The best gift I ever received as a child was a box of Faber Castell coloured pencil crayons from my father. It was a tin box and if you pressed the back corners the lid popped open to reveal a layer of crinkly tissue paper and 24 crayons each sharpened to perfection, laid out in a rainbow that gave me my first introduction to names like rose madder, cadmium yellow, burnt ochre, raw umber and burnt sienna… the last two long before I’d ever heard of the colours of Italian earth. They all had numbers and were faceted with sides of gold that alternated with the colour of the pencil. I know this because I still have the white one… least used… and kept because I read somewhere as a teenager that I should whiten the underside of my nails with a white crayon!

So why the digitally enhanced artwork on the left heading up a writer’s blog on drawing? Firstly it’s the cover of a book I co-authored with Louisa Sherman on Print-making at GCSE level and secondly because there’s been a lot of right and left brain talk recently and whether the digital world is stifling creativity. Most might say pencil and paper wins over digital but with technology so superb that can allow Richard Hamilton to produce this intense portrait of fellow artist Dieter Roth, then we have to concede that all is not lost.

As a former art teacher, pencil and paper are still for me the most direct form of story telling. That’s all any child is doing when they’re drawing. With those very first ‘head-foot’ representations, they’re telling: This is me with my large head and big smiling mouth with teeth and eyes, (probably no nose…) I don’t care about smell just yet. I’ve arms and lots of fingers (possibly even looking like overgrown tarantulas) because I’m a tactile being. I stand on my own legs (though probably still floating aimlessly on this page) because there’s nothing more important than just me— its just me, me, me, in this world… or possibly I might draw this random line here beneath my legs? Maybe after all I might be connected to something else in the world. And so the child tells the story of himself and what is important to him.

Cavemen knew something when they were drawing their stories. Not only did they use the cave walls as story boards but they turned story telling into a multi-sound-visual event with dance, music and drumming with firelight and the odd lightning bolt too, adding atmospheric lighting affects. True story-telling and showmanship! In fact they were far closer to the idea of visual story-telling as in film or video than a lot of civilizations who came after them.

I went back to my notebooks at random to see if I was trying to tell a story while I drew. Unfortunately I didn’t find any of my really early ‘head-feet’ representations but I found a conte crayon self-portrait done a few weeks before my twentieth birthday and some others from more recent notebooks.

  workbook-2  conte portrait '67 cropped copyTunis

The one above with the giraffe became the basis for a picture book story called Zeraffa. The date on the page in this notebook is 1999. The book will  coming out in 2013. Shows how long some stories take to infuse and become print! But from the notebooks I discovered why I’m a writer rather than an illustrator. I’m an observer. And observation stifles the way I want the story to grow and become ‘more’ than what I see. It  seems easier to evoke this magic with words. That doesn’t mean to say that I won’t be sitting with scissors and coloured paper like Matisse one day and be telling stories of snails and blue dancing ladies when I’m ancient and can’t see too well.

So where is this blog meandering? Do you draw? is the question I began with and how I’ll end. Matisse has been quoted as saying later in life when he took up paper collage…

Freedom is really the impossibility of following the same road as everybody else: freedom means taking the path your talents make you take.

So whether you draw with words, or with Faber Castell crayons, or through the lens of a camera, or through digital wizardry, its still story and as long as you do, that’s all that matters…. because if we lose the power to use our imagination and to create story we’ll lose what it means to be human. So let’s use all we’ve got… bells and whistles, drums and dance.