Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Secret Sketchbook

Years ago, I bought Ronald Searle's "The Secret Sketchbook" from a book dealer. Published in 1969, it's a reproduction of a sketchbook he drew while in the red light districts of Hamburg, Germany. It is filled with scenes he witnessed there, like a patron being removed from a club in a stretcher.

If you feel uncomfortable when people catch you drawing them, imagine how hard it would be to draw the patrons in a strip club. If they caught you drawing them they would probably be upset, but then again maybe Searle didn't have that problem because their attention was firmly focused elsewhere. I can only imagine that trying to draw in darkened, loud, noisy nightclubs would be very difficult and uncomfortable for the faint of heart.

I wanted to scan these because some pages contain what I called before "floaters" - sketches of several subjects scattered around one page, as opposed to the more "classical approach" of doing a little self-contained scene on each page. In some instances here he catches a whole tableau but several pages are covered with floating women of all different sizes and shapes.

Click to see bigger.







More than any artist I know, Searle has had many books published showing his sketchbooks. I have one he did in a refugee camp in the sixties as well as the book that contains his sketches done while a Prisoner of War in a WWII Japanese prison camp. His sketches are amazing. He has a way of capturing the underside of life and bringing to it a grace and beauty while portraying all the ugliness as well.

If you like, in future posts I will scan more of his sketches. Things are going to be very busy for me for the next few weeks so I probably won't be writing too many posts but I can set aside some time for scanning stuff that relates to sketchbooks, if people would like that. Let me know in the comments if you're interested.

51 comments:

St John Street said...

Excellent ref and great find must be filled with the most interesting scenes and subject matter like the strip club very ballzy hope all is well thanks for sharing !!!

Linton

Aditya said...

I bought a sketch book and started drawing after a period of more than three years. Thanks to you. Anything to motivate me, yeah sure!

Jenny said...

Things are ALWAYS busy for you! ; )

But absolutely--please post more when you have the chance! These are fantastic. Great post.

eun-joo jang said...

Thank you soooo much for sharing awesome sketches! YES, I'd love to look at more drawings from him. :)

Randeep Katari said...

Yes Mr. Kennedy!! Post on! I'd love to see more sketches by Ronald Searle, thanks for your great posts.

-R.

gemini82 said...

Most definitely post more Mr. Kennedy.

If you have a chance check out this wonderful website

http://sketchbob.com/
He came to speak at my school a few years ago.

JJ said...

Thanks for posting these. I would also love to see more of his work.

Cin said...

yes! more please, I love looking at sketchbooks!

Ward Jenkins said...

Excellent stuff. I love Searle -- please post more when you find the time!

Matt Williames said...

yeah, please do scan more sketchbook drawings! Always love your insight and honesty, thanks Mark!

AMID said...

For me, Searle is truly the height of cartooning. Very few can combine draftsmanship, design and humor in such an exquisite and original way as Searle. His genius only becomes evident when you look at how many countless artists have copied him over the years and how almost every one has fallen short of his pure mastery of the cartoon form.

Also worth pointing out that Matt Jones has a Ronald Searle blog here.

Stephen said...

I would love to see not only more of Mr. Searle's sketchbook work, but it might be interesting to see sketchbook examples from a variety of artists. They not only inspire me, but they prove what you said about sketches not having to be perfect.

Stephen
http://meetingedges.blogspot.com

k. borcz said...

Yes, please post drawings

Mo said...

Always nice to see new drawing from my hero.

Thanks for the post.

Mo

Jenny said...

Hey! I know that Mo guy(by reputation and from owning his books)!
Your blog attracts some hi-rollers there, buddy! : )

Daniel said...

If you get a chance I'd love to see more. I'm curious to see his sketches he did during the war.

stats said...

More scanning please. Thanks.

RAG

4ojos said...

Sure I´m interested, Searle is one of my all time favourites but I only have his Paris book. Thanks for sharing

danG said...

Post some more, It's always great to see someone so good just unload ideas. You get to see their whole process, misfires and all.
-danG

tzr said...

Searle was one of those illustrators when growing up that inspired me. Please post anything you've got that we may not have seen (such as the Berlin red-light district stuff), I personally would like very much to see Searle's WWII prisoner-of-war sketchbook stuff. I for one, would very much appreciate a look at that work...

Gabrielle said...

I also have to throw up my hand and say please post more. I have you
Bloglined and every time I see a new post I pop by. Searle is one of my all time favourites, (along with William Steig and Quentin Blake).

jim said...

Thanks! More! more!

Aimée said...

Scary.
This just looks like the crude pornographic sketches of a 12 year old boy who has been exposed to far too much objectification of females.

Oops maybe that's every boy in this society.

I'm not sure I'd agree with "The more we see of Searle's work, the better" because I'm sure you wouln't need to explore too far to find something similar in a prepubescent child's sketchpad.

RoboTaeKwon-Z said...

Despite the post from the woman who is either
A. Really uptight and repressed or
B. an Amish woman (but wait, what's she doing on a computer?) I want to see more.
And ma'am? You don't want to see what an actual 12 year old boy draws in his sketchbook.
Really, you don't.

Joel said...

I noticed that pens seem to be the sketch tool of choice. Without having to sharpen them, and without the benefit of an eraser, they are much more immediate.

But are there reknowned animators out there that go sketch with a pencil instead of pen?

Mr P said...

These are wonderful. I would love to see as many pages as possible when you have the time; Searle sketchbooks are super rare and super expensive when sighted.

The overheated hyperbole from aimée is mystifying. Is drawing bodies automatically bad?! As for comparing these to a child's drawing - ha! Have you seen any children ever? But what a terrific world it would be if prepubescent children could draw THIS well...

mark kennedy said...

Hey Joel - I don't really know anyone who sketches in pencil, myself, because the whole point is to get a quick impression without editing yourself, so you don't really need to erase. As you say, pens are easier to carry and don't need to be constantly re-sharpened like pencils.


It certainly is a bit odd to criticize Searle for drawing these women because he wasn't making them up in his head...he was a relentless observer of people and just happened to do these drawings in the red light district. As I said before, he also did a great sketchbook that was all drawn in a refugee camp and one from his time as a prisoner of war. He seemed interested in all kinds of people without judging them as good or bad. And I also find his women from "The Secret Sketchbook" to be far from the idealized male fantasy. They are covered with real bumps and bulges, not like the overly airbrushed or idealized images we usually see! And they certainly don't look very pretty. He also seems to have captured in their expressions a feeling of boredom and frustration at doing this type of work, and his portrayal of the patrons of these places betrays how he seems to feel about them: they always look pretty pathetic and aren't portrayed as positive figures at all. So I have to say that I don't see it the way you do, aimee. I really do apologize if this stuff offends you but I would never post something that I thought was pornographic in nature or intent. Lots of great art has done that includes the naked form.

mark kennedy said...

oops, typo...I mean lots of great art has BEEN done that includes the naked form!

Ward Jenkins said...

Aimee -- I suggest you do a search for more of Ronald Searle's drawings and you'll see what I was talking about when I mentioned on Drawn! that the more we see of his work, the better. Searle's approach to drawing the figure is incredibly more sophisticated than what appears to the average viewer (such as yourself). To call these drawings "crude pornographic sketches of a 12 year old boy" just shows how limited your scope of art and drawing really is.

Jenny said...

yikes--I wonder how someone who misses the art of Searle so completely wound up at this blog?
OK, it just occured to me: via the Drawn! mention.

Did you read the post, aimee? As has been pointed out, these were done at a strip club. The observation is in exactly the same vein as Degas' of dancers or certainly our old friend Lautrec's of, well, of people much like this.
Searle drew what he saw...and personally I see some very individualistic women here, all kinds, with personalities. In a certain milieu, yes. Which is what Searle is masterful at. I see the men and the women caricatured equally...except that the women are nude. *shrug*

Saipan Writer said...

Don't go chasing Aimee away. Her post certainly livened up this comment section. I was getting bored reading all the "me too" comments. And thanks to her objection, we got Mark's excellent comment describing what he sees in this particular sketchbook.

Good post, good comments now, and I'm coming back here again and again. Thanks.

Jenny said...

Ha! You make a point, there, Saipan; anyway, I don't see people chasing anyone away--it's more like simply explaining, and hopefully educating(and Robo is as always pretty darn funny).

Part 2 is great too, Mark. I hope my copy arrives today!

Felicity said...

Of course, I find these interesting (not especially wonderful) but I also think Aimee is entitled to her opinion without a backlash. Uptight and repressed? That is just so tired.

Jenny said...

Felicity, everyone is entitled to their opinion, certainly. And I think Mark is pretty gracious in all his remarks.

But really, I thought(speaking as a woman and as an artist)that aimee came across as a tad offensive. If you think the few responses were harsh you're very sheltered. "Uptight and repressed"? I don't know, but I would say that she deliberately (and patronizingly)ruffled feathers with the tenor of her comments.
Sorry, but along with the right to expression in someone else's blog comes the expectation that you might offend people who've expressed sympathy with the art shown, you know?

And the owner of this blog of all the artists I know doesn't deserve that...how about reading his last few posts--or a few more--and appreciating the thoughtfulness and spirit of the author? He doesn't need defending(especially from me), but while there's still plenty of misogyny, stereotyping and objectification of women in this old world, you aren't going to find it in this blog.

(I just had to add my 2 cents one more time. I'll quit now, Mark--promise.)

Mark said...

Awesome stuff as always, Mark. I have to admit, I know you'd never intentionally offend anyone or court controversy, but I'm glad for the chance to hear you defend Searle's work so eloquently and thoughtfully (I also thought you were very kind and restrained) - well done. I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis. And your last few posts about sketching and sketchbooks have made me feel incredibly guilty - I remember how much I loved filling up sketchpads in high school and college, and how that pretty much ground to a halt when things got busy at my job here. I had "that conversation" with Don Dougherty (his friend, Rik Maki, is another one of those guys who just draws everywhere he goes, for hours every night - and it shows, of course!) where I confessed the last thing I wanted to do when I went home was draw or think, and as politely as he could, said something to the effect that, oh well, some people want to get better and actually love art all the time, and others...I wish I could say that I drew while watching TV or something ever after that gentle humiliation, but some habits are harder to get going than others, I guess! Maybe reading all of these posts will finally shame me into changing my slothful ways...

Felicity said...

Jenny, my remarks were not targeted at Mark or his excellent blog. Aimee expressed an opinion, I just think it should have been left at that. If she intends to offend, then ignoring is even better.

Apologies Mark, for using your blog this way.

Ward Jenkins said...

Yeah, Aimee expressed her opinion, but it was done on such a base level -- ignorant and thoughtless. Very much on a troll-like level, which I abhor. That's why I responded like that and I'm not going to take what I said back.

And Mark, I apologize for my soapbox activity here, but I just thought I had to say it. I've been burned by ignorant comments before on my blog, and I certainly know well enough that actively ignoring the offending comments is the best thing to do, however, there was something in the nature of Aimee's comment that just got to me.

(Okay, that's enough from me!)

Alice said...

As far as the patrons of strip clubs minding or not minding being drawn by Searle I think you'll find that outside Britain and the US the world is a lot more free and easy about such places. To a very large extent sexual guilt is a hang up of English speaking Christian societies.

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