I’d like to tell you about a website called More than a Fish. I know little about the author and artist other than they posted my videos on their old blog – that’s what drew me to their site.
Actually, I assume it’s a he. This is because the old site was called “Crap Artist” and that sounds like male self-deprication. I didn’t think that title was at all fair. Novice Artist might have been okay, but just because you are learning does not mean you are no good. I sent an email imploring the site owner to change the name of the blog as it it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy – call yourself crap and that is what you will become. It was evident that the artist was working very hard and was a serious student of drawing.
As soon as I sent the send button, I regretted it. I felt like an interfering busy-body. I had no reply. I wondered if I had put the artist off – ruined their dreams – blown their fragile self-confidence.
And now I see that someone else is referring visitors to my site. A new name I did not recognise – More than a Fish. It is the same artist and they have changed the name and outlook of their site. It looks upbeat and professional and I get a mention in the about page, so I consider myself forgiven for my intrusion!
Artists are the worst people in the world for self-deprication and low self-confidence. One minute they will imagine they are the new Picasso or Shakespeare and the next minute they will be telling themselves how useless they are and descending into the depths of despond. One’s art is something that grows everyday, as More Than A Fish says in his strapline, he’s learning to draw, one sketch at a time.
And that’s how it works. Don’t look at and dwell on the bad parts of your work. Just accept them and tell yourself you will improve. Improvement comes through analysis and practice. Look at the best part of your work and be proud of your achievement so far. But also know that it is not the best that you can do. Everything can be improved upon.
Good luck More Than A Fish – and keep working at it – I hope you will soon be proud enough of your work to add your name and not be anonymous! p.s. Hope you don’t mind me showing your drawings.”
Watermore is unusually keen on reading and it shows. The children were wonderfully bright and inquisitive and self-reliant. I think that is the one thing that real reading gives to a child, a deep understanding of things and how to research and find out for themselves. I know every school does reading, but it’s not enough. A passion for books and reading is evident the moment you walk into a school and begin talking to the children. (jumps off soap box!)
I have to share with you the work of Jake, Matthew, Henry and Jack who have designed the most wonderful Top trumps and cartoon series called the World of Steve, Steve being an eraser with what looks like a helmet, but is in fact part of the box the eraser came in. It’s a great idea, which the boys have tried to market to Panini sticker amongst others. These lads will go far!
I was asked to draw a WWII Spitfire. I don’t think I did too Badly. I’ll do a proper one on Drawing School soon.
Thanks again everyone and good luck with your merger.
Hooray! The Ginger Ninja is published again! I’m doing it through completelynovel.com who will let me sell it through Amazon and bookshops, though it seems not to have turned up on Amazon yet.
Ginger is probably my most well-loved book. Ginger is a happy little kitten until Tiddles joins his class at school. Everything goes wrong until Ginger’s grandad comes up with an idea to turn Ginger into the The Ginger Ninja.
Filled with confidence, Ginger confronts the the bully, Tiddles, and becomes the hero of the school.
Watch out! The next book will be along soon.
The Ginger Ninja lead the original Summer Reading challenge, which was a marketing idea from Hodder Children’s books. The prizes that year were Ginger Ninja Badges, stickers pencils and erasers.
The Ginger Ninja treats the issue of bullying and self-confidence in an unpreachy, gentle, funny and inspiring way and has helped many children to start reading on their own.
I know I wrote it, but The Ginger Ninja is a bit special – if ever I’ll be remembered for anything, this is it!
You can also read this book online at www.magicblox.com. Use the code BLOX5K to get 30 days free reading.
School libraries were my refuge. For some reason the bullies rarely went there. There was peace and quiet and often a comfy armchair available. I think most of the books were donated odds and ends that parents were chucking out – 007, Modesty Blaize and Dennis Wheatley come to mind. I do remember finding spending hours leafing through Britannica and heavy tomes on psychology and philosophy. I’m sure some of it made sense.
In my later teens, I would spend my Saturday afternoons in Bedford Library, snuggled up with Scientific American marvelling at all the new stuff they were finding out. The Day I left school, I discovered the fiction shelves – Wow! I spent a long time around the Ws. Coli Wilson blew my mind as did Wodehouse and I think a Woodhouse too – my first Police Procedural. And all those art books and how to books. Sometimes I think I only really begun to learn stuff once I’d left school.
Peterborough Library saw me through some dark days after my Father died, when I was Twenty. Another refuge and a very helpful Librarian who kept fining interesting how to art books for me. I built up my portfolio all on my own to be able to get to college with those books.
And the College Library at Cambridge College of Arts and Technology – Well! It had a wonderful collection of Picture Books. That was my introduction to a whole new world and literally and Damascene conversion. That’s where I first came across Where the Wild Things Are and that was the moment I knew what I would do with my life. I remember reading Raymond Brigg’s The Snowman there, one November evening. Time stood still and all sounds disappeared as I was sucked into the story. I remember being quite disorientated at the end. Perhaps Libraries should have agony aunts on hand to counsel distressed readers!
And Cambridge City Library where, again, I would spend Saturday afternoons reading Campaign magazine, imagining a possible glittering future in advertising.
Then I went to Birmingham to be be a rock star! Actually the rock and roll business can be really boring at times. So, once again, thank you Birmingham City Library for providing a place of refuge and inspiration. So Too Machynlleth Library, where I went to put myself back together after the Music thing broke down rather badly! That’s where I discovered people who ring page 13 to remind them that they’ve already read the book. police procedurals and Angela Carter kept me reasonably sane as I picked myself up and began my career as an illustrator in earnest.
And Coleford Library, where I live now. Trips with the kids to borrow armfuls of picture books, fuel for those wonderful cosy bedtimes, long gone now.
And there have been Librarians too, that have changed my life. The wonderful Anne Marley in Winchester, patiently listened to me ranting about the difference between left and right brain thinking. The next day she slipped me a post it note with the words, Tony Buzan and the title of one of his mind-mapping books written on it. That book quite blew my mind – it changed the way I write and plan completely. It changed the way I do most things to tell the truth. It introduced me to the concept of self-help books, that I’d never knew were there before. Goodness – the stuff I’ve learned since!
So please don’t close down libraries. They are a refuge and source of inspiration. Don’t let the bullies in and don’t let them take over.
No one likes to be criticised. Criticism can make you feel rally small and it can prey on your mind. The first step in dealing with it is to understand why others criticise. See what I think in this video.
It’s not long till Chinese New Year and I thought, as it is going to be the Year of the Rabbit, you might like to draw a chinese art style type of rabbit. have a look at the video and have a go yourself. I’ve not tried drawing like this before – it’s quite good fun!
I have been perplexed by the recent threat to public libraries. The arguments on both sides are complex in the internet age. I’ve finally clarified my thoughts which I’m now happy to share in the text below and the accompanying video. Feel free to embed the video on your site – instructions here.
Support your Local Library – The Pillar of Civilisation
I don’t get this country sometimes. As an island nation in a cruel, new, worldwide economic environment, we are in peril.
Our future relies on the imagination of our people. The future will be dominated by the intelligent and the imaginative. That is where profits will come from.
So what do we do in a time of short term political stress? Obvious… go for the short-term easy option – as always. Let’s cut the libraries.
Great Britain became great for many reasons, but I would hazard to suggest that universal education was the main reason.
The real driving power of the industrial revolution was the autodidact, the man who wanted to better himself and move up. How did he do this? He went to the library or the worker’s reading rooms and taught himself. That is the British way – that is the British genius that has kept us “punching above our weight” all these years.
Andrew Carnegie, the richest man that ever lived, understood this. He was that self-made man. He knew what it took to make it in this world, and far from pulling the ladder up behind him as our politicians propose now, he bestowed thousands of libraries to provide a place of learning for those who would follow him in self-reliance, determination and all the other qualities needed in The Big Society.
So now, at what is probably our hour of greatest need, what do we do? We start closing down public libraries!
I admit, there are so many good accounting reasons to do this. You can massage the figures anyway you like, but leadership is not about accounting. A great leader listens to his advisers and makes brave, visionary decisions. Any leader who follows the obvious advice of accountant is just a manager – not a leader.
My mind has been in turmoil over the issue of public libraries in the current economic situation. The internet has changed everything. It is cheaper to ask library users to order their books from Amazon and keep them, rather than pay for a library and its staff.
But a library is so much more that a pile of books or bricks. At its best it is the heart of the community and the centre of life-long learning. With the rapid pace of change, life-long learning is something we will all have to get used to, and the Library is the perfect place to go for the information that we need.
People of my generation are obsessed with books and paper. Kids really couldn’t care what form their information comes in. They have no loyalty to paper or books. If they weren’t told to read books because they are a “good thing”, they wouldn’t.
I find that scary – I make my living selling books. I know I and all authors have a very scary but exciting ride ahead. The times they are a’changing.
Forget books. They are not the point – it is what is in the books that counts. All that information needs filtering, storing and organising, and that’s where libraries and librarians come in.
Libraries have changed a lot since I was a kid and I think they have a long way to go yet. In fact, I think the role of the public library will always keep changing. But a public library’s core business is knowledge and information.
Maybe those in power want to keep us in ignorance? I don’t believe that’s so. I tend to go for the cock-up theory of politics. Keeping us in ignorance will lead to a “Fourth World” future. Post-industrial, bankrupt and only fit to make cheap plastic goods or decontaminate the waste of the rest of the world.
Our future lies in motivated, educated citizens and the library should be at the heart of their lives. Teaching them the stuff they need to know to keep this country at the forefront of the information revolution.
Librarians may well be stereotyped as quiet, tea-drinking cat-lovers who will go meekly when presented a P45, but in reality they are the guardians of our knowledge, our history and everything that has got us to where we are and where we shall go.
Sir Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.” And so our vision of the future is only possible because we stand on the shoulders of those that have come before. Their legacy is kept and guarded by libraries and librarians.
Librarians are priceless and so is the service they provide and so are the buildings they work in.
We need to have a discussion about their future and our future, but there is no point having that discussion if the buildings and the people who know how to handle information have gone.
At the moment, the Library is there for children who need to read books, They need to read lots of them repeatedly. Wonder why literacy levels are falling? Literacy is not about school records or results. Literacy comes from reading lots of books. It takes a lot of practice to get good at reading. Reading books may be seen as entertainment, but if a book is not entertaining why would a child want to read it? Literacy comes from reading entertaining books. Fact. Get over it!
Oh! And let’s not forget the home schoolers and the sick. And story time and toddler’s groups and craft sessions. Libraries are as much a part of our children’s education as schools are. In some case maybe more. The library is where you go when school’s out or it doesn’t teach what you need to know.
And what of older people once they have switched the telly off? There’s not a lot on the box for them. The Library is there not only to borrow books from, but it’s a meeting place and source of information.
The library is often where older people discover and use the internet. How confused are you by your computer? Can you imagine being eighty and trying to get to grips with one on your own? Libraries provide computers that work and don’t need to be fiddled with all the time.
And the computers are there for everyone else too. Information at your fingertips in the information age, with Librarians there to help you find what you want. Yes, computers are cheap and easy to get hold of now, but they are no easier to maintain. How many people have a computer sitting in their front room, unused because it won’t start up and no one knows what to do with it? Millions probably.
And what of all those people out working all day? The ones who earn the money to pay the council tax, who complain about the expense of the libraries?
Well, maybe we need to re-examine opening hours. Maybe we need to examine what those people want and need from libraries.
Maybe more evening book groups, special interest groups, more adult education.
Maybe this is where the Big Society comes in, local lectures on any subject under the sun, passing on information, making connections in the community, building new groups and businesses, the library as the human/person/body/real-life meeting place of the faceless, FaceBook generation.
I know that libraries are going to go through massive change in the next few years. I’ve met one or two young librarians who are champing at the bit, with visions of entirely digital libraries, free of the weight of paper and dusty shelves.
There is an amazing future ahead for public libraries, at the heart of our communities and at the heart of the life-long learning and self -improvement we will have to invest in for the sake of the country’s future.
But if you take away the very pillars of civilisation don’t besurprised if everything comes crashing down on you!
Take libraries away and they will never come back and soon the dark shadow of a post industrial wasteland will descend upon this once great nation.
We can rise again and lead the world into the next historic revolution, but not without our libraries..
Tracing is not cheating. It’s how we can learn from others who have worked out how to draw something. I fear that children don’t do tracing anymore as they are given photocopied worksheets to colour in instead.
When you trace an image, the shape of that image goes into the brain. Colouring in is a gentle pastime – it’s not learning. Tracing increases hand-eye coordination and builds up muscle memory to allow you to draw things you’ve not tried before. It’s a kind of rehearsal.
All professional artists trace when they want to get things right and in the right place – yes, even Michael Angelo and leonardo daVinci traced. That was the original meaning of a cartoon – it was a tracing for a major painting, built up from all the preliminary sketches. Tracing is how you put a complex piece of artwork together.
Tracing s not cheating – get over it!
You can see this and my other videos in schools and libraries by going to my own video website, www.shoo-tube.com. You can embed the videos in your own blog, or school or library or personal website. Instructions here.
I’ve been thinking recently why drawing skills are so important and why education seems to do its best to bash natural skills and talent out of children. So her is a first dratf of my manifesto for drawing. I’m sure it will change as I focus my intentions and others add their two pennyworth. What do you think?
A Manifesto for Drawing
In this highly visual world, the image outweighs the word in power and influence, yet drawing is rarely taught. Indeed drawing and art are often taught as an academic subject with written exams. Once the art department was a safe haven for dyslexics and those who didn’t fit into academic education.
Literacy is as much about understanding the image as it is about the written word. Words are a long-winded way of creating images in other people’s heads.
Drawing and understanding the physical world around us is as important as learning to write.
Drawing is not art.
Drawing is a skill that can be taught and improved.
Children start life with an innate ability to draw, to understand and record the world around them. Education progressively destroys this ability and replaces it with feelings of inadequacy. The natural ability to draw is replaced with an insistence that written words and hand-calculated numbers are more important, even though machines do math much better.
The photocopied worksheet does not help. It is easier to get a child to colour in a photocopy than draw or trace the picture. The act of drawing or tracing sets the image in the mind and affirms the lessons being taught. Colouring-in is merely a pastime.
Drawing is an absorbing occupation that uses and strengthens the right side of the brain. In turn this leads to an increase in imagination, the one skill our children will need in the electronic, knowledge-based economy they will inherit.
Handwriting and drawing are the best way to develop ideas. The connection between brain and pencil is immediate. Computers cannot recreate this relationship, except maybe with a pen and touchscreen, but the connection is not there yet, anyway, this relies on drawing skills too.
Drawing is too often seen as Art. As a means of self-expression or financial return. Drawing can be this, but the reverence given to drawing as Art destroys children’s confidence in their undoubted abilities. Like everything else, (reading, writing and arithmetic included) teaching and practice is necessary to improve.
Improvement in drawing is possible because it is a natural ability in the first place. Drawing needs gentle teaching through demonstration and practice. Just as writing is best learned by reading, drawing is improved by looking and understanding what is being drawn. Many children who have difficulty with writing may be able to do what is asked of them far better through the medium of an image that they can through words.
Why Does education discriminate against those who are more visually adept? It’s quite simple really. Education proves itself through objective testing. Drawing cannot easily be given a score, except for the qualities that don’t matter.
There is no right way or wrong way to draw. Everyone draws differently as everyone sees the world differently. Drawing style is like handwriting. Some people will always draw in a more clear and generally understandable way. Some drawing maybe harder to interpret, but that’s what makes life interesting!
Inside us all is a caveman trying to get out and make marks with burnt sticks and coloured earth. Don’t hold back – let your hidden caveman out – get a 2b pencil and a pad of paper and have a go. You’ll be surprised how positive attitude and a little drawing everyday leads to massive improvement.
Now I’ve caught up with myself and have a nice plan worked out for my next Olympia story and have recorded and edited the next three videos, I can tell you about my visit to South Kilworth School in Leicestershire last Thursday.
It’s a lovely, old Victorian red brick village school in lovely countryside, not far from the M1 and Lutterworth. I had a wonderful day there visiting the whole school, which only ads up to about 70 something children – but growing by the day – particularly yrs 3 and 4 for some reason. A demographic shift or something I presume.
We did drawing and storytelling and questions and answers all day long. I was shown some drawing by one boy – sorry I forget his name – who had been o my website. They were brilliant drawings too. It’s amazing when I see work done by children who’ve been on my Drawing School. I have this weird moment when I think, “Did I do that?” then I realise it’s a version of my drawing and it’s fascinating to se how each child adds their own style and interpretation. I often learn some thing back.
Thanks for a brilliant day everyone – I hope we met again some day.