June 10th, 2014

when drawing lets me down

Yesterday I had one of those days where I just couldn't seem to draw anything right. ...That's not strictly true; I could draw anything BUT what I was supposed to be drawing for my next book. Sometimes I just need to draw something else to reroute my brain, so I sat in front of the mirror and drew my irritated self. She doesn't look exactly like me, but she does look annoyed.

It didn't help. When I went back to working on my book (pencil roughs for a picture book), I felt a growing feeling of helplessness as I drew, scrubbed out with the eraser, drew, erased. I knew I could draw. This was stupid, and pressing deadlines meant I didn't have time to mess about. ARGHHHH.

I finally admitted defeat for the day. It just wasn't a good drawing day.

I don't have too many of these kinds of days, this bad, but they happen. Sometimes it's related to exercise, that I'm not getting enough. Sometimes thinking about tight deadlines gives me a underlying feeling of panic. Once I was working for very unpleasant people who were trying to scare me with legal threats and I and got so depressed about it that I struggled for months to draw anything good at all. In that situation, I ended up enrolling for the MA Illustration programme at my local art college and that gave me the boost I needed. Walking into a room full of completely new faces, people who loved to draw, filled me with renewed hope and reminded me why I love drawing so much.

I wish there was a single easy answer to getting back my drawing mojo on a bad day. Going for a walk can help, but not always. It's tempting to try to help the problem by eating junk food, but that can make it worse. Sometimes I need to go away and do an entirely different project for awhile (making lino cut prints is my favourite diversion), but I'm locked quite tightly into the international book fair schedule; projects need to be ready for Bologna, for Frankfurt, for Bologna, for Frankfurt. If I miss a book fair slot (say, Bologna 2015), the book gets delayed by a whole year (to Bologna 2016) as I pick up the book I'm doing for the other publisher (for Frankfurt 2015). And now with the chapter books, I have 14 foreign publishers waiting for each year's installment of the series, so a delay would affect quite a few people.

I've also been doing lots of events; I love doing them, but a day's event can mean a loss of up to two days of book work. I often agree to events up to a year in advance, so when the actual date rolls around, it's too late to say I'm too busy. I still haven't figured out the exact amount of events I can do and still meet my deadlines, it's a blind guessing game. When people read the word 'freelance', they sometimes think it means 'free', but that's only if you don't plan on earning a living. I'm finding my years more and more planned out in great detail, in a way that's hard to change.

I'm not complaining - it's great to have work - but I do feel the pressure, and sometimes it affects my drawing. I worry when my husband makes 'ships in the night' comments, and feel guilty for going out in the evenings if he doesn't want to come along with me. So I haven't seen a lot of my friends lately. I miss them a lot. I didn't get to see my good friend Emma Vieceli perform the leads in South Pacific and Godspell and I'm very sad about that. I get to the point where, when I meet someone new who's wonderful, I almost feel a bit melancholy, because I know I probably won't have time to get to know them properly, and in a parallel life we might have become very close friends. I love meeting people and getting to know them, so this feels wrong.

This job is a strange one. It's the proverbial feast or famine. I went from not having any work to having too much, and I don't know how to find a good in-between place. I'd like to do this job until I drop; I look to people such as David McKee, Shirley Hughes, Judith Kerr, Quentin Blake, all who have carried on doing what they love into old age. I once interviewed David McKee (Elmer the Elephant, Mr Benn), and he'd moved into painting big canvases, and was still exploring new ways of working; I was so impressed by the freedom he had to paint, and that he was still pushing his own creative boundaries. I love seeing Shirley Hughes at parties.

I hope today's a better day. I might start it with a tree drawing in the park. I don't know if it will 'fix' my drawing today, but it does feel therapeutic to get outdoors and study something other than myself. I need to be more disciplined: get up early, noodle around less on the Internet, and get out of the house earlier so I have time to make these morning drawings. I'm one of those people who hates routines - I get all rebellious, even against myself - so I guess I'll always be looking for ways to figure out this whole work-life balance thing. When I meet other people I know are working incredibly hard - David Roberts, Alex T Smith, Liz Pichon, Jamie Smart, Chris Riddell, anyone with kids - it's so tempting to grab them, give them a shake and ask HOW DO YOU DO IT?! Apparently people say the same thing about me. (Answer: I don't know.)

drawing in the park

In my earlier blog post, I said I really needed to get over to the park to do some drawing and clear my head. And I DID go to the park, and drew a tree. And yes, I'm behind on work as ever, but it was good therapy.

The next photo's where you can decide if the drawing looks anything like the actual tree in Greenwich Park. I always think trees make the best life models. That's because:

1. Trees do a pretty good job holding still.
2. It's never awkward, even though the trees are standing there stark naked.
3. Trees don't complain about the cold.
4. They don't charge you money.
5. The don't complain if you draw them in an unflattering way.

Usually I start drawings with ink lines (sometimes with a few light pencil lines to get going), but this time I had these new Letraset markers and thought I'd play around with them. I skipped using pencil and put down the blue and grey first. Leaves can be tricky, they get in the way of the interesting lines of the tree. So I drew the leave first this time, on top of the colour tone. Then I went in and drew all the black lines. It was a good experiment. I wish I'd added some elements of the background, but my bum was getting sore from sitting on the ground. Also, I find it's harder to make backgrounds look good without cluttering the page, and I chickened out.

Here's a drawing I did a couple weeks ago, using just black ink. I haven't drawn trees for awhile, and I've kind of forgotten how I used to do it. Which is frustrating at first, but also kind of good, because it makes me come up with new techniques. I think I used to focus more on the overall shape of the tree, but right now I'm paying more attention to the textures of the bark. Hmm, I might do another bark close-up for the next one.

So did going out to draw trees today clear all the cobwebs from my mind and make my work on my picture book pencil roughs go smoothly? ...Nope. It was another difficult day. Am I cross about that? Yup.