The Guardian Newspaper 2010
Can you talk about the process of drawing, and your use of line/trace/erasing? There is such movement – the drawings seem built up of the traces and residue of your active observation. Can you talk about this gestural, active markmaking?
My large drawings which are generally about 150 x 190cms are built up of information that is constantly being revised; the drawing becomes a history of previous and present ideas. These large works can take months or sometimes years. Each time I work on them something will change. When something new is introduced then I will have to re-think what is already on the paper, this change gives the trace-like feeling of movement through the layers. Some areas become like an intricate web, other bits become bolder, almost ugly. I like to work on the drawing as a whole, keeping it as fluid as I can, sometimes I can get too sucked into working on one or two parts and when I stand back inevitably some of this then has to be destroyed so that new passages can be developed.
I am constantly re-adjusting the internal balance of the piece by the addition or removal of information.
Tell me about the materials you choose to work with, and if what you are drawing affects your choice?
I do lots of sketches outside in front of my chosen subject I take a board out and a sketchbook and generally use a soft pencil, 4B or 6B sometimes a graphite stick or charcoal, something that I can use for quick notations. Back at the studio on my large finished pieces I either use willow charcoal or conte crayon, compressed charcoal. I pretty well know immediately which picture needs which material. I would say that the building sites are mainly conte crayon and the ones with more dominant figures in them are often charcoal, but this is not a fixed thing, I will just know instinctively which project needs which material. Charcoal is dismissed much easier and is easy to push around, but it doesn’t leave as many marks as conte crayon. That’s much more difficult to rub out. Also it has a range of gradations, I start with a 2B this is quite hard and at the end of the drawing I can use a 4B which will really stand out. When I start the big drawings I will tie a piece on to a cane or the end of a long brush. This is so I can work on the whole of the large paper and not get drawn into working on small areas too soon. Also I can stand back and see all my info and sketches so I can think of the whole composition. I want to keep it lively to start with, you can only really put smallish marks down with this method, but you can reach all of the paper with this, indicating the direction of visual movement around the depicted environment.
Could you talk about light and how you achieve it/build it into your work?
I have an idea from quite early on of one or two areas that I desperately want to keep light, using untouched or rarely touched areas of paper, but as the composition changes this might get shifted about, often there are marks underneath that I have to get rid of. Conte crayon is especially difficult to erase even working really hard on it with a rubber, so sometimes I use sandpaper to rub out a layer of paper. The paper I use is from a Fabriano roll which is good quality, but not particularly thick. This erasing canlead to holes in the paper, which doesn’t generally bother me. I might use a soft white pastel right at the end, but this is a last resort as I don’t want it to stand out too much.
How do you choose the subjects for your artwork – what are you looking for? And what do you draw from?
All my work now is urban, I love being in a big city, seeing the people moving round, the great buildings, the changes and just the energy. I love drawing movement, people moving within the architecture. I believe that people make buildings come to life. I come from quite a small town, but my parents worked in factories and I loved seeing the big noisy machines, the workers within these massive structures seemed small, and I
was fascinated by this. I now draw large stations were people dash about, Grand Central station, Liverpool St. or outside were people and traffic move very quickly, Piccadilly circus, Time square in New York and the physical changes within the city, buildings being demolished and new architecture being made. I have done a lot of work on the new architecture of the City of London and also the Docklands over the years, it’s changed so much. I’m now working on drawings of the Olympic stadium being made, Renzo Piano’s Shard of Glass, I recently went to Dubai and drew the architecture and new metro stations and the Burj Dubai being built. I want to do a series of drawings depicting the different stages in a new buildings life, sometimes we only see the finished structure, but what about all the work, energy, planning and building that goes into these fantastic new structures, the end is just part of the story.
How did you become interested in drawing?
My dad was an electrician in a paper mill and he was allowed to bring paper home, so there was always a lot about, I didn’t have to worry about mistakes etc, I just got another piece. My parents bought me a big Disney book and I just drew and drew from it. I wasn’t allowed to do art at school at exam level as they said I wasn’t good enough, so I just kept on drawing till I got to sixth form college at Accrington were I insisted that I did art. The teachers there were fantastic and as I got introduced to art history a whole world opened up. I went to Liverpool Polytechnic where I was encouraged to draw in the life room and outside in the city working on the spot before going to study in London, both great cities, very inspiring. I have never been interested in colour although I love it in other’s work. If I painted I used the paints very physically, not with colour in mind but just drawing with it around the canvas. I realized that I didn’t need to paint, that my drawings were far more inventive than my paintings, that they were finished pieces in themselves. This was a massive relief. I have started printmaking again, I do etching, but mainly dry point, which is really just drawing with a different implement on metal.
What does drawing mean to you?
It’s impossible to think of not drawing. It’s an equivalent to thought, you just do it, it’s like talking. I can’t say that I go to the studio each day to draw, I don’t. I teach sometimes, I have a family and household tasks but I draw everyday, sometimes it might be on a corner of a newspaper of someone on the tube that I inevitably leave, but it generally doesn’t matter, because it’s part of your thinking process, the way a person stands, their shoes, half a head with an ear, this will all help me with a piece of work sometime later, or just intensely looking at the differences in people sitting next to each other, that’s drawing in a way, thinking of how it might fit in to a piece of people at a station, weighing up possibilities, planning another piece. Drawing, looking, combining ideas, you can’t separate them.