Quick on the Draw

If we must label it a party trick, one of mine is to write a short poem about a given subject in a short space of time, typically under five minutes.

This comes into its own at poetry shows with multiple performers, where I’ve been later in the bill. I’d pen a poem for each act while they’re still on stage and read mine at the end. I’ve occasionally been asked how it’s possible to write in such a short space of time, and the answer is simple: shortcuts.

The format I use is the four-line clerihew, and the first line is always the subject, so that’s 75% of it already written. The next line rhymes with the first, and then a different rhyme appears in the other two lines. Ridiculousness is encouraged with this style, making it ideal for a quick-and-dirty verse.

But much as people are impressed by my speedy poetry abilities, I’m similarly impressed by those who can churn out a drawing within the same time.

A few weeks ago, I found myself at a life-drawing class running by a pal. These sessions typically begin with a session of two- to five-minute poses to allow the artists to warm up, but I really struggle with these. By the time I’ve laid out the frame of the pose, there’s no time left to add in the details.

I’ve asked a couple of folk for advice about how to handle this, and there are some shortcuts, just as there are with clerihews: only draw part of the pose, construct the image in an abstract way, stick to the same colour of pen or pencil, &c.

The key to mastery, however, is to keep tackling these short poses. There was a time when I couldn’t write verse, never mind in such a short time, but I stuck at it and I’m sure I can stick at the life drawing.

The Long and the Short of It

Back in May, I mentioned I’d been taking drawing lessons from Ana Hine on Patreon. The lessons are still going on, and I’m slowly learning different techniques to use in my work.

Parallel to this, I’ve been taking part in online life drawing classes. At the beginning, the model poses for three minutes as a warmup exercise before moving onto 10- and 20-minute poses.

I felt defeated before I’d even started: three minutes simply wasn’t long enough for me to make a decent attempt. That’s about as long as it takes to read this post twice over, according to http://readtime.eu/. What’s more, I spoke to artists who not only liked these short poses, but sometimes preferred them.

But then I began to make a comparison with the poetry I write, specifically the clerihew form. I’ve written these for so long that it’s now relatively simple to pen an original one on the spot. For instance, my personal trainer asks me to send a food and exercise report every evening, and I always include one with the e-mail.

I reasoned that if these three-minute poses were as simple to some artists as clerihews are to me, then there must be some value in persisting with them.

With Ana’s help, I’ve been drawing people passing in the street or sketching characters from a film without pressing Pause. One day, I aim to churn these out as quickly as those clerihews.