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A Short Book about Drawing

It is not often that you come across a book about drawing that emphasises the sheer enjoyment that the activity can bring. Andrew Marr, the well-known political commentator, had just finished writing a book on the subject when he suffered a life-threatening stroke. Drawing then became one of the means by which he was to make his recovery.
Marr has always drawn. He drew as a child and didn’t give up in adolescence when many do, frustrated by a supposed lack of ability. He was encouraged by his parents and his schools, and developed an interest in the subject before his career took off in a different direction. Every drawing student will know that perseverance must be part of his or her armoury; it doesn’t pay to be too critical and you must not give in to frustration. He writes, “When I look back at all those hours and days drawing and painting, it is all sunny, even when it was really cold and raining and I was cursing myself for my lack of competence.”
Many OCA students – who now in later life are coming back to the art that they wished they had followed at an earlier stage – will appreciate this. Standing in a chilly field in February trying to come to terms with the aerial perspective project that has to be to sent in for their next assignment, they too will possibly be reflecting on the happiness the activity brings.
Andrew Marr tells of enjoyable days with his parents going around the Royal Scottish Academy Summer exhibitions commenting on the work of artists who were old favourites, along with finding exiting discoveries by younger artists at the beginning of their careers. A life spent as a political correspondent took him around the world and the book’s illustrations show the experiences of the traveller as he record the people and the views found in distant cities and in far off fields, hotel rooms and airports. Marr draws the Chinese translator using her mobile as she sits in the car and the delivery boy on his rickshaw who cycles off before the picture can be finished. People seem to know when they are being drawn and you have to develop a fast approach to catching the image before they move away. Other sketches are of street scenes, back gardens and vistas found in his local park and the holiday beach scenes with his family.
Strong winds play havoc with oil paintings and he describes spending an hour picking out flies and pieces of grass when the canvas is blown over by a strong gust of wind. Nothing daunted he continues painting, the process being to “…look and draw and mix and brush and look and mix and look…” which is an activity all too familiar to the OCA student struggling with the practicalities of painting.
He brings to our attention the fact that drawing is a source of happiness not because it is easy but rather because it is hard and it makes you think about seeing rather than simply seeing. As a language it is older than written language – with a few stokes of the pen an accomplished artist can create a description that would take a similar writer many pages: “…I draw, he draws, she draws, we draw, that’s all the conjunction needed…” . It is an appropriate summing up.
Andrew Marr’s enjoyable book is on the reading list and will give encouragement and inspiration to those students embarking on a degree in Painting, as well as to those simply following a course in drawing for the sheer pleasure it affords. He concludes, “If I was younger and sillier I’d start all over again… not to have a career but to be a more interesting – that is a more interested – human being.”

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Posted by author: James Cowan
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5 thoughts on “A Short Book about Drawing

  • It sounds a really interesting book. I had no idea he drew. I don’t know if drawing makes you a more interesting person, but it certainly makes things like travelling on the bus more interesting. Coming home today, after a day drawing in the museum, I looked out of the bus window and noticed all sorts of juxtapositions of shapes that would make interesting drawings or paintings. It was actually quite exciting. I couldn’t help noticing that the woman in front of me was browsing handbags on her Samsung and then messaging a friend, presumably to tell her about the handbags. Maybe that was exciting for her.

  • I heard Andrew Marr talking about this on the radio and also about continuing to draw after his stroke. Very inspiring. Drawing is such a fantastic way of being in the world. thanks for putting this back on my reading list.

  • This was the first book i read on the reading list for my course. It is gentle, easy to read and a personal view that i found made a pleasant transition into learning more about and doing more drawing and painting in a structured way. As an outsider to the artworld i could identify with his need to squeeze drawing and painting around another profession. I did find his use of the ipad, while convenient and supported by the likes of Hockney, lacking in the range of marks possible compared to traditional media and the colours too smooth and bland. This book provides a view from someone well known, working like many of us primarily in another field and it sits uncomfortably and in contrast to the more theoretical and practical ‘serious’ reading of other books on the reading list such as Drawing Today by Godfrey, Contemporary Drawing by Davidson, Drawing Projects by Maslen and Southern and Vitamin D by Dexter. These other books provide detailed information on different approaches to drawing, different media and a wide variety of artists that can help to increase our understanding of the possibilities and context of drawing. Like many of us Marr has had a lifelong interest in the subject and fitted it in around his work. So why is Marr included on the reading list? What is so special about his own personal journey into art? Or is that precisely why he was included?

  • I think Andrew Marr’s book is life affirming. It documents his interest in the visual arts and in the traditional practice of drawing. There are many instructional books on the market of course as well as books on contemporary art practice but as his experience mirrors many of our own students, its inclusion seems quite appropriate.

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