I was reading an interview in the local paper about a very good artist, Nils Burwiz, who has lived in Mallorca for many years and who is now holding a retrospective exhibition in Pollensa, the other side of the island from Palma. He made a remark that rang a bell with me.
In reply to a question as to whether he still went out and about, drawing book in hand, he replied that he did. He then added, “This type of drawing appeals to me because it is unrepeatable later in the studio.”
I started thinking about my own drawing books, and realised that I too have virtually never gone back to a drawing and used it in the studio. I can only think of one that I did because I needed the image for a silverpoint I was doing and at that time, there was no handy IPhone camera, even if I had wanted to use it. (I find, in any case, that drawing from photos is very fraught as half the detailed information tends to be lacking.).
Out of curiosity, I found some drawing books with which I had travelled or which I take out with me. I was somewhat surprised at what I had drawn; life then has passed on. Many brought back wonderful memories because they are more vivid as reminders than a written journal. One knows instantly where one was sitting, the weather, the sounds, the sensations.
When I first took up art seriously, my kind mentor, Jeanne Nelson Szabo, suggested that while I was travelling around the United States with my husband, Rundle, in a motor home, I should sit in the passenger seat and draw quick impressions of scenes flashing before me as we drove along. A type of shorthand, in pen and ink and a touch of pastel colour. Trying to get the essence of a scene before it vanished. It was a good exercise, particularly as I was really very much a novice artist.
Later, as I travelled with Rundle, he photographed and was very patient while I drew. I found it rather frustrating that he could taken umpteen beautiful photos while I could only achieve perhaps one drawing! But it was worth while. Now, looking at some of the drawings again, I am glad I persisted, even though I have never used any of them in my finished art. They were, if nothing else, good practice for eye and hand at times when more sustained work was not possible.
These, for instance, are some drawings from an omni-present drawing book on trips to Italy.
As I was drawing at this amazing, windswept site, with paragliders soaring and whooping overhead after they hurled off the nearby high cliffs above the roiled sea, I was very aware that I was sitting where Phoenicians, Punics and then Romans had come ashore, walked and lived down the ages. It was a wonderful sun-swept place.
2005 was still a time when seafood was so easy to find and enjoy. Harbours were busy with small and larger fishing vessels put-putting in and out to sea. and always, in Sardinia, there was the backdrop of the wonderful mountains plunging to the sea.
On another later trip, I was again - as so often the case in Italy - walking the lands peopled since Roman times. This trip, however, took me to Matera, Basilicata, where an extraordinary luminous honeycombed world hewn out of golden calcareous rock, known as the Sassi, has been inhabited since Palaeolithic times, up to 3 plus million years ago. It is the 2019 Italian host city for the European Capital of Culture. No wonder, for this amazing amphitheatre world of hewn rock encompasses museums, wonderful early churches (with beautiful acoustics), luxurious hotels with every room deep into the rock - a city of surprises and delights. Yet prior to the 1950s, the Sassi was a notoriously poor, downtrodden, pestilential and run-down area. Writer Carlo Levi, exiled by Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime to a town near Matera, wrote about its appalling conditions in his 1935 book, Christ Stopped at Eboli, published in 1945, Levi ended by saying: “I have never seen in all my life such a picture of poverty.” The Italian Government was shamed into doing something to improve conditions. Now, Matera is spruced up, very much in fashion, and humming. Nonetheless, it is an extraordinary place, where the ravine, “La Gravina”, sweeping down to the river, turns refulgent gold as the sun sets.
Trying to capture the scene as the sun is rapidly sinking and throwing the deep gorge into shadow was a challenge! The light there was memorable at any time of the day.
Everywhere I went, there was so much history that I found fascinating.
The landscape too, as you travel west through the vast, sun-baked mountains and stony valleys of summer-time Basilicata, is as dramatic as it was in Matera.
I was staying in a mountain village, Neopoli, founded in the 8-7th century BC, at an artist residency. When I look at drawings I did there, I can still feel the searing heat and hear the song of the cicadas. It was just as well I was using Prismacolor pencils for the drawings as the days were hot and sticky, and any other drawing tool would have smudged badly!
None of these drawings has come into my finished art, but like Nils Burwitz, I keep drawing as I go out and about if it is at all possible. It is a wonderful way to get to know places.