Monday, 20 November 2017

Two Artists

If you could choose these things, I would love to have been an artist. Given that I can't draw and even copying takes me ages, I have to content myself with admiring others' work. Recently I've had encounters with two illustrators' work which have both delighted and inspired me.

The first one was Clara Vulliamy who has illustrated many classic children's books, as well as the wonderful Dixie o'Day series written by her mother Shirley Hughes. Clara is also responsible for bringing Mary Plain back to life in new editions of some of the classic books by the Welsh author Gwynedd Rae. The first of the Mary Plain books was published in 1930 and generations of children have loved this independent and willful little bear. In my family my Mother, myself and my daughter have each in turn relished her adventures. I remember liking the fact that she was a real bear, rather than a teddy bear and I think I also identified with her confident, self-importance! Here she is, watching the kettle boil. As ever, she's very interested in everything.

Mary also has her own special way of writing, mixing pictures and words. Here's the message on the cover of one of the new books.

Isn't it good? This inspired me to write like this when I first read the books; perhaps I'll do that again. How about some picture messages in the next knitting pattern? That would certainly make them more interesting.

Anyway, Clara did her first Mary Plain event in Wantage a few weeks ago and my daughter and I, lured by promises of cake and rosettes, decided that this was something we had to go to. We were in fact the only adults present without children but who cares? It was lovely to meet Clara in person, having chatted to her on twitter and the afternoon was wonderful.

She introduced Mary to us, drawing the characters as she talked. This was probably my favourite part of her talk - watching an artist drawing is so exciting - and then we had a go at drawing Mary for ourselves. All I can say is that mine turned out with short legs, slightly dislocated from her body. It was fun though. Clara had made special Mary Plain rosettes as rewards for good drawing; some of the older children didn't put theirs on but we wore ours proudly for the rest of the day.

My new books and the all-important rosette

Clara spent a long time signing books and chatting after the talk. We just about managed to let the children go first before monopolising her for the rest of the time. As well as our new Mary Plain books, we'd taken some old favourites for her to sign and my daughter wanted to give her this special present. A little wooden Mary Plain she'd carved for her, complete with her own label in picture writing.

It was such a good day.

The other artist I want to talk about is Quentin Blake who has illustrated many, many excellent children's books. I saw an exhibition of his work at Compton Verney recently and it made me realise just how many of his books we've enjoyed over the years. Perhaps the best part of the exhibition for me were the two films of him working in his studio. Again, seeing an artist draw was magical and it was fascinating to see how he builds up the illustrations and shapes them with the text. 

One of the books he talked about was actually a wordless story Clown which tells of a toy clown thrown in the dustbin with other toys.

Clown manages to climb out of the bin and sets off in search of a new home and to rescue the other toys (don't worry, it has a happy ending).

Quentin Blake draws with pen and then adds the watercolours - working quickly and not worrying about keeping in the lines. this was a revelation to me - who knew you could do that?

These glimpses of artists at work have inspired me to do more drawing. Clara was very encouraging about it being all right to copy drawings to learn how to do them. I'm not the only one who feels like this - look at the birthday card my daughter drew for me ...

So, I used some birthday money to buy myself  a book by Peggy Dean called 'Botanical Line Drawing: 200 Step-by-Step Flowers, Leaves, Cacti, Succulents and Other Items Found in Nature'.

This is a brilliant book; it's basically a workbook with step by step drawings for you to copy. I've been having a lot of fun practising some basic leaves.

The book has spaces for your drawings but that was far too scary for me (also, draw in a book? not me) so I've been using my little sketch book. This gives me room to try each leaf lots of times which is just as well.

I did buy some drawing pens but haven't been brave enough to use them yet. Perhaps when I've got a bit more confident. I'm really enjoying trying my hand at this. When I was at school, art was only for those who were really good at it so it's only recently that I've realised that, although I may not be naturally good at it, it's a skill that can at least be improved by practice. It's funny really that there's a general feeling that learning to play a musical instrument is within most people's reach but not learning to draw.

That's enough arty thoughts for today. In my next post I'll be revealing my big knitting project for next year. I've been working on it for months and it's the biggest series of patterns I've written so I hope you're all suitably excited.

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