Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Orson Welles with a paint brush: The impact of meeting the amazing John Watkiss. Part 1 of 3

Part one of three (part two) (part three)

Why couldn't I draw decent looking people without having to look at photographs or live models?
My childhood drawings consisted of the usual inventive scribbles all kids seem to do, or else I was doing 'serious' drawings, practicing rendering techniques in different mediums. But I was always copying something, either from a photograph, or someone else's work.

How did the old guys paint pictures with people and horses, in rearing, action packed poses, back before the days of photography?

This had vexed me for a long time.

Later, I didn't know what career I would take when I was a college art student. But in my second year (of four) in one of the class rooms I came across a clue that would lead me to find out.
It was a brochure for a storyboarding company in London. Leafing through it, I was arrested by a block of four images which stood out in stark contrast from the rest.

I'd always appreciated the drawings of Michelangelo and Rubens, so I reckon I was poised to spot a decent bit of drawing when I saw one!

They showed a dynamic flair for composition and an understanding of anatomy and figure drawing that just sucked me right in. And they were executed with such apparent ease: I knew when I had the chance I was going to have to investigate further.
Every mark in those four panels meant something. It was beautifully efficient - not one unnecessary line, and no evidence of clumsy fumbling or having slavishly copied something from a photograph without knowing why.

Fast forward another two years, my college days were over, and I had to contemplate earning a living.
I was lucky enough to intern for free at the storyboard company in London who had put out that brochure.

After a couple of weeks of looking over people's shoulders while they worked, and trying things out myself, and practicing every minute at home that I wasn't at the studio (I lived with my parents about an hour's bus ride from London) my two weeks were up, but although I'd been exposed to some very talented artists, I didn't see anything to inspire me like those four pictures in the brochure.

So I asked who'd done them.

That was greeted with a much sucking of air between teeth, shaking of heads, and deeply concerned mutterings in lowered tones as well-meaning artists dutifully assembled to warn me of the dangers.

'Oh, you don't want to meet that guy.'

'He's a genius you know.'

'You'll just make yourself crazy. He'll make you want to cut your hands off'

'He's got more stuff in his head than you could fit on a planet.'

'Don't even think about it, you'll just end up hating yourself.'

'This one guy got so obsessed trying to do what he can do, eventually from frustration he gave up drawing altogether. I think he's a salesman or something now.'

So, more excited than ever, I had to know his name and find out if there was any chance I could find him.

'Look, I'll tell you his name, but if you go and see him just don't start to think you can ever do stuff like that'

It was like I was being handed a jar of nitro glycerin to carry in my pocket before riding a bicycle with no tires over a series of cobbled streets and cattle grids.

'His name is John Watkiss, and he's got his own place round the corner. It's called Magic Box.'

Was I ever in for a treat!

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