I’ve been asked by a publisher to do some samples for a picture book about birds – it would be a dream job for me as birds are just about my favourite thing to draw. But, perhaps because it feels such a perfect opportunity, I’ve got tangled up in knots trying too hard, and have spent ages doing lots of research, and filling dozens of sheets with all sorts of birds in many poses, media and colours.
It became clear that what I really needed to do was simplify, and loosen up – which is much easier said than done. Then something unexpected intervened: a week or so ago I was at the monthly river cleanup organised by the Wandle Trust, up to my waist in the icy waters of the river Wandle in chest waders, fishing out rubbish with my hands in just a pair of heavy duty rubber gloves. After a couple of hours my hands went numb so I worked on the bank instead. Even after a hot bath back at home my fingers were numb, and a week later the tips of my middle fingers are still numb – and this has affected my drawing style. I normally grip a pencil or pen very hard, but it’s forced my hand too be more relaxed. (Although I do hope my fingers will come back to life soon…)
I’ve also been using a feather to draw with (dipped in Indian ink) – and when I produced this little kiwi I felt I had perhaps cracked something – it’s got the looseness I was aiming for. Last summer I heard Helen Stephens give a talk, and she gave away another tip for how she achieves her wonderful flowing relaxed lines – she stands up when she is working. Another technique to try!