- Roger Howard + Rae
Roger sent in the drawing of pots on his sister's patio:
I was really moved by this drawing, and wanted to discuss Roger's 'process' a bit more with him. Especially to try and share with other people a bit about what is behind a drawing like this. What is involved. Because of lockdown I decided to approach Roger through an email conversation / interview, and this is the outcome. Please take some time to sit quietly and give this your full attention, this post is the groove of SLOW CONSUMPTION - this is the opposite of 'bite-sized' pieces of information and short social media bulletins. This is really considered reflection, so we should honour that in how we prepare ourselves to engage with the material. Enjoy:
Q1 How long have you been drawing? And what were your early experiences of drawing?
Since childhood, from the age of around seven on eight. My older sister was good at drawing, encouraged by our mother, so I had to get a look in. One of the first (tiny) paintings I did was of our cat curled up in front of the fire.
I started to play around with images, as they always fascinated me. How could someone do something by hand that looked so real?
I enjoyed art at secondary school and wanted to carry on with it to ‘O’-Level, but missed out on enrolling for the class for some reason. I knew that it was popular and was seen as being an ‘easy’ option and an excuse to ‘skive off’ other subjects requiring more effort! I’ve always felt that I missed out.
Q2 Do you consider yourself as an Artist - has that always been the case?
I find it hard to call myself an Artist (with a capital “A”), as I always considered ‘them’ to be a breed apart, cleverer people than me, with some special talent or with something profound to say about the world. I was coerced into doing sciences, as that was the mood of the times, and was told that I would have to be exceptional to be able to do anything in the arts.
The thought of art as a means by which I could express myself only came up seriously again when I left college and got a job. I was in London and could go to galleries and drawing and painting classes, picking up some knowledge, skills and techniques along the way. I was always daunted by how talented and dedicated other people were, so it was always a bit of a challenge.
I was always drawn to works that were expressive in some way, where I could either see the skill or the ‘hand’ of the artist at work or where some kind of feeling was being expressed. I’m fascinated by the mystery of it and why it produces such a response in me – is it the colours used, the subject matter, the style of painting, the bits that are left ‘unfinished’ – the bits I have to fill in myself? I had sessions with and art therapist in my late 30s, which helped me explore my feelings and expression and have continued looking at and playing with materials and techniques since.
Q3 You have a very 'classical' style - is that something that comes naturally or have you worked on getting a style you want?
The big turning point in my art education came by sheer chance (it felt like ‘synchronicity’ at the time!) when I was in my late twenties and was looking for a picture for my bedroom. In my lunch hour from my job as a (not-very-good) cartographic draughtsman, I went into Medici Galleries off Bond Street and was surrounded from floor to ceiling by prints of every size and style, Tucked high above me to the right was a small framed print of a watercolour of apples and pears by Paul Cézanne.
I knew straightaway that that was the one I had to have. It had such simplicity and purity about it, with a strange composition and perspective and using streaks of colour to denote form and structure. It was £25, a lot of money at the time, and I asked if could order just the print and have it framed myself. The woman on the counter said she would search for it and give me a call if she found it. I didn’t expect to hear anything, but she did phone me a couple of days later to say that she had found it and that I could go and collect it. I have looked and looked at that picture over the years and cannot describe the feelings it brings up in me. Whatever they are, they feel quite profound!
That was the start of my real passion for discovering more about the artist – the so-called “Father of Modern Art”. My style, such as it is, has developed from there. I love how colours and forms can work together and how depth and volume can be created as much by what you add as by what you leave as bare paper or canvas. Cézanne was a master of expression and I have seen his work in the original whenever I have had the chance. I even made a little pilgrimage to his studio in Aix-en-Provence to discover more about his life and inspiration. He built on classical techniques after much study and played with perception, subverting natural perspective and depth, mainly by choosing what he would focus on and looking at objects from different angles and by juxtaposing warm and cool colours to create depth. There is so much to see in one of his paintings and you always discover something new each time you look – the sign of a really great artist.
Q4 What inspires you most?
I studied geology at university and have always been interested in landscape and nature in general, especially the human impact on both. People have always been fascinating too; how they appear and how they relate to each other and how they behave when they are on their own and unobserved. I love portraits and pictures that have people in them, but it’s as much about composition, colour, shape and the mark of the artist that draws me most. I am not keen on painting that is too pristine or too “realistic” in a photographic way. I like to see some emotion, skill and expression. I like to have to look deeply into what the artist is trying to say and be inspired in trying to find my own means of expression. Cézanne rarely lets me down on that front. Inspiration can come from other artists, and there have been many over the years – just a few I can think of off the top of my head – Rubens, Caravaggio, El Greco, van der Weyden, Chardin, Ribera, Rouault, Rodin, Francis Cadell, Soutine, Peter Lanyon, John Piper, Eric Ravillious, Tapies, as well as more modern, sometimes conceptual, artists like Rauschenberg, Mark Wallinger, Cindy Sherman, Martha Rosler, Ken Currie, Jenny Saville, Sean Scully and many more … Art is the nearest thing I can equate with the idea of ‘spirituality’ in the kind of response it evokes in me.
Q5 You have a real talent for realistic perspective - again is that something that comes naturally for you or have you had to work on this - and if so how have you managed to develop such a great ability to record things so accurately (for many people - myself included I steer away from drawing buildings and things like a collection of plant pots on a patio exactly because I know with the slightest error in perspective it will read badly - in that way these types of subjects are not very 'forgiving!')
I’m not a very organised painter and really appreciate Cézanne for what he did to release artists from strict geometric perspective. I like some irregularity, as focus is personal and depends on what catches your eye or what appeals to you at the time you start drawing or painting or how objects relate to one another in terms of shape and colour. I like the idea of always carrying a pad, but rarely get it out. I may start off with writing and then sketch something to add to that, or I may set out to just draw and paint something I’m drawn to. In the end, it’s just about looking and practising techniques with different media, line, shade and colour. I like to work quickly and get things down, but I may want to go back and rework or add something, not always successfully. I become inpatient if I can’t do something to the standard I envision, and will abandon ‘failed’ attempts. I do go and look at my pictures again, and often find that the most interesting bits of them are the ones I’ve not laboured over and which have been added spontaneously and almost unconsciously.
Q6 Looking at the drawing that you have sent to share of the plant pots on your sister's patio, may I ask how long it took you to complete this drawing?
About 2 hours, with a few extra touches added later to make things clearer or to pick up on things I hadn’t noticed the first time.
Q7 Did you do any preparations for this drawing, - did you arrange the pots? Did you think about the light/shadow and choose a particular time of day? Did you do rough sketches first or did you just begin and fill the page?
I had already arranged the pots for my sister, as she said she wanted them to work together better, so they were already in place. I liked the juxtaposition and overlaps of shapes and colours and so started on the main shapes first – the pots and the ground, adding the plants in later and gradually building up volume and colour as I went along. I then highlighted certain areas to make them stand out and emphasise their form.
Q8 What is your state of mind while you are engaged in a drawing like this? How does drawing make you feel during the process and afterwards? What do you think benefits of drawing are for our mental and physical health?
I become totally absorbed and unaware of much else that is going on around me. I feel energized and focussed. Invariably, I feel relaxed afterwards and I’m almost hyper-aware of the colours and shapes around me. It’s a bit like an altered state, where my visual perception is acute and I can see things to a degree I’ve not noticed before.
Q9 Do you have any tips for people who do not consider themselves as good at drawing but want to make a start?
It’s a case of just doing it. Find a quiet spot in your day, get some paper and a pencil or pen and just start putting down marks. Experiment. Try not to over-think or judge yourself too harshly. Go to what attracts your eye and work with that. Try and figure out the relationship between things, measure them if you want to and look at the angles between them and decide what you want to emphasise and what is not so important to you. Look at negative shapes – the shapes between objects. Try not to assume what something looks like, unless you want put an idea of an object across rather than what you actually see. Play with these ideas. We all have different things we are attracted to, so you could start with one of those. A pot, a favourite cup, a flower, a tree, a hillside, a building, a pair of shoes, your rumpled bedsheets…! Try not to rush to an end – it’s mainly about process and being in the moment. Step back, take time to have another look. Abandon it and start again. Don’t try to do a completed painting or drawing, but just try to capture something – sometimes less is more, just a few lines can capture something or you may need to add and take away as you go along. Think about tone and colour – what is hot and what is cool - and try to match them when you’re mixing the paints. What hidden colours can you see when you look at something intently? What colour are the shadows? Is there any variation in colour and tone? Express yourself according to your mood – exhilarated, happy, sad, angry, impatient, calm, contented.
Have fun. Don’t judge yourself. Play.
Thank you so much for sharing this private process with us Roger, I believe it will inspire and help all who read it.