Adebanji Alade is a renowned artist, best known for his dynamic oil paintings. Drawing is at the very core of his practice and his new book, Addictive: An Artist’s Sketchbook, showcases one of his sketchbooks in its entirety. It is an inspirational insight into the artist’s mind as he documents the urban landscape and the people who inhabit it. In this interview, Adebanji Alade tells us more about his book, why a sketchbook is such a crucial artist tool, and the importance of making drawing a habit.
All images are from Addictive: An Artist’s Sketchbook, courtesy of Search Press.
Evie: Can you tell us about your relationship with drawing? What is it about sketching that you find so addictive?
Adebanji: My love for art and my passion for art started with me drawing. At the early age of about 5, 6, or 7 years I started drawing football players from a comic called Roy of The Rovers. It was my love for football that got me drawing football players, and because it was fairly cheap and the materials were accessible, it made it so easy for me to do. All I needed was a ballpoint pen and paper and my life would literally come to a standstill. So my relationship with drawing is intimate, and about 40 years after I still continue to draw just the same way I started.
What I find addictive about sketching is the lure and passion of seeing a blank page and knowing that just by looking at something in front of me, that blank page will be transformed into what I’m looking at, just by sketching. It’s like magic! One minute the page is blank, the next minute it’s filled with heads, figures, trees and architecture. What I also find addictive about sketching is how by simply looking at something in front of me, I can quickly put down a few lines without much of a fuss. I can capture the essence of what is in front of me, it is so liberating!
Evie: One of the things I love about Addictive: An Artists Sketchbook is the notes that live alongside your drawings. One of my favourites is “see a face, observe it deeply, see how you can make lines that best depict its landscape”. Can you expand on that idea of the landscape of the face?
Adebanji: The man that made me see the face as a landscape is the legendary Burton Silverman, thank God he wrote art instructional books! He got me seeing the face as a landscape. He said: “very early in life, I fell in love with the landscape of the human face, where all the emotional states of life are to be found.”
That quote got me thinking and it got me hooked. It made me see the face not just as a face but as a landscape that has many ups and downs, textures, structure, and form. I began to approach my drawing from that mindset and it led me to realise that by taking my mind away from the literal drawing of the face and transporting myself to a different way of exploring and venturing, I began to enjoy not just the results of the sketches, but also the process of making the sketches.
Evie: You describe the frustration of losing a sketchbook. What do you think it is about sketchbooks that are so important to artists? And what do you look for in a good sketchbook?
Adebanji: Oh, a sketchbook is the lifeblood of an artist, that’s where you can see what really matters, what the artist deems important, and what the artist actually loves. It will give a clear understanding of what the artist’s life is really about. It’s like a visual journal and that’s where the soul of the artist resides. There’s nothing to hide in a sketchbook- it’s raw, it’s not superfluous or out there to impress, it’s just the raw ideas, the basic interests and notes of what goes through the artist’s mind and, to me, that is so valuable because that gives me more insight into who the artist really is.
What I look for in a good sketchbook are loads of sketches, not just empty pages here and there and then a sketch or two and then another one there. I want to see loads of sketches, pages filled up from back to front. I want to see dates and notes and jottings or ramblings or journaling of the what and the why of the sketches. If I can get these from any sketchbook – that is a gold mine to me!
Evie: In Addictive: An Artist’s Sketchbook you use a range of different drawing materials. What are some of your go-to drawing tools?
Evie: Your book is full of drawings of people on public transport, how did you have to change your subject matter during lockdown? And was it easier or more difficult to maintain the habit of drawing?
Adebanji: The lockdown affected my sketching a lot, but I overcame by taking it to shops. There were many long queues to get into places, and I will sketch people in the queues before I get my place to go in. So I still take my sketchbook with me but it really took a hit. I have done more painting in the lockdown than sketching. So it has definitely been harder! At one point I even thought I was going to lose the habit altogether!
Evie: How important is passing on your knowledge about drawing?
Adebanji: It’s so important. People spend too much time on devices, they aren’t slowing down to see and appreciate the world around them. I want more people to pause, see all the beauty around them, and sketch that beauty. I believe people will feel a real connection to the world they live in if they could just slow down and sketch. It’s powerful! It enhances one’s creative side and builds the right side of the brain which is so essential in thinking creatively and solving problems by thinking out of the box. Drawing is essential – children can use it while studying in school by creating mind maps which helps them memorise information faster than just using words or bullet points. The ability to draw must be passed on from generation to generation.
Evie: What advice do you have for someone who wants to improve their drawing skills?
Adebanji: My advice is to get loads of inexpensive sketchbooks and pencils or pens and just practice seeing first, then sketch what they see without having any expectations of it turning out well. I’ll say do it to develop a habit of sketching first, and from that habit their drawing skills will improve. Drawing is learning to see, but it’s not just seeing as others see, it’s seeing as an artist sees which is totally different from the norm. It’s seeing shapes instead of things. That’s a big shift but it is possible, if there’s an interest and a burning desire.
Evie: Have you learned anything in the process of putting together Addictive: An Artist’s Sketchbook?
Adebanji: Yes, I have learned that it’s very important to have a good inventory of high-resolution images of all your artworks and sketches because you never know when they will come in handy when a book needs to be written – and I believe there is a book in all of us!
Evie: What are you working on at the moment?
Adebanji: At the moment I am working on very small 6 x 8 in paintings as part of an amazing scheme called the ‘Artists Support Pledge’. The concept was initiated by a guy called Matthew Burrows, where an artist puts out a painting or print for £200 and, when they sell five, they pledge to buy another artist’s work who is taking part. I’m doing a lot of portraits, animals, landscapes, and celebrities.
Evie: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
Adebanji: You can see my work on Instagram, Facebook, DailyPaintworks, and on my website. This November I will be exhibiting four paintings at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries.
About Adebanji Alade
Adebanji Alade is inspired by the atmosphere, historical importance, mood, and the play of light that a particular place can offer at any point in time. He presents films and interviews for BBC One’s The One Show and his sketches of commuters on the underground have also been made into the Channel 4 animated short film Two Minutes. This year, Adebanji was a judge in Jackson’s Painting Prize 2020.
Read more articles about drawing on our blog:
- Anthony Whishaw RA on Painting and Drawing in his 90th Year
- The Art of Drawing and Observation by Jarvis Brookfield
- A Hundred Times Looking: Observational Drawing as Meditation, by Nadja Gabriela Plein
Find out more about the Artist Support Pledge in our interview with Matthew Burrows