Hi! My name is Keir. I’m a thirtysomething English dude who loves to draw (follow me on Instagram and Twitter!). I love drawing even more than I love tea which, considering the fact I’m English, is saying quite a lot. If you’ve got five minutes and the boss isn’t looking, I’d really like to tell you why…
I’m originally from south London, but now live in a hipsterish corner of Berlin with all the other failed artists, all of whom have beards, man-buns, tattoos and only wear black. Berlin is odd. When I’m not behind my desk at work or asleep (or both), I can usually be found drawing something from my neighborhood, imagination or mirror. But that wasn’t always the case; although I drew a lot as a kid and even studied it for a bit, as soon as I discovered how temporarily rewarding partying and being lazy was, I kind of stopped. For about 15 years.
Fast forward to about three years ago when, for one reason and another, I picked up a pencil for the first time in over a decade, and drew something in earnest.
That something happened to be the gorilla at Berlin’s Natural History Museum, he doesn’t have any tattoos or a man-bun but he does have a beard, sort of. As it turned out, that day I produced one of my best ever drawings and experienced something approaching an emotional epiphany. It really felt like I’d come home. (I’ve subsequently gone back to the museum for more drawing sessions and each time I see that gorilla, for a split second my brain wants to greet him like an old friend. Which would be odd, because he’s a dead gorilla. And stuffed. And even if he wasn’t, he’s a large silverback so he’d probably want to rip my face off).
Since then, I’ve tried to draw more or less everyday. I think one of the greatest things about drawing is that it’s like going on holiday everyday – and the best bit is you get to travel without baggage or easyJet.
The more I draw, the more it gives me. It’s meditative. When I draw, I think about everything and nothing at the same time. In a way I compare it to defragging a hard drive because when I’m in the flow, my thoughts, memories and feelings seem to subconsciously fall into place like blocks. It can be as satisfying as a good game of Tetris. I have also had moments when drawing in which I have felt as if I was just an onlooker and the art was producing itself. Those moments are very special and I feel hugely grateful.
I think drawing is a great teacher. In the last three years, I have started to learn a lot, not only about drawing but also about myself. It must have saved me thousands of Euros in therapy. I’m beginning to learn how to deal better with questions of confidence, humility, acceptance and perfectionism. And the more I draw, the less important the final outcome becomes in comparison to the simple act of doing it (which is good because I think most of my art is rubbish). These days, I’m becoming (slightly) less afraid to take risks with my work and I try and think the most valuable drawings are the failed ones, because they unlock the door to the next great one. The fact I think most of my art is rubbish just makes me more determined. Deep down in my gut I really feel I can improve and do some good stuff. My self-critical side used to be a huge barrier, but now I’m learning to hurdle it so it no longer stops me as easily.
In February 2015 something else happened which changed everything again for me. Partly inspired by the work of Pat Perry, but also motivated by a long term desire: I went out and purchased a Moleskine sketchbook. As soon as I left the shop I sat down straightaway and drew a doorway and I haven’t looked back since. It was the best 18 € I have ever spent. Owning a sketchbook has given me focus and discipline. It has become a beautiful and immersive project. It forces me to live with and learn from my mistakes (I have vowed to never rip out a page no matter how much I hate it). It enables me to see my progress and improvements. Each page stores a million and one memories, reminding me in infinite detail of what I was experiencing, thinking and feeling at that minute, more than any photo or diary entry ever could. I’m now already half way through my fifth sketchbook. I do a lot of observational drawing and urban sketching – you meet some interesting characters in Berlin like this.
I still have creative droughts or times with no energy, sometimes I let myself wallow in them but more often than not I try what I can to get the juices flowing again. I think drawing is like fishing, it requires time and you’re not going to catch anything unless your line is in the water when the fish of inspiration comes along! Sometimes if I have a creative block I’ll just draw anything. The most important thing is to make a mark, who knows where it’ll lead. And really it’s not what you draw, it’s how you draw it.
Ultimately I want to work with colour, but I am mainly concentrating on improving my basic standard of drawing, otherwise spending time applying paint feels a bit like putting make-up on a pig. So to really force myself to learn from my mistakes I often draw from observation with pen only. Not only does that help save the world’s forests by not using up pencils but I learn a lot quicker when I can’t rub out or hit ctrl+z. I think pencils make me lazy. The real crack-cocaine of drawing is going on Berlin’s u-bahn subway and drawing people from observation with a fineliner between stops as the train jolts around and people stare (and Germans really like to stare, it’s like a national pastime). And with the pen I can’t erase my mistakes. It’s the most hardcore of sketching fixes.
I’m really a novice when it comes to watercolours. I have a tendency to get obsessed with detail straight away, and also to overwork pieces, both of which aren’t conducive to traditional watercolour methodology, but I still love it.
When I use watercolour, I try and put down very subtle layers of violet or complimentary shadows before adding the actual colours. I generally use my watercolours not that wet, partly because I sometimes use normal sketch paper, but also because I need more practice. I think my best results with watercolours come when I let loose and just go with it, generally with a larger brush. But this doesn’t come naturally to me because I’m too cautious. I also don’t know much about colour theory at all. I recently stuck a colour wheel over my desk which helps a bit, but when I paint, I am using a limited pallet of three colours, and I’m still working out how the various blues, yellows and reds interact. I have lots to learn here but I’m really happy about that and can’t wait to figure some more stuff out.
But on the whole I am really happy with the progress I made in 2015; the new works I created and the people I met along the way. It makes me really excited for 2016 and now when I buy a new Moleskine, or some new paints, I like to think they were sold to me with my drawings and paintings already in them, it’s just up to me to let them out and see what’s inside!
Keep your pencil sharp!
Keir – @keiross
Creator of Doodlewash®, founder of World Watercolor Month (July), World Watercolor Group™, and host of the Sketching Stuff Podcast. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!