David Booth

As a child drawing on dot-matrix paper left over from my dad’s engineering practice, and witnessing the structures that sprung up from his technical sketches, I learned the special alchemy of drawing. Now, I guide young people through the mess and magic of the creative process.

I’ve been hypnotised by drawings for as long as I can remember. My eyes are curious, always scanning the shapes of things, tracing repeat patterns and getting a bit lost in intersecting lines. There’s something about seeing the world this way that makes you want to draw everything. There must be some little receptors in my head that are addicted to the feeling of tracing line drawings with my eyes, or of breaking down real life into shapes and lines. Why does it feel so good to draw stuff?

I’ve worked hard to try and keep deeply connected to how it feels to play, and to invent my own worlds through drawing for my own amusement in a similar way to when I was young. It’s an obsession and a joy to pursue exploring the world through drawing and sharing it. Growing up, I was lucky that the scrap drawing paper in my home was nice, large, never-ending sheets of dot-matrix paper recycled from my dad’s work as a bridge engineer. Sometimes, this paper had CAD plan drawings on it, and I remember spending a lot of time colouring, scribbling, and playing on that side of the page. There must have been something in those technical drawings that my brain liked.

I have deep childhood memories of watching my dad on our holidays admiring massive dams or impressive bridges, and of observing him soak up all the detail and beauty of these drawings brought to life. My daydreamy child brain loved joining the dots between plan drawings, and being dwarfed by the epic structures as we walked across my dad’s bridges. This is my foundation for believing that drawing is magic.

I have a strong feeling that every “thing” that has been made by humans had to be drawn first. I always include this message when I work with primary school–aged kids, and I believe it. If we draw it, we can make it come to life. I love teaching creative process in the schools that I visit. Asking young people to trust the process and to follow my recipe is good practice for creative play. Watching them work reminds me that the best part of drawing is letting go; there’s plenty of room for joy and impressing yourself.

In classrooms, I love making it clear that while we might paint a mural or make a book together, what I’m really teaching is a creative process. When we respect the process it becomes invisible, and we can focus on the joy of a satisfying outcome, learn something, make mistakes, and take that forward to the next project. I love enthusiastically sharing my messiest sketches, and all the rough thinking that becomes the foundation for larger scale projects.

Taking students’ rough and honest sketches and scaling them up in bold and bright ways is pure joy. There are plenty of chances to demonstrate how it’s easy to underestimate where all the hard work is done when it comes to painting murals. I love to demystify big things that look complicated and massive, and break them into smaller pieces. I want to empower young people to invent their own processes for being creative. I like to share with students a mural project of mine from 2020, at Ascot Vale. It’s a ten-metre-tall mural, which starts ten metres off the ground. My process is the same for big paintings like this and the walls that I paint with students. I like showing my roughest sketches, and thinking about my inspiration to paint native birds, using a simple grid to scale and navigate the logistics – and fun – of painting on a building site.

I believe that it all starts with play and broad thinking that can lead to a strong, balanced design. Classroom sessions are a time for playing and doing the work of problem-solving at the design stage, to allow for days of fun and painting in the sun. When all the thinking has been done, I can see the meditative power of filling large vertical space with a clean coat of block colour, using a nice chunky brush and wearing your messiest clothes. I could fill a book with the sound bites of deep wisdom I’ve overheard while in the presence of young people having a big think about the joy of painting while trusting in the freedom of a creative process.

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 62. 

Drawing is Magic And I Believe It! 
24 May – 24 June, 2023
Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide 

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