Drawing On Inspiration

Monday 9 July 2018

If you're young, strong, sexy and creative, with ideas growing in your hair and sprouting from every orifice of your body then pay attention. Turn off your iPod, unplug the PlayStation just for a moment and save the football onto Planner.

I want you to consider this, if you don't use those great ideas, if you don't nail them down now, as they happen, they're going to disappear like the morning mist. Just think of it, all those wonderful schemes and plans, all those extraordinary concepts, all your muses and wonderful personal takes on the world… lost. Sadly that is what happens to most people's ideas. However it doesn't have to be like that. There is a way, there is a technique of nailing them, of quickly and easily creating a neural pathway of snapping synapses from your concept back to a simple drawing.


This is the power of visual information, quite different from any other kind of information, it's possible with a quick sketch of no more than three or four lines to create a totem that will remind me of the original idea. I no longer need to remember the idea, I no longer even need to keep the sketch.

The drawing becomes a part of my visual memory system my visual database. I draw in order to put down ideas for the future. A little bit like saving for the future, you put visual shapes and forms away on your personal visual database.


Later, much later, sometimes in my case 40 years later, I can sit quietly in my studio searching for an answer to solve a current problem; Mary's new chair, the shape of a chair leg, a new type of drawer handle, I have lots of problems running at the same time. I put my mind into random search, I clear out all distractions and focus, I put on a creative playlist and listen to music. Music mind you, no words or lyrics that I can understand, I doodle, scribble, draw and if I work it right and have input the problem correctly, out from the end of my pencil pops this strange image, seemingly unconnected to me coming out of nowhere but in fact created 40 years ago linking me straight back to that young vital concept. This is the power of drawing.

The more you draw, the more you see, your sense of perception is literally enhanced by the act of drawing and you do actually see more. I've come out of the drawing class, climbed into my car to drive home across roads and fields that I've seen every evening for 20 years, yet this time I see them with greater clarity and intensity. I have access to some of the best ideas now as an old man than I first had when I was five or six. I'm still using visual forms that I discovered when I was at art school, drawing classical sculptures in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Acute visual memory, the kind of hard intense looking done by trained eyes, is a very powerful tool.

Life drawing

I use life drawing for my personal visual exercise. Finding people prepared to stand naked for two hours in a drafty life room is difficult and expensive. But drawing the human form is one of the most testing and complex visual things that one can do. The human form is probably at the root of my furniture making, the shapes, the complexity of how we balance the wonderful mechanism that is the human body. I don't draw to make drawings, I draw in order to see and to understand what's in front of me. I can go into a life drawing session feeling tired and crabby yet emerge in one sense exhausted but in another, calm and elated. The act of drawing is a kind of active meditation, it enables one to become calm and focused and very effective. I ask students to observe how they feel when drawing, to observe that state of mind, to see it.

The most effective students on our one-year course are those who have taken on the challenge of learning how to draw. Learning to draw is not hard, but it is demanding. The challenge is that drawing, whilst being important, will never be urgent. There will always be some sanding or dovetailing that's more urgent. The very best way to learn drawing is to do a small amount every day. I ask my students to do at least 20 minutes five days a week. It doesn't really matter what you draw, you can find interesting lines and shapes in the way the handle of a tea cup engages the surface of the side of the cup, that is, if you have the eyes to see. Starting to draw is a bit like going to the gym, after a few visits your body loosens up and the process starts to get easier. You see the benefits a few weeks later as your hand begins to respond to the image in a direct way without the control of your head.

Thought control

Avoiding 'thought control' is very important, drawing is an action controlled by the right side of the brain. In order to draw you need to close down the dominant left-brain. This is the side of your head responsible for logic, mathematics and language. It's most important in the drawing studio that no language enters other than visual language, such as, 'I want this line a little higher' or 'this is too long, this is too short.' The left side of your brain is a centre of intuition, of visual thinking and of musical thinking. Don't allow the left side of your brain to have any place in the drawing studio.

Put it to sleep, stop the chatter ignore the words and just get on with the drawing.

How to begin

If you were learning to drive you wouldn't climb into a Formula 1 car and press the go pedal. So when you're learning to draw, don't take on the world just yet. Start by drawing simple objects with straight lines. Still life is called still life because it doesn't move, so begin there. Make it simple for yourself. Don't rest your drawing board on your knee, it's much easier to draw something if the board is alongside the object. Place the drawing board on an easel and keep the board upright. Later, when you understand a bit more, you can lose the easel.

The humble pencil

The cheap and humble pencil is the Ferrari of mark-making implements. It's extremely responsive, it's fast, it goes around corners and has an expressive quality that's incomparable. Thom, our young digital artist here at Rowden, uses a digital tablet to control his computer. He's been using it for over three years so is pretty slick with it, but it's not a pencil, it hasn't got the feel and responsive quality of pencil on paper, it doesn't feedback information to the hand like a cheap pencil does. So you're just going to have to learn to drive this Ferrari. Don't go crashing it. Play with it. We can all learn to draw well enough to connect ourselves back to every visual idea that we'e ever had. Avoid the morning mist; take up the pencil and play.

Presenting ideas

Of course this also plays into and helps the presentation of your ideas to clients. If you can draw you can show your ideas in a much more convincing manner. I use watercolours and give my clients two different designs to consider. An elevation and plan are scale drawings on watercolour paper and a perspective drawing if I need to do one to explain the idea.

About seven years ago I thought I'd better learn CAD. I spent over a year burning brain cells to learn AutoCad. I had a vision of opening my laptop and showing a client this virtual piece of furniture spinning around. I thought I was such a whiz. Thankfully, I showed my idea to a valued client and friend who said, 'David don't do this, it looks so artificial, we all love the feel that an artist is in control of our projects, this is awful.' I limped away feeling such a prat. CAD is a great tool but not yet a creative tool, the Ferrari pencil is still faster and better.