When I was scouring the shelves to find out what books I had available for the #1954Club, there were a number of books I pulled out as possibles that I suspected I wouldn’t actually get to; and “The Craft of the Lead Pencil” by Mervyn Peake was one of them. Peake is a long-term love of mine; I read his Gormenghast books when I was in my teens and they changed me. However, this short work, his take on how to learn to draw, wasn’t on my radar to read now. But there was a DNF for 1954, about which I said more on my closing 1954 post, and the Peake was there and I thought to myself that I probably hadn’t read it since I obtained my fragile, foxed copy and before you know it I was reading it… Alas, it was only as I got to the end that I realised the book was actually published in 1946 – I did get in a tangle with some dates for this club; but I thought I would share a few thoughts here anyway.

I’ve written about Peake before, as he’s an author who whose books were some of my formative reads, and I’ve revisited the first of his Gormenghast books here. As well as an author, however, he was a magnificent artist – his works are like no-one else’s as far as I’m concerned – and “Lead Pencil…” was published in the same year as “Titus Groan”. “Lead…” is a short work, just over 20 pages, and yet contains much to feed the artistic mind.

There are, of courses, many ‘how-to-draw’ books, and speaking as someone who can’t, I’ve never found them a lot of help. “Lead…” however, takes a straightforward view, breaking down the art into short sections of instruction, with headings such as ‘Direction of Light’, ‘Line’ , ‘Minor Shadows’, ‘Proportion’ etc. These sections are illustrated with examples from Peake and he’s remarkably good at convincing the reader they *can* draw; I must admit to wishing I’d had such practical instruction in art classes at school, as unless you showed natural talent you were pretty much ignored. Peake is clear that to draw you need to practice, but to be able to practice you need guidance such as that provided here.

The drawings are distinctively Peake, and so if you like his style you’ll definitely like this book; I know he doesn’t appeal to everyone but I think his work is stunning. There’s an underlying darkness running through both his writing and his art, and even a simple drawing of a head (like the one shown above) is far from ordinary. With so many of my older books, it’s probably decades since I looked at this one; so even thought it wasn’t one I could include in the #1954Club, I’m so glad I was nudged into picking it up. I’ve been enjoying reconnecting with authors from my earlier years, and I rather think I’d need to recommence my re-read of the Gormenghast books sooner rather than later! 😀