Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tuesday 19th September: The grass is greener in Vermont

Bert Dodson in Vermont
8" x 10" pencil and coloured pencil in Moleskine sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

What's the ultimate challenge? Well my personal artistic 'top ten' has probably got to include doing a quick sketch over lunch of the man who wrote one of the best selling books about drawing - and then trying to colour it afterwards purely from memory!

My sketch is of Bert Dodson, the author of "Keys to Drawing". This book, published by North Light Books, is on the shelves of many people keen on learning how to improve their drawing. It's certainly sat on my shelves for nearly 20 years ever since I was able to find time for art again after I finally came to the end of my long haul through post grad qualifications/degrees.

When I planned the trip to New England I had no idea that Bert lived in Vermont within a 'day trip' driving distance of Nicole. I knew he had a new book coming out as we had corresponded off and on. Anyway, he emerged from under all the page proofs at last and we suddenly realised that there was scope for me to visit and see his studio and for him to learn more about blogging - which he was interested in.

So on the Tuesday morning I set off for his studio in Vermont.

Bert with some of the page proofs of the new book - "Keys to Drawing and Imagination"
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Bert is lovely man and he's a lot more smiley than my sketch indicates - the photo is a much better image of Bert.

It was huge privilege to be able to see inside Bert's large studio on the third floor of a local community building. It was filled with images - drawings for different clients from children's books to the Metropolitan Opera House, postcards of images he liked pinned close together; large portraits hung on the upper parts of the walls of this high ceilinged room and current work covered his drawing tables and working space. I tried hard not to look too closely at the very many books on art that he had otherwise I'd have been dying to look at them all!

His main studio was however dominated by several large screens on which were pinned all the page proofs of his latest book which is about drawing and imagination. (Keys to Drawing With Imagination ). Bert told me that he emptied his sketchbooks into this new book and that it contains over 500 drawings by Bert and another 100 by other people including R Crumb and Maya Lin. Having seen the page proofs I know that the emphasis is very much on the visual communication of alternative options for stimulating imagination and the creative process. I also read little bits of the text and this seemed very succinct. I can hardly wait to see the real thing and be able to read it all through from beginning to end.

We walked his dogs before and after lunch and talked about the nature of the drawing process - how very often the issue is less about having a great idea and more about getting something down on paper and letting a drawing evolve from there. We talked about creativity and producing publications in a wider sense, he talked about how a book gets created and I shared my information about how a blog is created and shared with others. And we both pondered on the different ways information is shared and what really makes a difference. Bert has me tagged as maybe a 'connector' and probably a maven. Hence I read "The Tipping Point" for the first time on the flight back home and I think he might just be right on that one!

We also talked about how being part of a non-'work' peer group can be really helpful to both creative and critical processes. After I quoted from another one of my art heroes - Charles Reid - on the subject of the 'big blur' and how that carries over from painting into drawing, Bert showed me a photo of the group he used to paint with when he was younger. It turned out to include a couple of other well known names one of whom just happened to be Charles Reid! So nice to have it confirmed yet again that the people I like also like the people I like!

And the title for this post? Well - Vermont was very green - very few trees had changed colour, which I have to confess was a bit of a disappointment for me. We walked over some very green grass while walking the dogs. And quite a lot of people have made Vermont their home because of the quality of life it can offer. And it rained so much on the way home (we're 'New England' rain here - which is heavy!), it made me think there might just be another reason why the grass is greener in Vermont!

But it also brought home, in a very real way, how great it is to be an artist and illustrator who can live in a wonderful place and produce work for organisations and publications located many miles away. Small pause for thought...............

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  1. one of the best drawing books I'd ever read. . . and unknown to me before I'd seen your post and review, so thanks for the introduction!

    how great to have met him! hope you have persuaded him to start blogging

  2. I so love to read about your escapades. Jeanne

  3. Thanks for this feature on a great draughtsman. It would be great if Bert would start a drawing blog..
    Unfortunately I can`t find the gallery site with his water color paintings any more.

  4. Oh, I came upon this post in a roundabout way on Google (hands up, I'm procrastinating!!) - what a gem! I had no idea you met him, what an experience! A name on a book is brought to life!

  5. Felicity - I know this particular blog post has been enjoyed by a few people who have loved finding out a little bit about the man behind their favourite drawing book! :)

    I think we ought to persuade more authors to become bloggers!

  6. Martin - the link to the gallery of watercolours is top right of the website (which I've now inserted as an update!)

    So see Bert Dodson's watercolors here


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