MY OLD DIARIES and sketchbooks sit on a shelf in the attic and it’s only on odd occasions, such as looking up the details of my first meeting with Stan Barstow (see previous post), that I take a look at them. While I have my 1972 diary down here by the scanner, I can’t resist showing you a few more of the drawings from it. I can see the influence of Victor Ambrus in my pen and Indian ink drawing (above).
In some ways I prefer these playful attempts to catch the events of everyday life to my self-concious efforts as an art student.
College work, films, television programmes, concerts, books and my dreams all appear in the diary. The Marx Brothers and Dr Who keep cropping up and this Jon Pertwee episode from a story of a 30th century World Empire, screened on Saturday 8 April 1972, seems appropriate as it involves a capsule from the Time Lords which ‘can only be opened by the one for whom it is intended’.
Before watching that episode of Dr Who, I’d been browsing the secondhand books on Wakefield Market and climbing Storrs Hill ‘the hard way’ (right).
I wish that my time capsule of a diary could be more of a two-way process as I’d have one or two pieces of advice to my younger self!
Looking at a diary is a different experience to looking back at one of my sketchbooks. Drawings in my sketchbooks bring back memories of particular places or incidents but as the diary is more about what I was thinking it makes me remember what it felt like to be me. Unlike the sketchbooks, the diaries were never intended to be seen by my tutors as part of my college work nor were they ‘secret diaries’ full of angst. Almost all the drawings were drawn from memory as I wrote up each day’s events.
It was the year of my 21st birthday and in the September I started at the Royal College of Art. After a few weeks, on Wednesday 4 October, I came up with an ambitious idea for a painting that would take me, on and off, the rest of my 3 years in the Illustration Department to complete:
I did some sketching of plants and birds in the Conservatory. Well it wasn’t too bad doing them in ink. But, after lunch I decided I would have a go with my designer acrylic gouache. A disaster. Perhaps it was too hot to work with paints. But the difficulties; of making the brush go where you want it to – you can’t push it; of mixing the paint and of having no black or white.
I gave up and stormed down to the room (like Van Gogh returning from a cornfield) and did a sketch from imagination of the proposed identification chart which I thought that I might do as a large painting – in emulsion of course!
Tutorial: ‘Cheat like mad!’
I favoured emulsion because I was so used to using it for scenic painting. Fortunately painting tutor Bateson Mason persuaded me that acrylics would be more suitable. From then on the illustration tutors had to make there way up to my room at the Kensington Gore building if they wanted to keep up with my painfully slow progress on the 4ft x 8ft acrylic on chipboard painting. I remember Bryan Robb chuckling and heartily endorsing Quentin Blake’s advice to ‘cheat like mad’. That’s my natural history illustration tutor John Norris Wood on the right.
I particularly like this drawing of me busily finishing an overdue article for Yorkshire Life in my narrow room at the college hostel at Evelyn Gardens, South Kensington, only 10 minutes walk from the college. It brings back that feeling of having a room of my own for the first time and having lots of time allocated to creative work.
Mid-term, I was invited back to Yorkshire for the Morley Operatic production of Pickwick, to see the scenery for that I’d painted during the summer vacation (how did I fit that in?!). You can see, in this entry from my diary for the following day, when I had time for a walk around the valley, that after just two months in London I was glad to be back home and that I was feeling a nostalgic pull from my home patch.