all these young, arty long-haired, earnestly questing, collarless shirt wearing, hedonistic ‘finding themselves’ types who couldn’t handle their drink very well, who dominated the juke box. For some reason it changed its name to ‘Tap o’ Lauriston’ in the early 80’s and became quite the trendy hotspot for New Romantics and synthesizer bands, party contacts etc, until it suddenly all changed. One Saturday evening myself and Mr Walsh trotted along there looking for a good time, and the place was empty – both bars. We asked the barman (his first night) why, and he said that he wasn’t sure, but that someone had been murdered there a few days before. Well, more than a little shocked, we finished our drinks, and like everyone else had before us, moved on, never to return. The bar closed shortly after that, then the block was demolished, and a Novotel now occupies that space, blandly unaware of its colourful predecessor. 

Hmm. Well, there’s an anecdote you maybe didn’t expect to hear. I only posted a Window Work because I haven’t managed to finish anything this month, and I didn’t imagine for a minute that I’d be diving so deeply into the Waters of Nostalgia. Powerful stuff, that graphite.

To the humble pencil then, unjustly overlooked…

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