This evening was a typical example of such forces at work. Taxis are impossible due to cost, and night busses are intolerable due to inconvenience and uncertainty, so as is usual I cycle from Victoria station to this venue on my folding bike. A front pannier bag, plus a holdall strapped to the back carry my drawing materials, – several boxes of chalk pastels, of various grades, charcoals, variety of putty erasers, sharpening knife, and penknife (for scraping away unwanted drawing). A small bottle of pastel and charcoal fixative, and a small bottle of mentholated spirit as solvent for thinning and cleaning the diffuser tool. A plastic roll holder contains 5 or 6 sheets of Canson or Murillo drawing paper of various colours and shades Also, waterproofs for all weather cycling, and dancing shoes. Having secured permission beforehand, thanks to Ben and Mia, I arrive early, around 5.30 and ‘recce’ the space. It’s an early evening do that will run from 6pm to 12 midnight.
I want to be right in the thick of the action so, I negotiate a place to draw next to the DJ and lighting decks, enabling me to look out onto the dance floor which by now is fast filling up. I kick-off the drawing with the usual uncertain and cowardly feelings, with my internal detractors saying “why are you doing this? What is the point?” The first marks are nearly always tentative, shaky and liable to thorough re-drawing as the momentum picks up. But in the beginning, it hurts, – I mean my arm physically aches and feels tired. But by and by the focus kicks in and the image starts to form, whilst the music and the atmosphere seeps into everything and helps kick off this creative momentum.
I remember on this occasion just how packed it was. You couldn’t see any dance floor, just a sea of moving people. It was hot, and there was an enormous fan blowing cooler air into the front of the crowd. The hair and dresses of the young women in the front was being ruffled by the wind, and their expressions were of relieved bliss, — whether due to the huge fan or to the groove of Body And Soul is unclear. Ariel was operating the light show right next to me on a kind of slide keyboard. He was very concerned that I draw the shape of his designer glasses correctly.
On this occasion I did not dance very much, which meant I had more time to focus on the drawing, although, I do find that taking a break to dance and let off steam, in the long run helps with focus, clear thought and action, as well as energising the whole process. I usually find I work faster and more decisively, if I am also dancing from time to time.
I am always pretty exhausted at the end of a drawing evening, but sometimes also elated if I had been dancing, and the drawing felt like it was going well. It always requires that extra boost of energy and focus to pack away the tools and materials in an ordered fashion, in readiness for the next time. While doing this I spray-fix the drawing twice, using the liquid fixative and a mouth-propelled spray-diffuser tool, allowing 5 minutes between coats for the fix to dry. Loose, loose, unfixed pastel would simply rub away and smudge in transit. Once dry the drawing is interleaved with a sheet of plain unused paper, carefully rolled and returned to its plastic tube for safe transit. Sometimes I spray-fix the drawing in a half finished state to stabilise the chalk onto the paper, so that I can draw subsequent layers of tone, colour or drawing over the top. There are often 5 or 6 layers of semi-transparent pastel before the drawing is finally finished, and sometimes I leave the final layer unfixed to preserve the tonal range, as fixing reduces the level of opacity as colours tend to become transparent, reducing colours that contain a lot of opaque white. I have to work swiftly at the end as the bouncers and bar staff are harrying me and needing to get home.
I remember after this particular gig cycling on to another dance event to meet friends at East Village, in Shoreditch, – one of Dr Bob Jones’ special club events marking his 50 years as a Black Music DJ. This was my well earned time-off where I could let my hair down after my drawing friends, dance and hang out with Rocky, Manny and Co. I didn’t have to worry about travel logistics too much from that point on as Manny had offered me a lift home. The Brompton folding bike is one of my most effective tools of all and allows me to take advantage of such offers, whilst always providing a back-up means of homecoming if all else fails.