Tuesday, 17 October 2017

In a Cornish field

We had a week in the late summer visiting the lovely farming relations on the north Cornwall coast. We pitched our tent with a view down the coast towards Land's End, and between the showers there was time to get out a brush and black ink – I'd left the pens behind, intentionally, in London.

The way ink from a bottle is used has to be different from ink from a pen is used, yet my instinct here is largely the same. A few people mentioned the change in "style", but it doesn't feel like that, nor was it meant as that. The forms that can be created to show a tree or hedge seem more suited to a wash of liquid ink than the lines of black pen, as I mentioned in my previous post.

What felt new was perhaps not. They reminded Ms S, who would know these things, of what I was doing in the 1980s. So much for change.

You can see more of my work on Instagram and Flickr.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

With black ink in Wales


Wales was wet when we went there, admittedly. We expected it to be, especially because we were staying under canvas. But I'm not sure it was quite as dark and forbidding as the drawings that I did there looked when viewed in my sketchbook now. I took a bottle of black ink, one waterbrush and one small sketchbook (one of three handmade by Daughter 2 and given to me for my birthday earlier in the year). It's easier to travel light, especially as the laptop with the unfinished dissertation was taking up space in the shoulder bag.


There's something about the landscape that seems to call for broader sweeps of ink than is possible even with a chunky marker pen. The feeling was the same when we visited the Brecon Beacons for New Year a while ago, except then I took green and blue inks as well.


The top two images here are from directly outside our bell tent (complete with woodburner) across the fields towards Cilgerran. This one, above, shows the contorted strata of the headland at Cemaes Head, which is on the cliff path that runs along the Pembrokeshire coast. It may not be the best way to judge a work, but of the three drawings it was the least liked when I posted it on Instagram, and yet it is the one I like most. It's a grim thing to be led by the hunt for "likes". The temptation is almost to try to post something that no one will like at all. I'm inclined to think it would lead to some interesting discoveries about your own work as you set about this task.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Inside the library

Senate House Library, UCL
I'm spending the summer – or most of it – working on my postgraduate dissertation. My research is into the ways that sketchbooks are collected and accessed in the UK's institutions, which means a lot of time spent in galleries, libraries, archives and museums. This may not seem too arduous a task, and I'm not complaining: this is exactly what I am interested in. But time slips by and my old familiar friend the deadline is awaiting me at the end of September, so the pressure is on.

Northampton Square Library, City, University of London

Last week, for instance, I was at the British Film Institute archive looking at the sketchbooks of Derek Jarman. Next week I'm at the British Museum to see the books of Terry Frost and Roger Hilton, among others. I have other visits planned. The field of sketchbook tourism awaits: check the catalogue, arrange a visit to the archive, and get your hands on great sketchbooks. There are many more ready to be seen around the UK than you probably imagine. And while some are better than others, they can be a fascinating insight into not just the work of the artists, designers, architects, filmmakers and others who filled them, but their lives also.

British Library foyer

I'll post a link to my dissertation later in the year, when my data is collected and my research is submitted. Meanwhile, here are a few drawings from inside some of the libraries I have worked in over recent months, while the sun shone outside.

See more drawings here.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Sketchbook show opens at Rabley Drawing Centre

The opening of the Sketch 2017 exhibition of 100 artists' sketchbooks at the Rabley Drawing Centre in Wiltshire was unlike any I had been to before. And I mean that in a good way. Apart from a few fragile sketchbooks behind glass, they could all be picked up and leafed through, some placed on shelves around the wall, others in a multi-sided bookcase. That sounds dangerous for a packed private view, and so precautions were taken: no drinks in the room with the books, and protective gloves for everyone handling the books. (But gloves or no gloves? There's a debate about which is best.)

I have two sketchbooks in the show, one A6 sized (above) and one A5

Sketchbooks, perhaps because they close shut, seem to demand an invitation from the owner before they are studied. To go unbidden between the covers of someone's sketchbook feels like an invasion of privacy. But here, deliciously, were 100 sketchbooks – two of them mine – declared free for consumption. We all worked our way around the room, flicking gently through the pages with gloved hands.

A lot of those people present were the 70 represented artists keen to see how others fill the pages of their books. The diversity was marked. Sketchbooks come in so many sizes and formats, homemade and shop-bought, huge and tiny, pristine and studio-scarred, stuffed and minimal, observational and experimental. If we say there is an average of 40 images in each sketchbook, that means the modestly sized gallery at Rabley Drawing Centre currently has about 4,000 works of art to examine.

How would this have compared with viewing the sketchbooks digitally? Much of the enjoyment of the show was the weight and feel of a book in the hands, the textures and smells even of the mediums used and fixatives added, and the chatter and interaction as people mixed around the room. Seeing them digitally would be better than not seeing them at all, but it would be a different experience.

The exhibition continues at Rabley Drawing Centre, which is near Marlborough in Wiltshire, until 17 June, before it goes on tour. There's more information about the tour and participating artists here.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Selected for Sketch Open 2017

I'm happy to say I've had a couple of sketchbooks selected to be shown in the Sketch Open 2017 drawing prize exhibition at Rabley Drawing Centre, near Marlborough, Wiltshire. The show of 100 books starts there in May, and then goes on tour. I'm grateful to be included in such great company.

Rabley Drawing Centre, Marlborough, 21 May-17 June 2017
Black Swan Arts, Frome, 22 July-3 September 2017
Plymouth College of Art, 9 September-6 October 2017
Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster University, 20 November-15 December 2017

Friday, 3 March 2017

Routes through a sketchbook

One of the intriguing aspects of drawing in a sketchbook is how, assuming the book is drawn in from front to back in chronological order, a narrative builds up over time. I did this, then I went there, then I drew that. The thread of your life unwinds, sometimes accurately and comprehensively, sometimes less so. Images may fall into an order that seems rather haphazard, but that is the order in which events unfolded. The travel sketchbooks hold together best: such as the one that contains the drawings of a Spanish seaside town over 20 consecutive pages that we visited one summer, or the evolving journey taken on a drive south towards the sun. A theme can build up, but this isn't always so.

James Hobbs, Hampstead Heath, London

Most of my sketchbooks, however, contain drawings gathered sporadically over time depending on where I find myself with a chance to draw. They are usually drawings of London, because that is where I live. But London is lots of places, not one. Subjects leap about from one page to the next. Drawings are in the book because there was the time and opportunity to draw each one, rather than because of a specific goal to consciously record every step of every day. That may be the way some people work, but not me.

 James Hobbs, the Embassy of Ecuador, London, home to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
All of the drawings in this post are in one incomplete sketchbook from this year. All are of inner London, some almost rural, others overtly politcal, or architectural, or both. The demonstration by Downing Street captures a local moment (the newly inaugurated President Trump's travel ban) of an international movement that will perhaps be remembered in 50 years' time. A few pages away is a drawing of a group of trees on the edge of Hampstead Heath that hold no such significance at all. They happened to be there when I had the chance to draw. I simply liked the way the composition fitted together and how they let me play with the kinds of marks the winter foliage suggested.

James Hobbs, the view east from Tate Modern's Switchhouse
And so life zigzags its way along. Embedded in each drawing are the deeper stories that perhaps only I, and my friends and family, will recognise, such as why I was somewhere, and who I was with. We choose what we draw, and we choose what we don't. Perhaps the real significance of what ends up in our sketchbooks only becomes truly apparent years after we have filled them.
James Hobbs, Downing Street, London:
a march against Trump's travel ban

There are more of my drawings on Instagram and you can follow me on Twitter.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Two things: a Dutch book and a magazine

Pen and Ink is out in Dutch now, published by Librero. You can buy it here. It features the drawings of 34 artists from around the globe, who all, surprise surprise, use pen and ink in one way or another. It was published in the UK (Frances Lincoln) in 2016, and also in French, German, Spanish and Portuguese.

The second thing is that I have an article about sketchcrawls (that means getting together to draw on location as a group) in the April 2017 issue of the Artist magazine, out now. There's a link to the article here.

You can see more of my drawings @jameshobbsart.