I’ve had art making on my mind. How one makes art. How one arrives at making art. A vague and fluid region – as the nun trilled about Maria in The Sound of Music, ‘How do you pin a wave upon the sand?’.

A grand old artist told me recently how, in his youth, he had not felt any natural talent for drawing. And he had to work hard at it. ‘Coming around to it from the side,’ he said. Through a side door. (Note: He draws magnificently.) And how ‘natural facility can become its own problem’ as in the easy example of Brett Whiteley. (Who, I think, could draw and paint and sculpt like an angel – and a portion of whose work can look just a little self-satisfied. See his touring show.)

The remarks reminded me of an artist at a life drawing class. He frankly admitted he couldn’t draw realistically; his aim was to make interesting marks – in other words, an interesting picture. So he went about it in odd ways – through the side door. Often he’d have a stack of A4 sized card, pre-painted with washes of colour, or recycled and marked from previous use. (Once, his tools included a staple gun.) Then he’d work very quickly during the pose, with charcoal and brush, dashing around the room to several positions. The rest of us concentrated at our easels. By the time the model was released and we stood back to view the damage, he’d have a swatch of four or five pieces on the ground before him, from which he would cull. It was a regular demonstration of how to make use of what you have, of focused exertion to gain what some take for granted. When his method hit its mark (quite regularly) the result was vivid and expressive, with a payoff entirely different than from patient accuracy. Here’s an example:


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