7th April 2020

Craft / Anja Dunk

Why Drawing is a Good Idea by Anja Dunk

76 12 mins 2

Anja Dunk is one of those incredible people who could try her hand at pretty much anything and the outcome would be outstanding. She is a chef, an author and an artist. Here she describes how art has been a constant in her life, how it has become a therapeutic necessity. She encourages us all to draw, in any form.

Her message is simple; draw and draw for the love of it. Don’t take it so seriously, a doodle is a drawing. Don’t be hard on yourself. Practise. Draw something and draw it again. Nothing you do is bad. In her beautifully humble way, Anja describes five artists that inspire her, which she hopes will inspire you too. But I must add Anja to the list, her drawings, prints and paintings are brilliant in equal measures. She moves seamlessly through mediums, guided by natural forms and other items that surround her.

Her work is full of depth and precision and evokes an effortless confidence, which - as she explains here- comes from her ability to not take things so seriously.

I draw almost every day. I’ve been doing this ever since I can remember. It seemed a natural thing to do as a young child and as I grew older I started to write too, combining both images and stories in my free time. I never once thought during my formative years that maybe one day I would be selling my art and writing books. I didn’t take it seriously. It was more a way of entertaining myself, a release of creative energy, which of course I wasn’t conscious of at the time. Nowadays I know I need to draw, if I don’t I feel like something’s amiss.

Drawing calms me, excites me, pushes me, inspires me and frees me. It helps me think clearly.

Anja Dunk

Sometimes all I draw in a day is a doodle. My dad was a brilliant doodler; as a girl I loved to watch him whilst he talked on the telephone, balancing the receiver between his chin and ear whilst doodled. The doodles sprawled out across the page in a complex pattern of circles, zigzags, squares, triangles, stripes and free form shapes – his doodles amazed me. The next day they were scrunched up and thrown in the bin, along with the crumbs brushed off the kitchen table by mum. Neither mum nor dad were bothered by this -in a roundabout way- it taught me not to be precious about art. It made me feel like everything is a practise run. If you can do something once, you can almost certainly do it again, albeit a little differently. I always try to approach any piece of artwork with this frame of mind. The second I start thinking of anything as a final piece I stiffen up and the work isn’t fluid. I think it’s for this reason that I’m not keen on commissions. The expectation of finished work scares me. I like things to evolve as naturally as they can in the time given, not imagining too much what any of the marks I make will become. This might sound airy-fairy, but it is actually the most practical way of working for me.

It’s because of dad that I spent hours as a child expressing myself on paper not really thinking much of it. Though it wasn’t until I was fourteen that I started to draw from life, guided by a wonderful woman named Trudi Finch. Trudi is an illustrator and artist, she encouraged me to draw the things around me, in pencil as much as possible. Looking back through my sketchbooks of that time, I drew endless piles of tangerine peel to work on shadow and shading. I sketched clouds, cliffs, apple cores, hands, feet, feathers, seaweed, pebbles, flowerpots, kitchen utensils, people, boats, coffee cups, you name it, I drew it. Keeping a drawing book was a clear way of seeing and appreciating improvement. The more I drew the better I got. Each page another step further towards the goal of seamless drawing, a goal I will never reach, but one I strive for every day still.

I’m very much of the old school of thought, that drawing is where we should all begin. The foundation on which to build any form of art; be it sculpture, visual arts or film. That’s not to say it has to be pencil and paper. Drawing with your finger in sand or dragging a twig through mud both count in equal measure. Charcoal is actually a non- daunting material to start with if you’re new to drawing because it’s somewhat unpredictable and the marks it makes are so varied. When I’m feeling tight and just can’t get into it, I will ditch whatever I’m doing for a large piece of paper and some charcoal, to loosen up and remember not to take it so seriously.

I spend just as much time looking at other people’s art as I practise it myself. I have a little morning sequence that goes like this; flip the radio on, make a coffee, pull a picture book off the shelf and look at it whilst drinking my coffee. Then I start breakfast. I find the first ten minutes of the day truly absorbing, whatever I’ve chosen to look at inevitably steers my creativity for the duration of the day. During ‘break times’ I tend to scroll on Instagram to see what other artist are up to. Instagram is a little like a rabbit hole that one could very easily get lost down and before you know it an hour of your life has passed you by, you have to be careful. But what I enjoy most about Instagram is that it feels like your own personal magazine, one where you are -to some extent- in control of the content, a bit like your very own curated show. I don’t think Instagram or websites will ever be able to replace books or a bricks and mortar gallery exhibition but it gives you access to artists and work that you may otherwise never have come across. It never ceases to amaze me how much talent there is out there in those little squares. Actually I think most people don’t even realise quite just how brilliant they are.

Here I have chosen four artists, three on Instagram and one who has now sadly died; however, all of their work continues to inspire me daily.

Leigh Sinclair. @leigh_sinclair.
Leigh Sinclair draws, paints and prints the things that surround him and give shape to his life, however grand or banal they might be. It’s the ordinary subject matter that first drew me to his work. Leigh can make a plug socket look like something you’d want to have on your wall. I’m drawn to Leigh’s work for many reasons but mainly because of his use of colour – he can take the most abstract colours and make them seem so right in a landscape, he layers green on pink and blue on orange and it all hangs together in perfect balance. It’s rare to find someone as accomplished as Leigh; he’s equally comfortable etching, drawing, printing and painting, or maybe he’s not, I’ve yet to ask him. But let’s put it this way, I think he’s equally as good at each and every one of those mediums, which says a lot.

Dan Yeomans. @danieljamesyeomans.
Dan paints in oil, mainly landscapes and portraits, occasionally still life. He is a true master of his craft and his dedication is blindingly evident. Like Federer playing tennis, Dan makes painting look so easy. He paints en plein air, something I admire greatly, especially when he does it in the depths of winter or after hiking up a mountain to catch the sunrise. Quite honestly, I think he’s a genius.

Anna Koska. @gremkoska.
Anna is an artist and illustrator of absolute precision. I admire her skill greatly for not only capturing edibles and nature in almost photographic quality but also for the character she manages to inject into every illustration or painting. Each piece of her art never fails to make me smile. She paints in oils, watercolour and egg tempera and draws with pen or colouring pencils. Everything she does has layers and layers of skill to it, literally and visually.

John Knapp-fisher.
John Knapp-fisher’s drawings and paintings remind me of home. Brooding, dark, atmospheric and at times humorous, he captured the Welsh landscape like no one else I know. For a long time, his signature paintings were of humble stark white cottages with contrasting dark, inky skies. He painted the sea in a very lively manner and his drawings of country lanes leave me spellbound. John would often mix ink with paint giving his work incredible depth. I’m sad that he’s no longer around to produce more.

I think drawing should be rolled out as a form of therapy from the NHS.

Anja Dunk

I don’t think drawing is for everyone, but I do think it’s a great way of relaxing and expressing yourself. I really wish more people would give it a go. I actually think it should be rolled out as a form of therapy from the NHS. It might not be able to cure all, but it does something magical which is to enable a release and gain all in one go.

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Anja Dunk grew up in the Welsh countryside where homegrown produce and wild foraging were part of daily life. Here began her love for preserving. She is co-author of Do Preserve - Make your own jams, chutneys, pickles and cordials. Her latest book, Strudel, Noodles and Dumplings: The New Taste of German Cooking, is a Good Life Society favourite.

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