Back in the depths of the pandemic, in January 2021, I wanted to set myself a challenge that I could accomplish at home - just in case we had to spend another year indoors. I was going to learn to draw a self-portrait that I could be proud of. There were two reasons behind this: firstly, graphic design is a large chunk of my job and I've always been slightly embarrassed that (I thought) I couldn't draw. Second, like many people, I've always been slightly uncomfortable with my own appearance, and I thought that drawing myself over and over would bring me some kind of peace.
I sat down on January 3rd with an A4 notepad, an HB pencil and a recent photo and drew myself for the first time. I didn't like it but I wasn't expecting to. I didn't know anything about how to draw people and it showed. I sat down on the 4th and did the same thing. And the 5th, the 6th, the 7th, the 8th... I tried shading and hated it. I tried drawing myself in a mirror and hated that too. I read about a technique where you place a grid over the reference image and then use that to get the correct proportions which made a big difference. On the 15th of January, I drew the first picture that I actually liked. But I knew there was something missing - colour!
On the 16th I bought a set of coloured pencils and my world changed completely. I've never been a fan of black and white photos or movies, and drawing in colour gave me so much joy. As January progressed I got bolder with my drawings and on the 3rd of February I created the first self-portrait that I was genuinely proud of. Challenge achieved!
After I'd drawn myself 32 times in a row, I decided to try drawing other people and moved up to A3-sized paper. I timidly asked for volunteers from my friends and family and was overwhelmed with the response. As February turned to March and we were still stuck indoors, it was a total joy to draw people that I hadn't seen in real life in over a year thanks to Covid. My parents sent me reference photos and it was wonderful to examine their faces in detail and see how they'd changed since we last met up.
La Ola Fresca
As April came around, the restrictions started to lift and we were able to meet up with friends from our favourite cafe and social hub in Benimaclet, La Ola Fresca. I took my camera along and snapped photos of most of the regulars. From April to September, the majority of my portraits were of these close friends. I was surprised to find that my own style started to appear from my drawings, a kind of highly detailed and brightly coloured cartoon.
My first exhibition
As I finished my last portrait at the start of September I talked with Helen, the cafe owner, about the possibility of showing my portraits there. She agreed and last weekend I had my very first exhibition! It was amazing to look at the collection and see the incredible progress that I've made since the start of the year. Everyone said nice things about my work, I got some good tips and suggestions for how to improve, and I even picked up a couple of commissions for new work! I'm planning to gift all the pictures from this exhibition to the people who feature in them.
I've got a real habit of becoming obsessed with new hobbies for a year or so and then abandoning them, but this feels different. I find drawing to be deeply satisfying and very therapeutic - when I'm focussed on a portrait everything else in the world disappears and my mind is still. I'm really excited to see how my style develops, and I've got a long list of people to draw. Here's to my next exhibition!