Digging through piles of the past
Visiting with my dearest mother, I decided to have a rummage through the attic and dig out some boxes of old drawings. With a healthy measure of curiosity, I endeavoured through itchy fibreglass insulation and cobwebs in the hope of discovering some forgotten treasure – kinda like in The Goonies. Retrieving my bounty was no easy feat, relocating to the kitchen to assess my finds in the hope of uncovering something that would help reflect upon my early years of work. Going through old sketchbooks, piles of loose papers and notes, I was a little bit disappointed with my past self. To my eyes, there was a lot of crap.
Sure there was plenty to be nostalgic about, but much of what I had once created with pride was now viewed with negativity. Sketches I had made with the firmest of convictions now seemed to be infantile and poorly executed. Self-deprecating doodles seemed trivial and predictable while experiments with medium appeared clumsy.
‘I thought I was good at drawing’ – I breathed under my breath as I systematically flicked through the old notebooks and loose papers.
‘You have to start somewhere’ – came a voice over my shoulder.
Consumed by the indignation of my former self, I had forgotten to consider how all of these angry scrawlings and random doodles had built over the years to inform the illustrator I am today. In this blog, I will look through a few of my old drawings and discuss the evolving process of one’s artistic approach.
It’s strange to think that a huge chunk of your life can be summed up in a pile of drawings. A diorama of likes/dislikes, interests and influences. Spanning over years, any one piece may not provide any significant insight, but when observed in chronological order a pattern of behaviour may become apparent. Unfortunately, very little of my early sketches could be salvaged – possibly misplaced in a house move or eaten by giant mutant moths in the attic – meaning much of my early development may be lost to the passage of time.
The earliest piece I found was some R.E. homework from the age of 11 tucked away in a plastic sleeve and long forgotten about. A surprise that this out of all things should actually survive when much else from this era had long been lost. As a subject I found little interest in the three years I was obligated to study and it is clear that I didn’t dedicate much time to the project, but it does demonstrate some interesting features of my drawing that would continue for years.
Very rough in execution, I obviously didn’t spend much time on preplanning my layout or compositions and simply jumped into drawing characters. Yet to develop a rational sense of perspective, my characters exhibited inconsistent proportions, with the main focus on facial composition and expression. At this time, I had been drawing eyes like the Simpson’s characters – large and close together in the centre of the face with a nose protruding from below. Also, a long-standing aversion to the written word is apparent in the lack of measure applied to the text layouts.
A few years later as part of an Art GCSE, I undertook a study on Graffiti (Street Art was yet to be a term widely accepted into the zeitgeist). Enthralled by the energy of expression, I had an instant interest in the bold use of line and an articulation of vibrant colour to create breathtaking murals. Less interested in the complex tagging, I naturally gravitated towards pieces that included characters. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any of my reference images or the final piece for the project, but I did manage to dig out a few of the development sketches of my focus character and background.
Consistent with my previous example, there is a distinct emphasis on the facial construction. Forms become increasingly overworked around the head while elsewhere the line is softer and less erratic. Again with a simplicity of facial features, I remember taking particular interest in the album art for ‘Significant Other‘ by Limp Bizkit. This was a driving influence of this character and had taken me away from the friendly cartoon construction to something edgy an dark. However, this did not translate to the body position that remained static and front-facing as opposed to the dynamic perspective present in my source material.
Giving up Art when I left school to focus on the Sciences, I found myself with much less time to draw but had a continued desire to do so. Notepads of lined paper intended for principles and formulas would often be filled with random doodles and jokes. My medium would also have to take a shift, as I now had less excuse to work with pencil (my preferred weapon of choice) and plenty of ball point pens to hand.
Now my proportions were veering towards the manga inspired Super Deformed with over-sized heads and minimal features. Again, the eyes continue to be the main focus but had taken a change in style, becoming big and round, with flecks of light to give them a spark of life. In contrast, the hair would be detailed to distinguish each character and required more attention of line and form. Working with biro meant I had to develop hatching skills to create depth with shading and differentiate between features. With the freedom to experiment, my pen work became scratchy and textured, searching to find my line and build up an image.
Taken a few year apart, this snapshot of three static points in my development highlight some common themes in my work through time. Even today when I draw, I always start with the head, and often just with the eye position. Finding my forms are also sketched out with a gesture, searching for my line, rather than diving right in as seen previously with my early work. This gives me a natural sense of orientation around which to build a composition that normally focus on character.
Uncontentiously focusing on the things that interest me at any point in the timeline, it is possible to see a natural progression. Looking back through piles of my past work, it is difficult to disassociate oneself from judging by the standards I work to now, but this is always going to be harsh. The intentions and thought processes may appear to be misjudged or even poorly executed, but in the context, they are exactly where my interest lay at any one point in time.
This is the foundation up which I have developed as an artist and will always inform my approach in some way. Everything that is later discarded serves a purpose and should be cherished as a part of one’s personal history regardless of its quality of thought or execution. Hopefully, the things I do today will be looked on with the same unsettling scorn, as this would mean I have continued to evolve.