Disposable Drawings

Early in my Journey, when I started learning to draw, I reached a place where I had created a ritual around drawing. Each sketch was unique and supposed to be an improvement on the last, like the beginner runner who expects to get faster and becomes despondent when a plateau is reached or gets slower. I had reached a place in drawing where the ‘should’ had become so great that it precluded me from picking up the pencils, and when I did pick them up and draw the self-pressure was intense. I stopped drawing around that time.

Recently I had an urge to draw trees, but not from life as all my previous work had been. I wanted to draw from imagination. So I looked up some tips on drawing trees and started drawing trees.

There’s a line in the Patrick Costello banjo tutorial book, The How and The Tao of Old Time Banjo, that sticks with me as it changed the way that I look at the arts now. I’ve always been an apologist for my lack of art and musical ability. It’s been real easy for me to just pass it off as not having received the gift of drawing and the gift of music. I wasted a lot of years in that belief until I discovered that both art and music can be taught. I should have realised sooner when I took up running and found that I had to learn how to do it. At school I bunked off cross-country but in my early 30’s, following the Couch To 5k program of its time, I went from fat and unfit to running a marathon in a short few years. The education system hadn’t taught me how to run, is it any surprise that it didn’t teach children to draw and to play and understand music?

Patrick’s advice was there right after the first few songs:

“Play this one a couple of hundred times and when you’re ready…” – Patrick Costello

‘Play this one a couple of hundred times’, man that floored me the first time I read it. I was so used to skipping on to the next thing without really grasping or practicing the previous thing. Play a song once, move on. Draw a sketch of something once and then move on. Here was the key to improvisation, practice!

So I decided to apply this advice to drawing and drew some more trees and then moved on to hares and rabbits.

All of the time using pencils I’d appropriated from hotels and drawing in my ‘music’ book, which I use for writing songs and writing out folk tunes in my own notation for banjo.

Next I treated myself to a sketch book and a set of pencils and that’s where things started to go downhill again. I had created a new ritual, the special book and the special pencils. Now each drawing had to be special and they just weren’t. They seemed to be getting worse.

So, to the moral of the story, i decided to make my art disposable. It’s not special, so don’t treat it like it’s special. And once I’ve sketched a couple of hundred rabbits and hares and trees, well, I might just be getting warmed up.

This one’s on a piece of paper out of the printer, I was going to wrap a book in it to post it, just to prove how disposable art is.

Maybe tomorrow.

For now it’s back to the banjo…



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DIY Wrapping Paper 2

Well after the success of the scan and print wrapping paper, it was time to step it up a notch or perhaps two. I have another friend who saw the Crow wrapping paper and, with a birthday coming up in June, wanted to know if she might get some special paper too. Coincidentally I had recently bought a lino printing kit as I wanted to experiment with some of the woodcut style drawings I have been drawing recently. So a plan started to form. My friend is a fire horse in Chinese Astrology so I started sketching out some friendly horses with fiery manes and tails. These we based on a photo I’d taken a couple of years ago of a children’s book that had been discarded and found its way into the gutter near where I used to live.

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Draft 1 actually turned out to be one of the better ones.

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But 5 more drafts later I had the final image in my sketch pad which I then scanned and printed to create my template for the lino. Lino prints are always in reverse of the original drawn design due to the way the outline is transferred from original to lino, using the scan and print method I could have reversed the image in a graphics app and then it would have transferred to the lino the ‘right way’ round. I didn’t, and that’s not an issue for this print, just an observation for next time if it’s needed.

Having printed out the design, the next step is to transfer it to the lino. To do this I went over the lines on the print out with a soft 6B pencil building up a thick layer of lead.

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With the lines I wanted to transfer now highlighted, I lay the design face down on the lino. I used the back of a wooden spoon to rub the back of the paper attempting to transfer as much of the pencil line onto the lino as possible. That done, I removed the paper and traced over the barely visible lines on the lino with a HB pencil to mark where I needed to cut. I tried out each of the selection of cutting blades supplied with the kit and a happy while later, with all fingers still intact, I had cut out the body of the horse and marked out the other edges and border.

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Time for a test print! My lino kit included an ink board, ink and a roller – the process is to roll out the ink on the ink board, working it until it is ready to roll onto the lino.

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Fully ‘inked up’ the horse design took on a life of its own and I was ready to print. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of information ‘out there’ on how to successfully create a print. There are cheap presses with bad reviews and expensive presses with good reviews, there’s talk of rollers and wooden spoons. And no-one is ever sure whether it’s lino or paper on top. I opted for paper on top and a good rub with the back to the wooden spoon – top left print.

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So, not enough ink and a very patchy rub with the spoon. More ink and a more consistent rub with the spoon gave me print two – the top right one. The spoon rubbing was still patchy but the ink was better than the first press.

Press three, bottom left, I tried it all the other way up – paper on the bottom and lino on the top – and just pressed really hard with my hand and pressing all over with my fingers. It seemed to be a good solution. Press four, bottom right, was lacking in ink but still better than the first two.

Prints five to eight suffered from a lack of ink and at some point I converted from pressing with my hands to using the back of the spoon again.

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Prints nine to twelve are another mixed bag – this lino printing is trickier than it looks!

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So, that should be plenty of wrapping paper, thank you Horse!

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What to do with the left over ink? Customise my notebook!

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And finally I created a ‘print’, ready for signing, dating and framing.

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If you’d like a copy of the Lino print wrapping paper then you can download an A4 sized image file here, just print it out to create the wrapping paper. There’s also a version of the wrapping paper with one of the prototype horse designs which you can download here. If you enjoyed the article and love the paper then please consider sending me 99p in thanks here. Enjoy!

DIY Wrapping Paper

Yesterday was a friend’s birthday and I wanted to make it a little more special by creating some personalised wrapping paper for their birthday gift. Now, the first thing you need to know is that Crows feature heavily in this particular friend’s world (see Roving Crows to get an idea how much) and so I wanted to bring that theme into the mix.

Step 1 was to produce the ‘source image’ – the basis for the design and after a couple of attempts I had what I thought would be a good image.


Body shape and wing design prototypes.


The final image, pencil on A4 printer paper. Next step was to scan the picture and create an image file that could be used to create the design.


With the image digitised I loaded it up into SupremePaint Lite, a handy graphics app I downloaded from the Apple Store, and set to creating my design. I did consider having different sizes of crow and also reversing and rotating some of them, but in the end simplicity won the day and my final design was created and printed.


I printed out a handful of pages and sellotaped some together to create bigger sheets to wrap the bottles of wine and then cut out some spare crows to create the gift tags.


And here’s the finished articles ready for the birthday party.

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If you’d like a copy of the wrapping paper then you can download an A4 sized image file here, just print it out to create the wrapping paper. If you enjoyed the article and love the paper then please consider sending me 99p in thanks here. Enjoy!

On Drawing Part 6

So, if Lesson 1 of Drawing was to activate the right-side of the brain and shut down the analytical, symbol wielding left-side of the brain, then Lesson 2 can be summarised as ‘drawing the spaces’. If the conclusion of the first lesson was that the left-brain doesn’t observe it just draws symbols of what it wants you to draw and that by copying upside drawings fools it into handing over control to the right-side, then how do we extend that when turning the real world upside isn’t an option? That’s where drawing chairs starts to become interesting.

Let me explain, pretty much everything has two sides or more specifically every line we draw could be the edge of one thing or another. If it’s the edge of one thing then the left-brain will jump in and say ‘chair!’ or ‘eye!’ or ‘nose!’ and simply draw the age old symbol for that thing. So what we do is to look at that edge and then draw what’s on the other side. And usually, what’s on the other side isn’t something we can label quite so easily and so this is where the right-brain is allowed to come forward to create an accurate representation of that space with no name. So we go from ‘eye’ to ‘bit above the eye with no name’ and ‘bit below the eye with no name’ and guess what? Once those two areas have been drawn, an eye appears between them!

Let’s try with the spaces between the parts of a chair, but before that, let’s remind ourselves of how left-brain draws chairs:

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11th February 2016 – a wicker chair in a B&B in Penzance.

Now some examples where only the spaces between the chair were drawn:

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Chair in Ledbury 15th February 2016 – 4 days later!

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A folding Ikea style chair just another day after.

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And another chair the same day

And another couple of drawings of the same chair on 28th February 2016 – that’s 17 days after the first example about.

Who’s nicked me pint? Something’s afoot!



On Drawing Part 5

“In oneself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, then the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself.”
– J. Krishnamurti
You Are The World

Lesson 1 – Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

And that’s it, pure and simple, the first and most important section of the book is learning how to start drawing with the right side of the brain rather than the left side. The premise is quite simple in that the left side of the brain is the logical side. It’s interested in numbers, words, order and logic. And shortcuts. It gets bored easily if it’s not calculating and evaluating and it’s the left brain’s fault that we, according to Betty Edwards,  all stop drawing at around 12 years old. The right-side of the brain, however, is the seat of our creativity. It doesn’t have words or language and doesn’t understand time. If the conditions are right then the left-side hands over control to the right-side and we can create.

Now, there has been a lot of research lately that suggests the whole idea of a clear cut division between the logical, orderly left brain and the arty, wordless, timeless right side of the brain just doesn’t exist. Brain functions can now be shown to take place in places across the whole brain, not specifically left- or right- brain areas. The current label for what we are talking about as ‘right-brain’ activity is possibly ‘flow’. Flow is said to occur when one gets so involved in whatever task one is doing that time and general awareness diminish as we are totally absorbed in whatever we are doing, like arriving home and not remembering the last part of the journey [more info]. That said, I think left-brain and right-brain are still good descriptions for whatever is occurring when the changeover occurs but if you prefer you can think of it as entering a flow state of mind.

Well that’s the theory, so how do we enter flow or switch to right-side brain work? Let’s dig a little deeper into what happened to our drawing ability when we reached 12 years old and see what clues that reveals. Looking at my pre-instruction drawings (shown in Part 4 of this series) it’s perhaps not fair to say I can’t draw, more perhaps that my drawing ability is that of a 12 year old. That is to say my drawing ability didn’t evolve past that of a 12 year old. Why is that? My writing, my maths and reading all continued evolving and growing as I studied them further to higher standards. Why did drawing stop?

Let’s explore what happened first. According to Betty Edwards, the left-brain began to identify and create ‘symbols’ for things I wanted to draw. In the pre-instruction self-portrait I saw a face and the left-brain said “ah, you need two eyes, don’t bother studying what they look like, I already know. Here’s two eyes on your pad.” And of course those two eyes were drawn as of when I last ‘saw’ and created my eye symbol, probably when I was around 12 years old and I have drawn eyes the same way ever since, and then having seen the eyes I usually draw I have decided I can’t actually draw. Self-limiting belief.


So let’s turn off the left-brain and its symbols and access the right-brain and its ability to see and recreate what is actually there. How do we do that? Exercise 1, copying pictures upside down. By copying pictures upside we immediately turn off the left-brain recognition ability and if it doesn’t recognise what it’s drawing then it can’t throw in a symbol and say “job done”. Rather it reluctantly hands over control to the right-brain to get on with what it considers a boring job of drawing what it sees. I say ‘boring job’ because there’s a time in between giving control to the right-brain and the right-brain entering that flow-state that the left-brain will pester you and keep shouting ‘Boring!’ in your inner ear trying to persuade you to let it take over control again. As long as you are aware this will happen you can ignore it and persevere until that flow-state is reached and you’ll find time disappears as you are wrapped up in the drawing process.

Remember my pre-instruction drawing of a person? Well here it is alongside the results of this first exercise.

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Pre-instruction drawing of a person – what age ability would you say this is 9 years old? Perhaps 10? Drawn on 10th February 2016.

The first drawing of the first exercise:

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So here’s a copy of a Picasso drawn just 2 days later. I’m not saying it’s great but in 2 days I think my drawing ability has progressed by several years.

And the final example also drawn on the same day:

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Again, not a masterpiece but at least a more accurate representation of what I saw rather than the symbols my left-brain usually provides. Perhaps I can draw after all, what a discovery 30 years after receiving the message that I am not artistic and living with that belief.

And if all this is so simple, then why are we not all taught how to overcome the left-brain’s symbol creating tyranny and actually see and draw what is there. Why is it left to the lucky few that seem to be able to do this naturally, without instruction, who are called the gifted artists while the rest of us drop Art and become non-creatives, non-artists? Is it because the world of business doesn’t need too many artists? Let’s churn out worker bees out of the school system, suited for the office or factory. Heaven forbid we create a generation of people who can see the world about them for what it is rather than for the symbols they have been taught.