Category Archives: Books

Successful Drawing Part 2

Succesful Drawing2

Note book page, ink & pencil, 17x22cm

Drawing & its Relationship with Language (continued)

Richard Gregory in his seminal “Eye & Brain” says “…visual & other perception is intelligent decision making from limited sensory evidence”. And goes on “We now think of the brain as representing (visual perception), rather as the symbols of language represent characteristics of things, although the shapes and sounds of of language are quite different from whatever is being represented. Language requires rules of grammar (syntax) and meanings of symbols (semantics). Both seem necessary for processes of vision: though its syntax and semantics are implicit, to be discovered by experiment.”

I like the “limited sensory evidence”. The human eye is not that great an information gatherer in comparison to some other species.  But what we do lack in optical quality we make up for in processing power.

If we accept that a baby, new born, is adrift in a sea of sensations, unmapped; that understanding only comes about by relating one visual sensation against another and that that can only take place within the context of the memory of all previous sensations; then we have to accept that visual perception can only take place within a framework, a system where sensation interacts with memory, with relationships,  with everything else in an individuals life.

This is where the visual, and more especially visual representation,  develops something akin to language. Representation can  be said to have a syntax: edge, centre, soft, sharp, strong, faint, pattern etc. And it is easy to see that visual representation can be a carrier for meaning in ways formal and symbolic.

But does the visual operate through  an actual “language”?

Language pre-supposes at least a two way exchange. Originally between child and carer; between child and other children and so on. Language starts with a social exchange and develops into enabling conciousness and thought- it could be said to exist on the surface of the mind, where the discrete individual interacts with others.

The visual, on the other hand, is initially private. Seeing is the processing of information going directly into the dark space of the brain. Although influenced by social interchange, one does not need anyone else to learn to see; this is achieved, as stated above, through experiment.

Gregory also says “Two and a half millennia ago Greek philosophers thought that light shoots out of the eyes, to touch objects as probing fingers”. Anyone who draws knows that there is a truth in this. We probe and test, try out and criticise the results of our inadequate foray into the outside world; then return with the knowledge gained to try again, this time to try better.

Language, as words, is great and I love all forms of writing, I love talking (too much). But I get weary of the ability it too often gives to dissemble, to evade and obscure. More than anything it’s disgust at the dishonest rubbish I talk sometimes.

This is where I find drawing so unique, so exciting. Despite visual representation being  a social act, the visual is nevertheless  secret, dark, unknown. This is where drawing becomes so important as ,despite (perhaps, because of) it’s inadequacies and stuttering inaccuracies, it manages to reveal so much about the mysterious inner workings of another’s being. And, honestly done, provides access to an experience of a world you’ve never seen yourself.


Giorgio Morandi Flowers, 1959, pencil & watercolour, 22x21cm



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My Debt to John Berger – Part 2


This drawing, (1988) in charcoal & pastel, by Leon Kossoff,  was shown in ‘Drawing Inspiration’ in 2006, an excellent exhibition at the never less than interesting Abbott Hall gallery, Kendal. It is a companion piece/working drawing to his painting of the same year ‘Here Comes the Diesel’. I don’t want to tell you what you’re looking at but enough to say this feels like a memory drawing, something that encompasses not only the visual space of the Willesden railway cutting but also the child-like expectation of this grumbling monster exploding into momentary view; the vertiginous slope of the bank and the concrete steps  leading enticingly down to the tracks. We seem to float uncertainly,  dangerously, over this scene of speed and  space; vivid, energetic movement and noise.

In John Berger’s book of essays ‘The Shape of a Pocket’ (Bloomsbury, 2001) there is an interchange of letters between Berger & Kossoff. In one Berger says something I keep returning to, over and over.

So called “good” draughtsmanship always supplies an answer. It may be a brilliant answer (Picasso sometimes) or it may be a dull one (any number of  academics). Real drawing is a constant question, is a clumsiness, which is a form of hospitality towards what is being drawn. And such hospitality once offered, the collaboration may sometimes begin.

‘When you say “I need to teach myself to draw” I think I can recognise the obstinacy and doubt from which that comes. But the only reply I can give is: I hope you never learn to draw! (There would be no more collaboration. There would only be an answer)’

Time and again Berger returns to the theme of the act of drawing being that of collaboration, of accommodation, of generosity. He does not see drawing as something to be done well, as something to be pleased with, as an exercise in expertise. These are all shallow, egotistical. immature concerns. Drawing is an act of exploration, of feeling our way through a world that is constantly renewing, always unknown. It is finding out what it is to be alive in front of something or someone.

I hope you never learn to draw!


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My Debt to John Berger – Part 1

John Berger

I’d like to write a bit about John Berger (above). Most people know of John Berger as the author of  Ways of Seeing, a brilliant book that launched 10,000 dull cultural studies seminars. But  that book represents only a tiny part of his output.

I don’t have heroes but Berger’s writings on the activity and meaning of drawing have kept me drawing, have shown me how drawing, far from being an attempt to reproduce the visual, can be a means to being more exquisitely alive in the world.  One piece in particular was the spark that started EvolveRevolve.

In ‘Drawing on Paper’ in  Berger on Drawing  (Ed. Jim Savage, Occasional Press, Cork 2005) he tells of how he, who speaks no Turkish, met with the Turkish writer Latife Tekin, who speaks no English or French:

‘….in this our only life we were both story tellers without a word in common. All we had were our powers of observation, our habits of narration, our Aesopian sadness. The suspicion between us gave way to shyness.

‘I took out a notebook & did a drawing of myself as one of her readers. She drew a boat upside down to show she couldn’t draw. I turned the paper round so it was right way up. She made a drawing to show her boats always sank. I said there were birds at the bottom of the sea. She said that there is an anchor in the sky…. Then she told me a story about municipal bulldozers destroying the houses built in the night. I told her about an old woman who lived in a van. The more we drew the quicker we understood. In the end we were laughing at our own speed- even when the stories were monstrous or sad. She took a walnut and divided it in two, held it up to say, Halves of the same brain! then somebody put on some Bektasi music and the company began to dance.’


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