A Visit to the Trinity Buoy Wharf drawing prize exhibition

The Trinity Buoy Wharf drawing competition is perhaps the most prestigious annual drawing competition in Britain (the Derwent one being biennial). Being a country bumkin, travelling to London is both unpleasant and expensive, so I was very excited when I found out the exhibition was visiting Salisbury for a little while. I had no choice but to visit, and visit I did, on Monday.

Part of the exhibition at the Salisbury Museum

There are sixty-eight pictures and the competition judges have done a good job of putting together a diverse exhibition. It’s diverse in terms of style and subject, from photo realistic to abstract, video to pencil to charcoal to watercolour and everything between and beyond.

I’m not putting any pictures from it here, apart from the one above, because I’m not sure about posting someone’s work without their permission, but the Trinity Buoy Wharf website has a good selection of pictures and links to their Instagram and Twitter feeds.

Wandering around this exhibition helped me understand better what it is I admire in drawing. I do appreciate technique – photorealism, for example, is very impressive and the drawings in this style in the exhibition were incredible. But other than admiring the skill, this style of drawing doesn’t do much for me. It doesn’t do anything for me a photo can’t do. Then there are pictures that seem to be clever or controversial just for the sake of it. (Fortunately, there weren’t too many like this here. I went to see an exhibition of drawings at the British Museum before Christmas and, really, that’s all it was at that one.)

What I really admire are pictures that capture something: a mood, a feeling, an idea or a thought. I like representational drawings – drawings that look like something – but I love drawings that look like something without being an exact copy. (In painting, for example, Van Gogh and, taking it even further, Picasso: you generally know what they’ve painted but you’d worry if you started seeing that in the world around you.) This is something I find difficult but made a little progress during 2019.

The exhibition was inspiring. There is so much talent and creativity in this world. It’s made me really think about what I want to do with my drawing. It struck me, looking around, that the majority of the pictures had either a strong idea or incredible technique. Some had both of course but, in general, the weaker the idea behind the picture the stronger the technique; while some pictures with really strong and interesting concepts were able to get away with a fairly haphazard technique. I think my technique is okay and I have no intention of trying to create photorealistic drawings (they’re not for me, at all) but my ideas need to be stronger. I need to learn more about composition and think more deeply about what it is I want each drawing to say.

Sharpening Pencils

Pencil sharpening is one of those tasks that most people don’t give a moment’s thought to and some get quite passionate about. I once wrote a long comparative review of handheld pencil sharpeners and was told by a rather opinionated Facebook gentleman that it just confirmed how sharpening with a knife was the only way.

In actual fact I don’t much mind how you sharpen your pencils but seeing as it’s something I spend a lot of my time doing, I thought I’d tell you how I do it and why.

First of all,. I’m aware you can avoid the whole sharpening conundrum by using mechanical pencils. Mechanical pencils are the sensible and practical option but they are no fun. They have no soul.

Secondly, although sharpening a pencil is very satisfying indeed, it isn’t something I want to spend all my time doing when I’m in the middle of drawing. This rules out using a knife, quite apart from the fact that I’m incredibly clumsy and would inevitably lose a finger or three if I tried.

That said, and thirdly, I do want a nice sharp point, so a good quality sharpener is needed; one that firmly holds a sharp blade (that stays sharp for a reasonable amount of time and is replaceable).

For that reason I use the sharpener I ended up recommending in the aforementioned review: the DUX single hole brass sharpener. I use it little and often. With all but the hardest grade pencils, I use it, just a quick little twist, whenever I put a pencil down and whenever the point dulls a little. It’s almost automatic, barely interrupts my flow, and guarantees a sharp point. If extra sharpness is needed, I use a bit of sandpaper.

Seamless sharpening for satisfying sketching.

Drawing and Creating

Creativity is part of what makes us human. We all need to be creative; we all need to create, to make something that wasn’t there before. Project ourselves, our selfs, into the world. There are very many ways to fulfil this fundamental need. For me, it’s drawing.

For the close to half a century I’ve been alive, drawing is the one hobby I’ve kept coming back to. Other interests, and there have been many, have come and gone, never to return. Drawing has pulled me back time and time again.

I love how the simple act of making a pencil mark on a piece of paper can create a picture that in turn can create an emotion, a thought, or a memory. I love the connection I develop with what I’m drawing, over the hours I spend studying it, whether the subject is a person, a pet or a place. That something this simple can become something so deep, complex and meaningful is like magic.