Obviously having a holiday from a PHd is unlikely but the closest I got this summer was a few wet days in Canterbury reading Cloud Atlas and drawing in the crypt of the cathedral. How much of a holiday that is, exactly, reading a different sort of book and drawing a different sort of thing I am not sure. Why draw on holiday? Do all art teachers take drawing things with them? For this trip I took watercolour paper with me and bought another pad of it in Chromos in the city. I drew with pen and a couple with pencil and I got particularly interested in the ancient and very mysterious figures on the columns down in the crypt. These were called jugglers and griffins and so on but they are very weird things. Apparently dating back to 1100. Fun to draw in the gloom and no photography allowed so the only way to get an image is to squint and draw. Will I do something with them? Is there an etching in there? I’m not sure at all and I am not sure the exercise is aimed at that, gathering material. It slows the eye down and forces concentration and looking at something closely and that is enough in itself really. I have lots of these types of drawings from all sorts of odd places. A long standing habit.

When I first got interested in drawing and realised that there was something there that I had to learn how to do, that it was a skill to practice, then I became an inveterate reader of ‘how to draw’ books. This was when I was between twelve and sixteen, when I was working my way through the books in the Anstey library. There were books called ‘How to Paint and Draw’ which showed you everything there was to know about drawing and painting. I practised how to shade and how to make things ‘three dimensional’ and so on. I was fascinated by the possibilities but, somehow, never that brilliant at them. My work always looked a bit, sort of scruffy somehow. Certainly I remember that there were some people who were much better at pencil rendering than I could ever be. I couldn’t really see the point in copying a photograph in graphite. I never really got the fascination with photographic realisation with art materials. This may have been because my Dad is a photographer so my other obsession was getting the f-stops right on my Lubitel 2 (real photographers just use an exposure meter to check they’ve got it right, Paul). Why draw photographically when you can put a roll of Tri-X in your camera?

Probably my favourite ‘How to..’ books were two by the artist and illustrator Paul Hogarth, Creative Ink Drawing (1968 Studio Vista) and Creative Pencil Drawing (1964 Studio Vista). Not only did he have a nice line, a nice loose line, and a very un-photographic manner, he also had a great Romantic back story about fighting in the International Brigades and knocking about Europe after the war and drawing the ruins in Germany. Every drawing had a story to go with it. I even wrote the guy a letter and he was good enough to reply.

Amongst all this ‘advice’ everyone insisted that one should carry a sketchbook at all times. This all coincided with ‘O’ levels and being expected to have a sketchbook. I was thrilled with the A3 spiral bound book I had when I started the ‘O’ level course at Quorn Rawlins. It is a habit that has stuck, on the whole, ever since. My sketchbooks were adored on Foundation and fascinated other students on the degree. And since then I have generally had one knocking about. There are a row of them behind me, A5 Winsor and Newtons.

More recently the habit petered out. I chatted to friends who did not keep books as a matter of course and I started to feel that the books were too closed down and shuttered up, that a lot of energy went into them which could be more productively spent making things that were more out there and exhibitable. I would buy a book and it would not get used, a few drawings at the beginning and a few clippings and then nothing. There seemed less point in keeping a book to have ideas in that I didn’t have time to realise.

Looking at the show in NUCA though, that wall of pictures, I realised where the sketchbook had gone. I had just made it a lot bigger and on lots of bits of paper. The impulse to make work like that, in the way it had been in the old books, when I had a sketchbook habit, was there in the wall of work. With something else as well though, more public and confident.

The sketchbook is now a ‘learning journal’ which is sort of working alongside this blog and a written notebook and a little sketchbook and bits of card and watercolour paper and the etchings and two paintings.

Drawing on holiday seems to have something of that lad carrying a sketchbook all the time, like the books say you should, about it. I resist the temptation to ‘draw interesting characters you might see in the street or cafe’ these days so I might have moved on a bit. Of course, one of the things I am doing is sort of demonstrating to pupils that you should carry a sketchbook with you at all times and that a holiday can provide you with new and interesting drawing opportunities. Whilst I am extremely unlikely to ever deploy these Canterbury drawings in the classroom I am, at some level, perpetuating the same drawing habits that got me going when I was a lad.

Whilst I can see that in some ways this is a good thing I can also see it as being really quite naff. It is part of the half life of the picturesque, clicking away behind notions of how to draw.