John William Peel
John William Peel grew up in High Wycombe, England, during the 1960s & 70s before travelling to North America.
His father was a carpenter who encouraged John to work with his hands, helping on projects around the house and later in clients homes. These formative years played a major role in his views on Art and the value of learning a craft before playing with it.
After spending most of his early life working in the trades, he decided to try out life drawing classes on a whim in his late 20s. He found that not only did it feel “right”, but that figure drawing yielded to the same efforts and strategies he employed as a carpenter. This traditional background fostered a love for the old masters, figurative work, and traditional rendering of the human form.
While most of his work is with line, particularly in seeing what can be done with a single line, he does deviate on occasion from these restrictions.
Mastery of Line & Figurative Explorations
Sometimes I think about that whole “butterfly effect” with respect to my own Artistic development. Which influences nudged me in the direction I’m facing now and why I find some things more fascinating than others. I don’t believe I consciously brought about my fascination with what you can do with line but I’m pretty sure I can isolate a couple of important contributing factors.
When I first started drawing and studying human anatomy I knew it was task that would require a great deal of repetition, cross-training, exercises, and study. Besides drawing from life, copying old masters, studying and reading up on my favourite Artists, and theory; I would also do these warm-up exercises where I drew my hands or other figures in one single continuous line. Just my hand alone, now that I think about it, I would have drawn well over 10,000 times since I started doing this exercise – but I’m going on a tangent now.
These line drawing exercises were started around the same time I was delving deeper into Van Gogh’s works, especially his drawings. I was fascinated by how much information he could get across with just a few strokes of his brush or pen. With these drawings in mind I would look through other work which fascinated me at the time in the collections of Picasso and Matisse. Each had their own completely different direction of course, but they all shared the same “element” in that it was the clever manipulation of line which brought life to their ideas.
I began connecting many other things to this process and would interpret it in my work. For example, I would read “The Book of Five Rings” by the Samurai Musashi Miyamoto and take the words describing swordplay and calligraphy to be related directly to the lines I’m describing on the page. Like the strokes of a sword in battle victory can be had with one bold stroke or it can be had through many, many cuts. These approaches to drawing branched out into the different styles that you’ll see in my portfolio.
There are a few categories of my line drawings.
There is the literal or figurative interpretation where I take a single continuous and uninterrupted line and in one stroke use it to describe the figure that I’m drawing. I aim to get the pose, attitude, and personality of the subject and these works tend to be very representational. I enjoy looking at the human form and this is sort of a straightforward way for me to pay homage to it.
I also like to take the line “for a walk” so to speak. A stream of consciousness that may or may not be related to what concerns I’m having that day. Again – this will be completed in one shot usually but this time the path of the line meanders and crosses over itself when it wants to. The end results often have somewhat of a childish feel to them.
On occasion I will use tightly woven line to block out negative space and illuminate the blank space around it. At this point it might still only “technically” be line in that it travels in that way (but it’s being used as a method of shading or blocking). At this point I feel my interest in this is only in passing, and only because I’m envisioning the drawing as laid out yarn or something. A solid figure suggested which can then be so quickly undone and then fashioned into something else totally anew.
Other than the drawings and paintings using line (the style I’m most frequently asked about it seems!) I have a love for studying the human figure overall. There are a number of works just dedicated to exploring people, and in some ways these “traditional” figurative studies in acrylic or watercolour. For a while I wasn’t sure if I was a figurative painter as it was a study I started my journey with on the way to “becoming” an Artist, but I fell in love with everything about us – and for too many reasons to illuminate here.