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Transcript: Development Podcast

Development podcast

by curator Catherine Willson.

Brian Hatton’s development as an artist began with his natural talent.  At the age of just two years old, his mother, who was herself able to draw quite well, gave him pencil and paper.  She must have been surprised and delighted that he was able to produce a picture of three little birds, clearly recognisable.  This was his first drawing, still preserved, and thousands more followed. 

As he grew up Brian continued to draw, it was a constant occupation; and through drawing he became acutely observant of the world around him.  At home his sisters, Marjorie and Ailsa, were often captured in their various activities by his pencil or his paintbrush.  In the fields and the lanes close to his home in Broomy Hill, Brian found other subjects: the sheep, the cattle, the farm-workers (especially the Gypsies) and the landscape itself.  His favourite subject was horses – it runs like a thread of gold through his work.  Brian looked so carefully at these wonderful animals that he was able to show them in any pose, either at rest or when they were bristling with action.  He obviously understood them completely, and could remember how their limbs moved, and how they carried their weight, and how their muscles tensed or relaxed in each pose. 

As well as using his impressive powers of observation, Brian also liked to use his imagination.  Many of his works show scenes that he has imagined, inspired by the stories of Romantic authors such as the tales of King Arthur and his knights, stories by Walter Scott or poems by Byron.  This allowed him to draw knights jousting, medieval soldiers in a skirmish, a herd of wild horses or whatever he liked, and he did it with convincing ease. 

So, looking carefully at the world around him, recording and remembering what he saw, and using his imagination, enabled Brian to draw.  But what did he draw with and how did he make the right marks on the paper, to get the images he wanted? 

Firstly, he used pencil, often to create the outlines of his subjects, perhaps a figure or an animal.  He also used pencil in a very fine and delicate way to create form, with small lines picking out the contours of three-dimensional object, such as a face.  Sometimes, the pencil is used mainly to create tone, he made light and shade by hatching with a soft pencil, where line is less important.  Sometimes, the pencil gives every detail, and in other sketches the marks are swiftly made, just hinting at the details, which we know are there, but do not need to be shown.  

Brian made a huge variety of marks with a pencil and experimented with it to great effect, but he also drew with other media: red chalk, ink, charcoal and pastel.  The red chalk he used for portrait drawings – it could be used finely, in a linear way and softly to produce tone.  The rusty colour gives warmth to the faces increasing the sense of a living person.  Ink is an unforgiving medium – each line is sharp and clear and requires great drawing skill – Brian used it for book illustrations and in his picture letters.  Charcoal and pastel are equally challenging – they are easily smudged – Brian used charcoal for life-drawings and made pastel portraits with great sensitivity. 

When Brian picked up a brush, he first worked in watercolour.  The delicate colours could be used to ‘fill-in’ a linear drawing, but it is also possible to draw with a brush, and to draw with colour.  He learned how to build-up a picture starting with the lightest tones in thin washes and finishing with the darker tones.  Details could be added by drawing coloured lines and shapes.  He enjoyed this technique.

When it came to oil painting, Brian struggled more.  He found it difficult to mix the colours that he wanted and he evidently had to work hard to learn to draw with the oil paint.  Eventually, after a good deal of work, the results came and in an oil painting like his ‘Lugg Meadows’, it is possible to feel the effect of the breeze in the expressive marks he makes with the paint on the grass and the trees.  In other small oil sketches, he shows the influence of the French Impressionist paintings – broad strokes or dabs of colour suggest or give an impression of a scene without giving every detail. 

Brian also made prints – etchings, which he found dirty and messy – he hated this technique.  This is a shame because he could have made excellent pictures this way – the few he did are still good.

When it came to sculpture, so little survives of what Brian did, that it is hard to judge.  But, one little cow that he made in clay and photographs of a sculpted head, hint that he would have made a fine sculptor.  He understood the physical form of living creatures so well, that he was able to recreate it in three dimensions.  This skill may have developed if he’d had the chance to do more sculpture. 

What his work shows us above all, is that his huge natural talent and desire to draw and paint were not enough in themselves – he worked hard, he experimented, he struggled sometimes and in the end he triumphed.  We can be sure that his art would have continued to develop, but sadly we can only guess at how it may have evolved. 

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