Thursday, October 26, 2006

David Hockney and Shirley - sharing art and sketchbooks

"What an artist is trying to do for people is bring them closer to something, because of course art is about sharing; you wouldn't be an artist unless you wanted to share an experience, a thought" David Hockney / David Hockney Portraits
This quote comes from the new book produced to accompany the David Hockney Portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery - and is on the back of the sleeve for my new DVD of David Hockney sketchbooks - of which more later......

Yesterday I met Shirley (from New York) of "Shirley sketches London". We had a simply wonderful time visiting the David Hockney Portraits Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, admiring all his wonderfully simple line drawings, the depth of colour he gets with what are described as his "coloured crayon" drawings (my original inspiration for taking up coloured pencils) and the bravado of somebody who paints very large portraits in watercolour without any preparatory drawing on the paper or studies. I've seen a number of the drawings before at the Drawing Retrospective in 1995 and some of the paintings at Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions - but have certainly never seen anything like the quantity of work in this exhibition which is HUGE!

I was particularly struck, for the very first time, how very similar some of Celia Birtwell's features are to his mother's and it made me wonder what she looked like when she was young and whether in fact they did have a similar appearance at the same age. I was also charmed yet again by how well the double portraits work and was commenting on this to Shirley when we noticed that the note next to his latest said that the painting only worked when Hockney had both sitters in the room at the same time!

The exhibition is still only two weeks old and the gallery was very crowded. I think I'll return for another visit well before Christmas. Judging by the numbers, if anybody is thinking of visiting I personally would not wait until the Christmas break if you don't like crowds and do want to be able to see the work - yesterday was the top end of tolerable for me.

We then had afternoon tea/coffee and swopped our sketchbooks - it's always such a great thrill to see how somebody else's drawings look like in their sketchbook. I got to see her new London 2 sketchbook and what she's done this week so far - and can I tell you this lady is simply prodigious! A new sketch everyday and often two or three. Lovely simple clean line drawings and watercolour in a really lovely brand of sketchbook (details on the original post - link below). She got to see my New England sketchbook with sketches from four states which is currently being transferred to my other blog (I've got as far as Maine!)
"Hockney sketches constantly and for the him the acts of looking and drawing are almost indistinguishable. It is as if the movement of his hand over paper is a natural extension of his way of seeing" Note introducing the exhibit of Hockney's sketchbooks
Now for the good news and the bad news.
  • Good news for Hockneyphiles and sketchbook 'collectors' - one of the products associated with the exhibition is a DVD of 15 of the 25 Hockney's sketchbooks produced between May 2002 and June 2003. The sketches are all produced at exactly the same size as they are in the sketchbooks.
  • and the bad news - this is not one of the listed products which you can order online from the NPG website (see David Hockney exhibition books and posters and prints). Do not read on if you think you might want one badly! However if any die-hard Hockney fans who already have my e-mail address want a copy I'm sure we can come up with a solution! ;)
This morning I got to see the new DVD. I had been thinking that £19.99 was an outrageous price to pay until I realised how long I had spent looking at all fifteen sketchbooks. These particular sketchbooks cover trips to Iceland and Italy, Lucien Freud's studio, the Matisse exhibition at the Tate (where he drew the pattern on the floor!), hotel rooms, the minutiae of studio life and everyday objects and portraits of people in his life in London and Los Angeles.......and a lot more including the insides of aircraft. The babies and small children were a revelation - I'm left wondering who exactly are Scarlett, Isabella and baby Matilda!

He draws in sepia ink and sometimes adds in black and occasionally red, blue and green. Towards the end of the year he starts using watercolours as well - sometimes drawing in one colour and sometimes in colour.

His drawings typically place an emphasis on big shapes and clean lines - and often provide interesting compositional crops of both landscapes and portraits. The landscape format of a double page spread in his sketchbooks (4.5" x 12") has an interesting impact on the choice of crop and compositional issues in ones where composition has been deliberate rather than accidental.

He sees and documents pattern everywhere he goes from tablecloths and cushions to striations within the volcanic landscape of Iceland. There are some fabulous drawings of enormous waterfalls.

I also really like the way he is so good at getting an expression on somebody's face. He's very clear that he draws well only when he's drawing people he knows (and will not do commissions as a result). What's evident from these sketchbooks is just how many times his friends and family are drawn on a day to day basis...........which I guess is a prompt for the rest of us to keep at it with our drawings of our own nearest and dearest..........

[Update regarding the DVD - "David Hockney : Fifteen Sketchbooks 2002-2003"

This is for all those people who keep contacting me to ask me how they can get hold of the DVD sketchbook. Apparently the NPG is now saying that they have sold out of the sketchbook as well as the Los Angeles Museum. It is not listed on the David Hockney website although that does link to books about him.

I recommend using the contact form on the Hockney website ( ) to contact the webmaster and ask for further information about how the DVD can be obtained. I've already used it to feedback about the number of people asking for the DVD and requesting that they put something on the website saying how to get hold of it.

My suspicion is that this DVD initiative was maybe something of a pilot and not enough have been pressed. If you want them to produce some more you need to say so!]

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  1. I'm sure it will come as no surprise, an e-mail on it's way from me! Thank you for this news!

    and how wonderful it have shared sketchbooks with Shirley, I am very fortunate to also have met a few fellow sketch bloggers, it was such a fantastic day, sounds like your day together was too!

  2. It certainly was Cin. I felt sure I was going to get an e-mail as soon as you saw this post!


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