A Voyage Round My Father’s Artwork

Barn Owl and chicks. Pencil sketch by my father

Barn Owl and chicks. Pencil sketch by my father

A Voyage Round My Father’s Artwork (with apologies to John Mortimer).

Recently, while scanning some items of my own childhood artwork, I realized that one of the books of drawings included a few sketches drawn by my father. The book was produced when I was about 8 years old.

When I was young, I took it for granted that my father could draw well, but there were some aspects of his skill that puzzle me now:

  • Why did he make so little use of that skill? (He had been an electrician, a wireless operator, and a teacher, but never an artist of any kind.)
  • What happened to all the other artwork that he must have produced? As far as I know, the only way to acquire skill in drawing is to practice it, but I don’t recall seeing any artwork produced by him during his early life. The only remaining examples that I have are these few in my own drawing books.
  • Did my father only draw subjects that were other drawings or photographs? Didn’t he ever draw “from life”? The examples I still have are all copies of drawings or paintings from other books. I also recall his doing some oil paintings later on, but those were copied from his own color transparencies.

Unfortunately, my father is long gone, so I doubt that I’ll ever learn the answers to those questions.

The pencil sketch above shows a barn owl feeding a mouse to its chicks. I know exactly the source of that sketch, because I still have the original book containing the illustration, a children’s book called “More Birds and their Eggs”. The relevant page is shown below:


Barn Owl and Chicks from More Birds and their Eggs

My father also added a couple of sketches to the cover of my drawing book, of which one is shown below. This sketch was done with a ballpoint pen rather than a pencil. I’m not sure of the source of these drawings, but they were probably based on illustrations in the “Observer’s Book of Common Fungi”, which was our source for such information at that time.


Pen sketch of fungi, by my father

I was clearly inspired by my father’s efforts, and produced sketches myself (in the same book of drawings) that were copies of other illustrations in the “More Birds and their Eggs” book. The example below shows a male Merlin:

My pen sketch of a male Merlin, copied from More Birds and their Eggs

My pen sketch of a male Merlin, copied from More Birds and their Eggs

As the example shows, my own technique at that time was to draw everything directly with a ballpoint pen. I allowed myself no opportunity for error correction: if it was wrong, then that was just too bad. It didn’t occur to me to draw an initial sketch in pencil, then correct that before inking in the final drawing, and I wasn’t taught that approach until much later, when I formally studied art at school.

As I said above, my father is long gone, so it’s unlikely that the questions I have about his artwork will ever be answered. It does seem a pity that he didn’t make more use of a skill that was presumably hard-won, so I must try not to repeat that mistake!

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