Talk of cabbages and… beauty queens.
Back when I was a young man and still a floundering amateur as far as illustration was concerned, (this was before my first professional commission and with the temptation of rock-n-roll still tugging at my sleeve) the mother of a friend told me, in a very serious tone, to imagine a field of cabbages. And from that field select a single cabbage to inspect in my imagination so that I knew every detail of shape and texture. She didn’t mention colour, as I recall. Maybe because cabbages are pretty much green.
I didn’t pay a great deal of attention at the time, not being a great fan of cabbage as a hang over from school dinners. This was before I discovered the delights of making savoury vegetable pie with blanched cabbage leaves as the pastry. Now I have a very different view of cabbages, even if my attempts to grow them have been mostly thwarted by the ravages of caterpillars and slugs, making me turn to sprouting broccoli as a more manageable crop. And the advice offered may well be more appropriate nowadays. But she was doing her best to help me with my concentration and ability to focus my imagination. Which is something I have always had problems with.
I tend to allow the pencil to draw things for me and, like a casual observer, sit back and let it happen. When I was at college as a fine artist, I used to allow the canvas to show me what image it required or desired. Then it was just a matter of me painting it. This is quite the opposite of my friend, Jesus Redondo, who reminds me of the fields of cabbage when he sits for a moment with eyes closed in concentration. And then proceeds to draw, with amazing clarity, the most complex of scenes without any need for correction or erasure. Intimidating!
Now if the lady had thought to appeal to the ‘young man’ in me, instead of the non-existent farmer or as yet to be cook, maybe she could have brought up the visual of a a sun kissed shoreline laid out with beach towels of varied hues, each adorned with a tanning beauty. And then suggested I focus my attention on one, right down to the glisten of sunlight on the smear of sun tan lotion on a buttock and the ribbon of perspiration along the hollow of her lower back. Then she might have got my attention better than a field of cabbage.
A missed opportunity?
My father, who had intended a career in illustration before complications like WWII disrupted everyone’s plans, had no such advice for me. Instead of a field of cabbages, he used to take us on holiday to the northern resort of Morecambe Bay each year, while I was in my early teens. To a particular holiday hotel complex where, it transpired, the contestants from the Miss Great Britain pageant were sequestered to be in easy reach of the ‘event’ in Blackpool each year.
As to how my father knew the resort was likely to be filled with the ‘Best of British’, and if this was the deciding factor (or maybe the quality of the tennis courts available was what tipped the scales) I do not know. And he never said. But it did expose me at an early age to prime female flesh in close up abundance. And taught me that most often a woman looks better fully dressed.
Plus I got quite good at tennis.
You have to bear in mind that this was the late 50s/early 60s. Before the art of sculpting a bikini was developed as an haute couture skill. Two piece costumes in those days were more akin to heavy duty multi-coloured corsetry than the skimpy triangles of fabric we have today. And the bodies weren’t ‘ripped’ and ‘toned’ to the same extent. So, many times, the ladies were better displayed in their evening gowns than in their bathing costumes. As to how exactly this has informed me as an artist I am probably not well equipped enough to judge (no pun intended!).
But I definitely prefer drawing pretty ladies over cabbages any day!
Read Ian Gibson’s previous column for Den of Geek here.
21 January 2009