The launch of the Kindle got me thinking about all the things an e-reader can never be. You can't inscribe it to a loved one or press flowers between it's pages. It can never be an object, loved and cherished and passed from person to person, with any history. Your children cannot draw upon the pages and fill it with precious memories. Illustrations look terrible on it, especially art, which needs a grand scale. For these reasons and many more, help me celebrate the real thing: dusty old books!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Helping Hands

Here's a funny little book, by Oliver Senior: How to draw hands. It's part of a huge series of guides to drawing specific things. Others titles include, Trees, Birds, Locomotives, Perspective, Merchant Ships (!), Rolling Stock (!!!), Churches and cathedrals... etc. I must try to find some. They are tiny but charming little books.

The title page reveals the vintage: first published 1944. It would be impossible to show these hands with a cigarette today. Back then it must have seemed the most natural use for idle hands. How times change.

In book illustration today there is an encroaching dismissal of academic drawing skills. Things can be whizz-banged through a computer and bad drawing is very often forgiven as "quirky". I suppose I'm rather old-school, in that while my own drawing is a long way from ideal, I do respect traditional skills, those of observation and recording information through drawing. It's a skill that is fading in our modern digital age and I think the ability to draw well is essential to any artist. The 20th century, and artists like Picasso, changed everything of course, but these people could in fact draw. Even Tracy Emin can draw (Beware: name-drop coming) - I was at art school with her (albeit in different departments; we never spoke), and she regularly hung up large dramatic drawings of contorted figures.

Hands are known to be tricky to draw. And most art students of a certain age will remember the horror of filling sketchbooks with drawings of their left hand (unless they were left handed of course!). Personally I find feet harder. And what I really need is a book on how to draw horses feet. Now that would be useful. It's not on the list though. Perhaps no-one else can draw them either...


  1. A handy little book (ho ho).

    Yes, horses legs and hooves are incredibly hard to get right.

    I'm with you on the importance of classical drawing skills to underpin modern illustration styles. I read a picture book to my children last night, and they struggled to identify most of the animals depicted, even refusing to believe that there was a snake, because it looked nothing like one. And the octopus had only seven tentacles, which caused confusion.

  2. Oh dear, Thomas, that would never edo here. Gabriel knows his Cephalopods, and is very indignant about inaccuracies...often correcting library books with false information about his beloved Architeuthis Dux! Seriously, it's true! These trendy fashionable art-student-loved illustration styles are no use to children...

  3. Ha - every horse I draw looks like it has de-evolved a few million years - elongated Hippo more like! Hands I can do...feet, well, I think the world would be a better place if we just had flippers or little slabs of flesh instead of sinewy blurgh making tootsies.

  4. My unlce who was a sculptor and a painter had a large chest full of hands cast in gesso. As kids we loved trying to guess which relatives they belonged to. I could never figure out why he made them; now I know!

  5. I have that book. My dad found it in the attic of my family's home several years ago. He couldn't remember who had put it up there, but he passed it along to me because I'm the child who "draws sometimes," though I might give it back to my younger sister who's showing quite the love of drawing.

    Anyway, it's a really cool book, and I think it helped a lot (if only for reference pictures)

  6. My great grandfather wrote that book! Glad it's still knocking about, and even occasionally being used.