Drawing · People · Reading and Literacy

Real artists don’t doodle!

I spotted a tweet this week, that praised the Illustrator, Chris Mould, for his performance at the Bath Literary Festival. The tweeter said he had been “talking about his new version of Animal Farm – accompanied with live doodling.”

I would normally roll my eyes and move on, but I decided to comment that Chris is an accomplished artist and performer. I couldn’t believe he had been just doodling. By way of apology, the commenter said he was a champion scribbler.

No! he is not!

Chris is a consummate artist. Just because he makes drawing look easy, it does not mean that he is either doodling or scribbling. Any scribblings or doodlings of an artist are done in sketchbooks far away from the public gaze – certainly not as a performance.

Chris can perform in public and draw his amazing creations because he has spent a lifetime of practice and sacrifice, drawing relentlessly to acquire the knowledge and skills that allows him to stand up on stage and “bang out a drawing” for the audience.

I visited Chris and made a couple of films about him in his studio a few years ago. He has only grown in stature and reputation since. See for yourself.

An illustrator needs a certain amount of natural talent and desire to get started. But that is not enough.

Hundreds of sketchbooks, scraps of paper, backs of envelopes, insides of cornflake packets, paper napkins, sand on beaches, walls, backs of hands, maths and english exercise books will have been covered in drawings across a lifetime. There will have been study, trial and error, mental breakdowns, ridicule from friends and family, put-downs from teachers and those who should know better.

The hurdles an illustrator has to jump, just to get to the starting point, are numerous and daunting. The starting point is to merely achieve minor technical mastery of drawing. Then comes the hard slog of developing a style, a recognisable style that publishers can exploit. A style that says, “this is by me, and no one else.”

Slowly, it comes together. And slowly, the recognition comes. Then, out of nowhere, an illustrator has to become a performing poodle too! Pushed onto the stage with a flipchart and a couple of hundred children to entertain for an hour or so – three or four times in a day!

Wait minute… that wasn’t in the job description!

And so a whole new trade, that of performer, has to be learned fast – with no one to teach or offer any help.

And again, years of practice, trial and error, fear and terror, schlepping across the country from one Travelodge to another – (when you should be at home drawing) – honing the skills, learning the jokes and timing, how to make an audience laugh and cry, how to bring them back from sugar highs and short-attention spans until you can hear a pin drop. No one teaches you that.

All that, so you can stand up on a stage and make it look easy.

So easy that both the organisers and the audience call it doodling or scribbling and make jokes about flogging the flipchart drawings on eBay once you’re gone.

You have to learn to ignore what I think is ignorance and a form of embarrassment, not knowing what to call what they have just seen. Then smile, and laugh, sign books, travel a couple of hundred miles to the next Travelodge, crash out, exhausted, then get up and do it all again the next day.

Please… Illustrators are artists of the highest calibre. All they really want to do is sit in their sheds and draw. Please don’t make it harder for them by calling them scribblers or doodlers.

Thank you.