Me and Dora, My Wife

With Dora, My Wife


Ken Howard: Thoughts About Art


Northern Ireland

I served as a marine from 1953 to ‘55, and kept a meticulous sketchbook filled with drawings of the daily life of soldiers. Based on this work, in 1973 I was appointed as the Official Artist of Britain’s Imperial War Museum.

I lived with the regiment and went on patrol with them. Unlike in a proper war, I could go out with them to observation posts and vehicle checks and the like. I was very much hands on, and the regiments liked this because whatever I did was right. No one could say, a soldier wouldn’t have carried his gun like that, or wouldn’t have walked then when he should have run, because I was there.

I was very popular with the regiments because of the way I work, being very figurative, expressing the life of the regiment, rather than making any sort of comment on what they were doing. I was making fairly dispassionate and objective depictions of the life of this order in Northern Ireland.

I think the most interesting bit is drawing rather than using cameras. Drawing is a way of seeing. When you draw you see it, when you photograph it you don’t. I’m not saying photography isn’t art, but it’s a totally different process. People would ask me, “Why’d you go out there and spend all that time in different places? Why not take pictures?” I told them, I want to make drawings that go in to the life of the soldier. When you take pictures there’s much more interpretation by the person that looks at the photos. It was to do the drawing that was very important to me, not just to make pictures.

I didn’t take photos. I just sat down and drew in some very hairy places. If you were drawing all the time, which I was, people could see what you were doing. Whereas if you took a camera, they didn’t know what you were collecting, or why you were taking pictures. So if I sat drawing in the middle of Falls Road, the local Catholics would come up and see what I was doing, and there was nothing questionable about it. They knew I was with the army and where I was staying because the intelligence at that time was pretty good. But I never felt in danger. Whereas if you had a camera it would have been different.

Thoughts About Painting

When I am in Cornwall, I paint Monday to Saturday, with a model coming in every morning. Painting is very seldom an easy thing to do..... At the start of the day you are full of belief in the thing you are going to do........... If you've had a really bad day, the last thing you want to do is get up and work, but if you've got a model knocking on the door at ten to seven, you've got to get up, and you've got to start work again. As soon as you've got a brush in your hand..... after about ten minutes you've got belief again and you think 'Yes, it may not have worked yesterday but it's going to work today.'

Drawing is the basis of everything. All the way through the painting you must be questioning the drawing, right up to the very end. Otherwise you get the drawing right and fill it in with colour. As long as you get the effect you want, that's the important thing. You can use a piece of rag, a sable brush, a hoghair brush or a knife - it doesn't matter what.

Paint what you see, not what you know. What you know is not surprising and is very seldom true.


"Painting is no different from playing the piano: you've got to practise every day".

"Painting is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration" .

"Painting is the art of making Venetian red look like vermilion".




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