Friday, 14 October 2011

DO YOU DRAW? - Dianne Hofmeyr

The best gift I ever received as a child was a box of Faber Castell coloured pencil crayons from my father. It was a tin box and if you pressed the back corners the lid popped open to reveal a layer of crinkly tissue paper and 24 crayons each sharpened to perfection, laid out in a rainbow that gave me my first introduction to names like rose madder, cadmium yellow, burnt ochre, raw umber and burnt sienna… the last two, long before I’d ever heard of the colours of Italian earth. They all had numbers and were faceted with sides of gold that alternated with the colour of the pencil. I know this because I still have the white one… least used and was kept because I read somewhere as a teenager that I should whiten the underside of my nails with a white crayon!
So why the digitally enhanced artwork heading up a writer’s blog on drawing? Firstly it’s the cover of a book I co-authored with Louisa Sherman on Print-making at GCSE level and secondly because there’s been a lot of right and left brain talk recently. Most say pencil and paper wins over digital but with technology so superb that can enable Richard Hamilton to produce this intense portrait of fellow artist Dieter Roth, then all is not lost.
As a former art teacher, pencil and paper are still for me the most direct form of story telling. That’s all any child is doing when they’re drawing. With those very first ‘head-feet’ representations, they’re telling: This is me with my large head and big smiling mouth with teeth and eyes, I eat and I see and (probably no nose…) I don’t care about smell just yet. I’ve arms and lots of fingers (possibly even looking like overgrown tarantulas) because I’m a tactile being and I'm so dexterous I can pick up the tiniest speck. I stand on my own legs (though they’re probably still floating aimlessly on the page or they might just look like one leg to you) because there’s nothing more important than me— its just me, me, ME in this world.
All this the child tells us in a few random but amazing marks he makes on paper. It's his first story.
Cavemen knew something when they were drawing their stories. Not only did they use the cave walls as story boards but they turned story telling into a multi-sound-visual event with dance, music and drumming with firelight and the odd lightning bolt too, adding atmospheric lighting affects. True story-telling and showmanship! In fact they were far closer to the idea of visual story-telling as in film or video than a lot of civilizations who came after them.
After Celia put a post up on notebooks, I went back to mine at random to see if I was trying to tell a story while I drew. I didn’t find any of my really early ‘head-feet’ representations but I found a conte crayon self-portrait done a few weeks before my twentieth birthday. The others are from more recent notebooks.
























The giraffe page became my story of Zeraffa. The date on the page in this notebook is 1999. The book will be come out in 2013. Some stories take longer to infuse than others! But from the notebooks I discovered why I’m a writer rather than an illustrator. I’m an observer. Critical observation is the worst form of editor. It takes away the playfulness and stifles the way I want the story to grow and be ‘more’ than what I see. It seems easier to evoke this magic with words. It doesn’t mean to say I won’t be sitting with scissors and coloured paper like Matissse one day and telling stories of snails and blue dancing ladies when I’m ancient and can’t see too well.
So where is this blog meandering? Do you draw? is the question I began with and how I’ll end. Matisse has been quoted as saying later in life when he took up paper collage... Freedom is really the impossibility of following the same road as everybody else: freedom means taking the path your talents make you take.

Whether you draw with words, or with Faber Castell crayons, or through the lens of a camera, or through digital wizardry, its still story and as long as you do, is all that matters… if we lose the power to use our imagination and to create story we’ll lose what it means to be human. Let’s use all we have… digital and paper, bells and whistles, drums and dance!


12 comments:

Pippa Goodhart said...

I don't draw, but I do think very visually, in a filmic kind of way. And, oh, I envy you the ability to record life as beautifully as you do in your sketch books, Dianne!

Penny Dolan said...

Too stunned at the moment by the reading of all that you've said in this post to make any "furtehring the discussion" type comment - but what a lovely post!

Catherine Johnson said...

Agree. This is beautiful! I am utterly out of the habit and every september imagine I will start life drawing classes but never do *sigh*. Your sketchbooks are wonderful xc

adele said...

I'm with Penny! Am going over to Twitter now to recommend this post! Lovely!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Yes that's what it's like... this feeling that the story is playing like a film reel in your head. If only you can capture it all. Thks for the comments. Feel a bit exposed showing my 20 yr old face to you... such naked innocence! But actually its the blue lady who's really me!!!

malrostan said...

Whenever I need a break from writing, I often draw or paint or make things but for me this is usually a more tactile experience than a visual one.

Sue Purkiss said...

Your notebooks are so lovely, Diane - the Zeraffa one is just gorgeous.

Linda B-A said...

What an inspirational post. I envy you your artistic skills and your experience of coaxing out children's stories as an art teacher. Though it makes complete sense, I'd never thought of drawing in terms of telling a story. What a lot to think about in this post - I love your self-portrait, too.

michelle lovric said...

Beautiful! It would be terrific to publish a series of writers' illustrated notebooks, but only the ones that are as lovely as yours.

Niki Daly said...

Hey! This is a nice surprise. I hope you're still filling a book or two with words and pictures, Di - they will be treasured one day by your grandchildren who will think of you as a grand lady who once traveled across continents on the back of a giraffe.

Antoinette Valsamakis said...

Oh Di, you are so creative in so many different ways. Such a beautiful post from such a beautiful woman. Why don't I see more of you? I am sure this blog will inspire everyone. I cannot draw to save my life but your description of those crayons made me want to buy a set just for the physical pleasure of opening the box and looking at the crayons. Truly inspirational.

Craig Edgar said...

Here's a non critical observation from me, you haven't changed from 20, except perhaps, I know you to smile more! Really enjoyed reading your blog at a solo lunch overlooking the V&A on a sunny day. Craig