Conceptualism for non-profit.

I’ve occasionally wondered what an exhibition of a whole year’s artistic output might look like. Well, the quality would be shockingly uneven (to say the least) but I suspect most non-practitioners might be impressed by the sheer quantity of it, if not necessarily the point. Quite how I’d display all those crucial hours spent staring vacantly into space waiting for a spark of inspiration I’m not sure – have them cast in bronze, perhaps?

It’s a vain and self-indulgent fantasy of course, and would be a recipe for guaranteed critical and commercial catastrophe were such an ill-conceived show ever to be mounted. This wholly conceptual and undeniably narcissistic notion tends to occur to me during particularly frenetic periods of work while I’m toiling long into the night, largely sustained by my personal holy trinity of deadline-fear, coffee and US stand-up comedy on Spotify. The internal dialogue (expletives deleted) goes something like: “Crikey, look at me – I’m churning it out and no mistake!”

There was a project recently for instance, which arrived in my in-box during one of these busy periods, which I casually accepted in spite of a relatively demanding turnaround schedule and the fact that it required a total of thirty-six individual black & white illustrations. The magic words in that sentence, from the illustrator’s point of view, are ‘black & white’. There’s a misguided belief, which I’m old but clearly not yet wise enough to have grown out of, that black and white illustrations can be knocked out in a mere fraction of the time it would take to produce full colour. Why I persist with this deluded notion is beyond comprehension; the composition, sketching and final drawing (ie. most of the process) is exactly the same. Less surprisingly, clients seem to enthusiastically share this delusion, and adjust fees accordingly… but I digress.

To get back to the point, I somehow managed to shoe-horn this job into the slack time that I’d set aside for trivial indulgences such as sleeping and eating and the resulting illustrations, collected together on a single sheet, are here:

I thought that compiling them in this way for the benefit of the blog might be a cute idea and provide a visual taste of what a mere fraction of a ‘year’s output’ show might look like but now that I’ve done it I’m not so sure, especially considering the likely illegibility at this size and the prosaic content. Count yourself lucky though – I was seriously considering showing you the rough sketches too. My hypothetical twelve-month retrospective, in its purest form, would naturally include every sketch and scribble committed to paper or screen. What a vision of hell.

On the subject of sketches (our raison d’être here at Drawstring, folks!), here are a couple more from the non-commissioned zone. First off is another self-portrait in which, yet again, I’ve managed to portray myself as some kind of psychopathic axe-murderer. The furrowed brow is actually just concentration but it does create an unfortunate effect.

I’m actually a real pussycat – honestly – but am reassured that, when it comes to poker-faced self-portraits, I’m in esteemed company. Take, as a topical example, Gaugin – the subject of a blockbuster new exhibition at Tate Modern that the media has been purring over since it opened. Now there was a guy you wouldn’t necessarily have over to dinner if his grim-faced self-portraits were your only guide to his character, whereas in reality, as we know, he was a lascivious good-time Charlie who spent most of his time away from the easel, cavorting on the beach with comely Tahitian girls. I haven’t seen the show yet but it’s on until mid-Jan so there’s still plenty of time.

These days the sketchbook accompanies me whenever we make one of our occasional cultural jaunts to London, to be whipped out on the return train journey the moment a fellow passenger dozes off or otherwise unknowingly assumes the role of life-model. Lynn is particularly susceptible to the soporific effects of late-night rail travel and duly conked out over a less-than-riveting paperback on our way home from a recording of R4’s News Quiz at the BBC.

We were in London again a couple of days later for the final performance of the 2010 season at the Globe Theatre – a brilliant, triumphant version of Henry IV pt 2, since you asked. This time the rail journey back to Brighton was spent in conversation with the friends who had accompanied us so the sketchbook never made it out of the bag. Considering the fact that I only relatively recently re-discovered the spontaneous sketching habit, I was surprisingly disappointed.

Sorry readers, it’s that time again. Even I can find my evangelising on behalf of the Brushes app slightly tiresome but it’s still got me under its spell. Here are the latest efforts; another self-portrait (already installed as new Facebook profile pic), the distinctive roof adornment from Brighton’s beloved independent cinema the Duke of York’s and, er, a made-up and extremely stylised nude lady.

Talking of Facebook, have you seen ‘The Social Network’ yet? Fascinating story, compellingly told. And doesn’t the fact that Facebook has only been around since 2003 just make your head spin?

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