To Be On the Spot, Or Not To Be?

Do you do your drawings on the spot?” I was asked yesterday, about the illustrations for Le Road Trip. The question was put to me in a darling Australian accent because I was being interviewed by phone from Australia by columnist Blanche Clarke of the Herald Sun, which was quite a thrill for me — Le Road Trip is available in fine bookstores everywhere Down Under grace a Bloomsbury Sydney!

My answer was, “No, not a lot. I mostly draw from the reference photographs I take.” Which turns out to be not entirely true. There are actually quite a few on-the-spot sketches in Le Road Trip.


This is the first one that appears, on page 19. These ladies were sunburnt and drinking wine at 9 in the morning — my kind of people! — and I did this quick drawing of them.

When Top Cat decided to change his trousers in the middle of  the Quai d’Orsay (on page 21):

…I took photos of the act (he moved too fast to sketch and I wasn’t going to ask him to hold the pose, for chrissake), but I drew them later that day, into my personal top-secret notebook, by looking at the review screen (digital cameras: I Heart You) because I thought  I was going to erase the photos because Jeeze. I don’t want photographic evidence that my husband hangs out in Paris in his underpants.  But then I put the drawings into a book that is now out into the world anyway so go figure.

When I saw the cat sitting on top of the Renault in the Latin Quarter:

…I drew the cat and the car on the spot (this was the last car I tried to draw — I can’t draw cars and I don’t like drawing cars, which is why there is no traffic in my Paris illustrations) and I jotted down some passers-by, but I filled in the buildings (later, when I got home from France) from reference photos I took of the scene. I have a lot of pictures of this cat. And there’s no way I could have drawn all those windows and awnings in such detail while I was standing on a crowded sidewalk.

This is how my buildings look when I draw on the spot:

You can tell, of course, that I drew the people quickly by sneaking looks at them while I was blocking in the vague apartment buildings along the Place d’Alma. I wish I could have taken photographs of them but that seemed intrusive. So many people have are visibly moved when they pay their respects to Princess Diana — I hope I got a little of that with these stick figures.

Now this is a hybrid drawing, a mix of on-the-spotism and research:

I thought the lady reading her newspaper, oblivious to her job of selling newspapers, was funny, so I drew her before she could put the paper down. Then I did a quick sketch of the kiosk and the newspaper racks, which didn’t interest me much at the  time. But when I decided to put this sketch in the Le Road Trip I realized I should have paid more attention to this newsstand. Specifically, I hadn’t drawn the top of it.

Luckily, Top Cat’s sister was heading off to Paris that month so I asked her to bring me back a photo of a newsstand, especially the top of it. And that’s why the top of this newsstand is quite different, if you’ll notice, from the rest of the drawing.

Now, this picture, I’m sure you can tell, was done in situ:

Crappy background details is the give-away that I did this on-the-spot. There’s more such Paris sketches that I could show you (pages  36, 37, some of 38, 39, and two out of three of page 44) but what is this, come kind of Ph.D. exercise? I want to skip ahead and show you just two more illustrations that  you might find interesting.

This one from St-Malo, for instance:

(Page 108) This house fascinates me. I didn’t mention it in the book, but around the turn of the 20th century it was so chic for French people to drop in English phrases in their conversation that even Marcel Proust commented on it, saying that it was such a bore to be in the company of such pretentious people.

This house on the outskirts of St-Malo in Brittany is actually, truly called Villa Remember and seems to date from that period. It had such an interesting roof line that I wanted to draw it (as pictured). Top Cat had to wait while I sketched and he got bored so he took a photo of me at the gates of Villa Remember, because he had nothing else to do.

That’s how I was able to drop myself into my notebook sketch later, when I saw his photo (of me).

Mostly, however, I do draw from reference photos, such as this:

(page 121) After a hard day of travel, missed trains/detours/late arrivals/hoboing for 12 hours, Top Cat and I fetched up in a dumpy hotel room late at night in Bordeaux. This is our dinner, a chocoalte bar and half a bottle of warm Evian. I took the photograph because I wanted a memento of our Worst Day on the Road, never intending to make anyting of it.

But much later, when I came across this photo,  it was only then that I saw the poster that was  hanging above the bed. At the time, I did not see the thing at all — I have no memory of it, not the least little bit. But in the photo, I clearly saw the similarity between the look Top Cat shot me and the glowering raised-sword expression of the Bernard Buffet Gendarme. I love it!

So, to answer the original question, Do I sketch on the spot?

The answer would have to be: Yes, and No.


6 Comments, RSS

  1. Bobbi June 1, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

    oh it’s so fun to think of Le Road Trip all over the world. Mine here in my housette in France to all those sitting on tables in Australia and all points in between. Beautiful!

  2. Nadine June 1, 2012 @ 9:27 pm

    HA ha! I didn’t notice that Top Cat’s expression was a match for the soldier’s until you pointed it out. I thought the poster was a joke by you, and to learn it was REALLY there in the room is so mid-century. And perfect!

    Bernard Buffet just became my favorite artiste now that I know his name. Ebay, here I come.

  3. Shelley June 3, 2012 @ 10:24 pm

    As always, I just love how you take us on a tour of your art process, and the story behind the pictures! I especially like the newsstand, and of course, the cat on the car!

    Thanks for introducing us to Bernard Buffet!

    And, congratulations on your interview all the way from Australia!

  4. Joan June 3, 2012 @ 11:53 pm

    Le Road Trip (I still call it The Damn France book) is perched on the coffee table in a living room in Las Vegas, NV…I love it! That’s a long way from where it was birthed.

  5. Mary June 4, 2012 @ 7:38 am

    My opinion is, Buffet has harsher lines. I prefer the nice colors and rounded things in your paintings.Your drawings are easier on the eye, you might say.
    Just my humble opinion.

  6. Wendy McM June 23, 2012 @ 3:36 am

    I just finished “Le Road Trip” in 2 days! I borrowed it from the library and as I am wont to do promptly forgot about it until the due notice email. What a treasure I had and almost missed it! Now that I’ve finished their copy I’m marching to Barnes and Noble to purchase my own (and hopefully your first book as well!). I have recently started a watercolor travel journal (more truthfully it is a when-i-get-a-moment-and-can-think-of-something-interesting-that-i-have-the-ability-to-draw journal). I am intruiged by your little paintings and have been perusing your blog.It’s great to learn some of your tips-thank you for sharing! You’ve given me hope and inspiration that I can learn to do something similar. Love the art lessons! And I loved your honesty in showing all your ‘redo’s’ of the garden and how frustrated you were but kept on plugging along and trying new things.
    You’ve inspired me to do the same…
    Many thanks for a wonderful 2 days of reliving France- I too spent my honeymoon in Paris…

    Blessings your way and I look forward to more!
    Wendy McM

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *