Class 5H

5hDear Class 5H, Hazelwood Junior School, London, UK:
I am so very happy to hear that you enjoyed my book, Everyday Matters, and that you are now keeping journals of your own. I was blown away to see how good your drawings and writing have gotten already.
I can only imagine how happy I would be if I had been writing and drawing in a book ever since I was your age! Your drawings are excellent and you seem to be taking your time and really studying what you are drawing. That’s the key: take your time, relax, enjoy yourself and don’t worry too much about how it all comes out. Keep doing that on a regular basis and you will become great artists (not that you aren’t already).
Now to your questions:

What do you like about your drawings?
I like the act of drawing itself, the calm careful way I can sit and empty my mind and let my eyes drift over an object and my pen glide over the page until I am done and then I look and am surprised to see what I have made.
I like having drawings I’ve made to look back at, to remind me of another time and place. Sometimes I walk down the street and say, “hey, I know that building, I drew it three years ago, it was sunny afternoon, I was on my way home from the store, I hadn’t eaten lunch yet, and I was going to go see a movie with my family right afterwards.” It’s like running into an old friend.
I like drawing really complicated things like engines or detailed buildings or dogs with lots of hair.

How old were you when you started your sketchbook?
I guess I was about 39 or so. Now I’m 43. Really, really old. I have some of my hair, all of my teeth, and am still able to hold a pen without shaking much.

Do you enjoy living in New York?
I really do. I was born in London (Elgin Crescent, Notting Hill Gate) then I lived in Pakistan and Australia and Israel and I came here when I was thirteen). It’s a very interesting city, full of life and things to draw. There are great parks and museums and shops and we are near the ocean and something is always going on. We have thought of living in other places but we’ve never found a place as perfect for us.

Was it hard to become an artist?
I worked hard at drawing until it came easier. I try to find new ways to draw, study what other people do, play around with new kinds of art materials, draw new sorts of things.
It was hard to think of myself as an artist. I had to wait until other people started calling me one. When I was little I thought it would be really hard to be successful at it and so I decided not to go to art school. I wish I had started earlier in life but I really enjoy making things.

How do you draw objects and people that are moving?
It’s a little hard. The trick is to keep your eye on the thing that’s moving you’re your pen on the paper. It’s like climbing a mountain. Trust yourself and don’t look down a lot. Sometimes I just watch for a while and draw little snips and details. Then I use my imagination to fill in. If the conditions are really horrible and I must draw this thing for some reason, I take a bunch of pictures with my digital camera and use them as reference.

Do you practice drawing an object before you draw it in your sketchbook?
No. My journal is just a record of what I’m doing, so everything goes into it, warts and all. I rarely can be bothered to draw the same thing twice and I think I would lose spontaneity and fun if I did a practice sketch. If it’s ugly, well, too bad.

Does your son want to become an artist too?
Right now he wants to be a drummer. I am trying to raise him with the idea that it’s okay to be an artist but he is also a good writer and handsome. Maybe he’ll be a supermodel. Or a professional video game player.

What kimd of objects do you find easier to draw:
Eggs. Nails. Naked ladies.

Do you find it hard to add to your sketch book every day?
Sure. Sometimes I do many drawings in a day. Sometimes I don’t draw at all. At one point, I didn’t draw in my sketchbook for a couple of years (sad years). I find it’s like going to the gym. Once I start doing it again I wonder why I stopped but sometimes I’m just not in the mood. There are periods when I force myself to do it and my drawings tend to be sort of crappy at first but then they get better and then I forget that I was forcing myself to do it. I think the trick is to find reasons to keep it interesting. Draw weird collections of things. Go to interesting places. Show your stuff to other people who will tell you it’s great and encourage you to do more. Stay disciplined but don’t be mean to yourself about it. And try not to write in your journal how bad you think a drawing is. It makes the drawings feel bad.

Well, class, it’s been fun chatting with you. Keep drawing. Remember that in the time you play one level of Nintendo or watch one cartoon or pick one nostril, you could do one drawing. And soon you will all be in the Journal making Hall of Fame, be world famous, get stopped by people in the street for your autograph, have a line of pens named after you, and live a richer, happier life (well, at least the last one).

Your pal,
Danny Gregory