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Raking the meadow

This morning’s reportage illustration on the community raking of a local wildflower meadow.

There was a hint of Autumn in the air today at a local school’s wildflower meadow but the morning sunshine and hard work almost fooled a few of today’s community volunteers into believing summer hasn’t quite left us.

For the native plants that adorned this meadow, there can be no doubt about the change in season. They graced us with their beauty from March to September, until the time finally came for them to produce seeds for the following spring. Once their work was done, the work of the local residents began.

What a pleasure it was to illustrate these scenes of women, men and children working together in nature for a common cause.

Tell a story

Today marks the day I complete my “31 Reasons to Draw” challenge.

Just over a year ago, I embarked on thinking of a “reason to draw” for each day of December.  My challenge was to share them daily in my blog and perhaps inspire others to take up the hobby of sketching, or return to it. 

Creating daily blog posts during the busiest month of the year proved to be somewhat unrealistic for me, so I decided to stick to the plan but without the deadline. I am so glad I did!  Not only did I get to enjoy Christmas and work on other projects throughout the year, but I also got the satisfaction of knowing I hadn’t abandoned my mission… I’d just adjusted my own expectations.

So here we are, on the final reason to draw of this series of blog posts, and that is, to “tell a story”.  It may sound like a cliché, but a picture really is worth a thousand words.  And for that reason, I’ll stop typing for today, and let these pictures tell their story. Enjoy!

Make it eye-catching

Some examples of illustration work I have done over the years to create eye-catching posters and flyers for a variety of different companies and events.

In the 19th Century, a newspaper discovered that sales increased if the articles were accompanied by pictures.  When photography wasn’t advanced enough to capture movement, artists were used instead. Can you imagine the world of advertising without pictures? Words are powerful, but imagine trying to advertise an upcoming event with nothing but 5 lines of Times New Roman text on a sheet of A4 paper. A drawing catches the eye and invites the viewer to find out more.

Laughter

A comic from Falseknees.com by Joshua Barkman

What makes you laugh? Probably several things come to mind.

For me it might be a funny dog-meme, an unexpectedly witty comment from a child, a scene in a film or book, a story told by a friend….  Sometimes they make you laugh just once, and other times, they make you laugh with every repetition. 

Without fail, the drawings by certain comic artists (such as this one by Joshua Barkman of Falseknees.com) make me laugh not once, not twice, but every single time I look at them.

Isn’t it almost like a magic sort of medicine for the soul, that something as simple as a drawing can make someone laugh over and over again?

Drawing shows you took the time

A card my daughter made when she was very young for her great grandmother.

Time is so precious.  How you choose to spend your time, who with, doing what… none of us have an infinite amount of it, so the scarcer it becomes, the more precious to us it is. Choosing to spend time drawing is choosing to rank that thing as being important.

Whether its the time we spend drawing a flower on a birthday card, or the preliminary sketches of an oil-painting, we have decided that either the viewer or the subject or both are important to us, and we took the time.

Drawing is relatively inoffensive

A rough sketch of a teacher at a local event.

There are times when people feel compelled to document an event.  Of all the creative ways we have come up with to do this, the vast majority choose to use only two methods:  Taking photos or filming.  Both have their advantages, but they also have their drawbacks.  The people participating in the event that we are documenting might not feel comfortable being filmed or photographed, which is entirely their right.  When you choose to document an event with a quick illustration or sketch, it completely changes your role and others’ reactions to you. 

As artist Mario Minichiello puts it when he talks of Reportage Illustration, “it’s difficult to be offended by a large gentleman with a crayon”

Be an explorer

Before I could draw this Kidney Vetch, I had to first be an explorer.

What is an explorer? One definition states it is “a person who explores a new or unfamiliar area”.

Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing new or unfamiliar left in the world. Humankind’s footprint is all over it, and it can feel like there’s nothing that hasn’t already been written about, filmed, photographed etc. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still get a thrill out of being explorers.

This week I’ve been enjoying watching SpringWatch on TV. Every year the programme finds new ways of showing us what is all around us in a way that makes it seem like they’ve literally just discovered it. Yesterday we were treated to live footage of a bird called the Nightjar. Chris Packham was practically exploding with excitement, much the way I’d imagine the explorers of the Galapagos islands did when they discovered new species.

Except, the Night Jar isn’t a new species. Sure, it is rather secretive, due to its nocturnal habits, and its plumage helps it blend into the background, but it isn’t new. So why the excitement?

There’s a kind of excitement that comes of seeing something old from a new perspective. It literally feels like you have just made a discovery. For a brief moment you feel like an explorer.

I was recently asked to create a poster for a biodiversity project and was handed a list of names of native Irish plants and bumblebees to study. When I started to research the plants, I soon realised that the images found online were not quite as useful as I’d thought they’d be. Sometimes it was difficult to tell the actual scale of one flower next to another, and in particular, next to each species of bumblebee (which also come in different sizes!). The intricacies of the petal formations were also difficult to decipher from most photographs available online. So I went to the library and took out some books. This helped me work out what season each flower could expect to be found in bloom, and offered a few more details about habitat, size etc. But I felt I needed more. So I put my explorer hat on and went out into the field. One by one I found what I was looking for, sometimes after days of hunting, and other times when I was least expecting to stumble across them. Native Irish wildflowers like Kidney Vetch, Common Knapweed, Birdsfoot Trefoil, and bees such as the Common Carder Bee, the buff-tailed bumblebee and more were all out there, hidden in plain sight.

I hadn’t discovered any new species. But at each “discovery” of these unusual plants I got that buzz of excitement of an explorer. If I hadn’t needed to draw these flowers and bees in such detail, I wouldn’t have needed to go looking for them and I would have missed out on that feeling altogether. I literally would not have known what I was missing.

The completed Bee Map

The importance of drawing in children’s literacy

Some of my daughter’s early drawings.


“Long before our children learn about the alphabet and begin to write, drawing plays an important part in their literacy.” (firstfiveyears.org – Early learning)

According to Dr Noella Mackenzie, Associate Professor in literacy studies at Charles Sturt University, we need to give children’s drawing ability the same kind of recognition that we give to their babble. When a child starts trying to utter words, we instinctively know as adults that we need to encourage and praise this, to help nurture their oral communication skills. But do we realise the importance of another, often overlooked early mode of communication… to draw?

“We need teachers to understand that drawing is an important mode of communication or text creation. It’s not just a precursor to writing real words, it’s a mode in its own right.” says Dr. Mackenzie.

According to Dr. Mackenzie, when drawing is encouraged, children can create sophisticated visual texts, which in turn enables them to instinctively start to add labels and words.

“How do we encourage them? We encourage it by valuing it. It saddens me to think that many children come to school drawing and talking but then we focus so much on the written word that the talking and drawing take second place.”

Once you start thinking about what Dr. Mackenzie is saying, you can’t help but see the difference in value we place on our children’s developmental stages. So many of us, without even realising we are doing it, place a higher value on children’s first steps, first word, the alphabet etc, but their drawing skills are seen as a kind of “nice to have but not that important really”.

Recognise the importance of the foundations of communication that children already possess and you will teach them that writing is simply an extension of these existing forms rather than a replacement.

Feed your stationery addiction

Test ride with my new Koh-i-noor pencils bought on a visit to Prague.

A part of me has always wanted to be a minimalist. But another, louder, harder-to-ignore part of me just wants to buy more stuff… particularly art materials.

Getting into sketching gives you the perfect excuse to shop without seeming too be wasting money… its an “investment” in your art…

We call it a stationery addiction for a reason. It really is addictive, and can get out of hand. But who doesn’t have fond memories of opening a brand new set of crayons or felt-tip pens when they were a kid?

Create an illusion

The painted ceiling of the Grandmaster’s palace in Valletta

Some things are set in stone and cannot be altered. But some might argue that everything is alterable, all it takes is a bit of imagination. Whichever way you see it, drawing can unlock new possibilities when dealing with home decor! You might not want to go as far as Nicolau Nasoni did in 1724, when he created this illusion of elaborate cornices and towers on the ceiling of the Grandmaster’s palace, but being able to draw can help create illusions of more space or make an awkward layout in your home more pleasing to the eye.

When you change the position of the furniture in your house you are in effect “drawing” the space with your mind and creating the illusion of a brighter/more spacious/cosier (delete as appropriate) room. That’s my excuse anyway, and I’m sticking to it. Its not procrastination. Honest.

Draw to soak up

Valletta in the winter

What better way to soak up the pleasure of a long awaited trip than to use some of those lazy days sketching your surroundings?

I hadn’t been back to my home country in just over 2 years when I drew this. The balconies and narrow streets of Valletta on a rainy day aren’t new to me, but that day I wanted to really appreciate its beauty all over again. So I sat down and drew every little detail of the architecture around me, to soak it all up like a sponge.