Like millions of others, I draw. Scribble, scribble, scribble. Faces, trees, buildings, streets. Why? It’s an impulse. I can’t help myself. And doing it makes me happy. And as I get older I get more interested in impulses, and in what makes us happier. Up to now, drawing has been my private space and has been since childhood. One way or another, I draw most days, even if it’s a doodle on the edge of a newspaper; most weeks there are pictures which have taken an hour or more. They used to be drawn in diaries, or whatever blank paper was handiest. Now they are often on my iPad. In a good year, there will be a week or two when I can actually get out into the open air with a grimy bag full of oil paints and a canvas, or piece of wood, and make a bigger picture. Then, I am at my happiest. There will be problems ahead. A gust of wind overturns the sticky, paint-loaded canvas and carries it jam-side down, onto a patch of mud. Flies attach themselves to my clouds, expiring in Flake White. Rain spatters. I huddle under a tree, but the spattering gets heavier. More important, there will be the personal failures to come. I’ll spend too much time struggling with some detail, and somehow it will end up a dibbydabby incoherence. Or slowly, over the course of a few hours, it will become all too apparent that my original drawing, the structure of the picture, is simply not strong enough. It must be thrown away. This is a real failure. Failure in drawing is a failure in skill; but more often a failure of courage.
Meanwhile, however, time’s arrow seems to have been frozen in mid-air. The boil and bubble of agendas, to-do lists, deadlines, unanswered emails, meetings to be arranged, shopping lists – the press of the hours and minutes we all feel – vanishes. The Things That Must Be Done simply wander off for a while and stand grunting quietly under a tree while I look, and draw, and mix, and brush, and look and mix, and look…
I’ve lost count of the number of times that my arms seem to have turned hot red with sunburn, and I simply hadn’t noticed. Once the light has changed too much, or the picture seems to have finished itself, I’ll wipe brushes, screw the tops back onto the tubes, try to clean the palate, and carry everything home again. Mostly I will be wondering, yet again, why any combination of colours, smeared across hands, eventually becomes a particular shade of sludge green? Sweating and my eyes itchy with too much strained looking, I will walk back, sometimes with a sketchpad and bag of pencils, sometimes with an oily canvas sack and a sticky board. Any good? Have I learned something? Remembering Samuel Beckett, have I failed better?
Oddly, even if the answer turns out to be no – and the answer is only clear an hour later, when I’ve cleaned up and gone back to look at the picture – I am completely happy. The book is a short book about drawing but really, it is a book about happiness.
A Short Book About Drawing by Andrew Marr is published by Quadrille and is available to buy on Hive here
Text © Andrew Marr 2013